Learning Environments – Personalized

I listened to an Intellum podcast yesterday instead of my usual musical settings in my office over lunch.  The interview was with Stephen Downes, a Senior Researcher for the National Research Council.  That probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.  I read Stephen’s thoughts on a daily basis through OLDaily and so when this podcast became available, it was worth a listen.

I enjoy his thinking, particularly on open education and so expected to listen to your typical podcast of 10-15 minutes sort of skimming over the issue being discussed.  This was a real treat as it was over an hour long (so long I had to listen to it in pieces) and it covered a myriad of topics.  But, there was one topic that tied a lot of loose ends together for me.  The topic was loosely focused around Personal Learning Environments but took off in tangents on thoughts all related in some way to the original premise.

There was one concept that really resonated with me.  The discussion headed off to the challenge of logging into the various services on the web.  If there are a million services available, there are probably a million different ways to register and log in to get the benefits of the service.  It only makes sense – you want your privacy respected and you want your the integrity of any product or service that you use protected as well.

Each time that you register and sign into a service, you should be concerned about this and evaluate just how much personally identifiable information you’re providing the service.  It doesn’t happen often but we all have heard of security lapses and the exposure of information onto the wide web.

There are ways to get around this, of course.  There is OAuth login and OpenID that attempt to let you control your identity by asking before you grant access to your information and, of course, Google, Facebook, etc. all want to play in this area as well.  It’s a good concept; not perfect, but it allows for the web equivalent of a single signon that many organizations strive to have for all of their services.  Part of the problem is that there is no single source and the concept isn’t universally accepted.

In addition, you need to weigh the trust of the resource that you’re going to use.  If you accept the risks, you log in and are essentially working in their environment.  If it’s a text editing service you’re using, for example, you’re subject to their level of programming expertise and the foibles of their software.  Like they say, if everything was perfect, everything would be version 1.0.

Into all this, we look at all of the angles.  One of today’s realities, in addition to the login concerns, is knowing just what you’re logging into.  The word phish wasn’t invented when I was a kid except in the concept of “We went phishing at the phalls.”  How do you ensure that what you’re logging into is legitimate?  Yahoo! addresses this by allowing you to create your own personal seal so that you recognize the service as unique to you.  It’s pretty difficult to phish when every user has a different experience when they visit your site to login.


Yet, when you log into Yahoo!, you have their set of tools which are different from any of the other services so another learning curve.  Just how much time is spent learning new and diverse online environments?  Is this time well spent, or should we be devoting the time and energy to getting to it.  We know the answer to that.  But, it doesn’t exist at present.

That’s why the concept of the Personal Learning Environment is intriguing.  If I’m working online, why should there be a different way of doing things at the GECDSB from the WECDSB from the University of Windsor from St. Clair College?  What would change if all of these resources reside on your personal computer and you use them to interact with whatever it is that you want to do online?  No more goofy stand on your head protocols just to get the job done.  My observation is that the more that you spread your online time widely, the less time that you spend getting deeply into any one of them.  Imagine an environment where you’re truly the master of everything you need and you use these tools to expedite the learning.

It goes deeper than that.  Recently, I was reading a discussion about student use of an assistive technology program.  Every year, computers are freshly imaged by IT Departments over the summer to ensure that the latest software and patches are applied for the new school year.  Storage is at a premium and so, unless you really think it through, an assistive technology program that “learns” your actions or your voice or your other exceptionality starts anew and the student needs to re-train it every fall.  But, in a Personal Learning Environment, all of this stays with the user and the student just gets on with it. 

One of the hot topics of the day is Differentiated Instruction and so much effort goes into the pedagogy behind that.  Imagine a world where we pay more than lip service to it with technology and we truly develop a customized and familiar environment that follows the user from application to application.

There’s a great deal to think about with this concept.  I would encourage you to put aside a couple of hours to this.  Listen to the podcast intently and just note the ideas and concepts they’re presented and how they might apply to you.  After listening, take some time to think about the possibilities that this approach affords.  What can you do about it?  Can we support efforts that are trying to make this happen?  Or do we bring out a notepad to keep track of logins and passwords and what little gotchas are needed to get the most from yet another online resource?

links for 2010-06-17