three pressing challenges

a discussion board post for my “conceptualizing edtech” course, archived for posterity. It was written for an audience (fellow students in the course) that may not have much background in living online, so I settled for using terminology they may have seen before. It’s also supposed to be a brief post, so I didn’t go into anywhere near the depth I could/should have…

Three pressing challenges for learners in creating and using technology in an educational context.

1. control and ownership

If we learn what we do, then we can extend this philosophy to educational technology. Students are now able to “do” their own technical infrastructure, meaning they can be in control of _what_ they use, _how_ they use it, _why_, _where_, and _for whom_. This shift toward being able to manage a personal cyberinfrastructure sets up students to be able to function far more effectively on their own, without needing the constraints necessary for institutionally provided and supported infrastructure.

Campbell (2009) writes1 :

Templates and training wheels may be necessary for a while, but by the time students get to college, those aids all too regularly turn into hindrances. For students who have relied on these aids, the freedom to explore and create is the last thing on their minds, so deeply has it been discouraged. Many students simply want to know what their professors want and how to give that to them. But if what the professor truly wants is for students to discover and craft their own desires and dreams, a personal cyberinfrastructure provides the opportunity.

Jim Groom, from the University of Mary Washington, is teaching a course at the moment on digital storytelling. Much of the course involves working with students to set up _their own_ publishing spaces, and in working together to build their personal infrastructure. They manage their own web publishing platforms. They write and publish. They integrate and contextualize. These are skills that they will use after they graduate.

Students (and teachers) being able to manage their own technical infrastructure and publishing platforms means they will be able to control what they publish, how they publish it, and to retain it as a living archive of their professional scholarship. These things are difficult, if not impossible, strictly using institution-provided infrastructure such as Blackboard. This personal infrastructure becomes, as much as I cringe at the term and the acronym, a Personal Learning Environment. (see some example PLE diagrams, as collected by Scott Leslie)

2. overwhelming options

If we are using non-instutitionally-provided tools, the list of available options becomes potentially unmanageable. Which tool(s) should I use? For what purpose(s)? How do I use them? What do I do with them? What are the risks? The benefits? It is easy to become overwhelmed, which is why institutionally-provided solutions are so appealing.

But, by becoming an active member of the larger community, and engaging with people who are working on similar things (students in a class, faculty members in the same department, etc…) it is possible to take advantage of what the other people in your personal learning network are doing – to use similar tools and therefore to be able to support each other. To find resources of interest and share them with each other. The PLN is best described as part of the Connectivist theory (Siemens, 2005)2 .

3. literacy

And, finally, if we are managing our own infrastructure and engaged with a network of people working together, it is crucial that we understand the implications of what we are doing. Literacy is essential, due to the implications of privacy, copyright, and the nature of online discourse. Digital literacy is not a new concept. See, for example, Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan’s (2006)3 description of the nature and importance of digital literacy. It is critical that we understand the nature of the media we are using, that we are aware of how they shape what we do, and that we are able to take advantage of the affordances they offer – as well as manage and mitigate the limitations.

4. Solution?

The only solution I can think of is to just dive in. To live with a whole bunch of technologies. To not see them as separate, distinct, or extra, but rather as just the way things work. Write a blog. Publish a newsletter. Manage a wiki. Shoot some video. Post photos. Just spend time doing it. Manage your own personal cyberinfrastructure. Build your personal learning environment. Engage your personal learning network(s). They are there already, you just need to tap into them.

  1. Campbell, G. 2009. Personal cyberinfrastructure. EDUCAUSE Review. 44(5). 58-59. Retrieved from []
  2. Siemens, G. 2005. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, Vol. 2 No. 1, Jan 2005. Retrieved from []
  3. Jones-Kavalier, B.R. & Flannigan, S.L. 2006. Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century. EDUCAUSE Quarterly. 29(2). Retrieved from []

1 thought on “three pressing challenges”

  1. I think that as an educator, teachers should be reflecting on why they would want to use technology to support learning while they “jump in.” As you point out, it is critical to understand what the media is about. Educators can do that by experimenting and modelling, but far too often the tools come first without too much thought into why they would want to use them. A PLE can help with that—see a new “cool” tool, find out what others are doing with it, and ask questions about the tool’s use and effectiveness.

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