Tag Archives: personal-learning-environment

Some Observations on PLE Diagrams

One of the perennial favourite pages on my edtechpost wikispace has been the collection of Personal Learning Environment (PLE) diagrams I started back in 2008. A couple of years back I wrote a call to folks asking for feedback on what I might do to improve it.

I didn’t get a lot of feedback, but one comment, from Ismael Peña-López really stuck with me – that what I should be doing was some analysis of my own on the collection, which indeed had in fact been the actual goal all along in creating the collection of diagrams.

I know it’s taken a while, but with some time on my hands, here are some reflections on what this collection of PLE Diagrams might tell us.

Caveat Emptor – Skewed Sample

There are currently 79 diagrams in the collection. With the exception of a very few, these were all produced by educators themselves or else people I think we should consider relatively advanced, self-directed learners. This is not surprising given that I started harvesting the images from my own network, typically comprised of educational technologists and educators, and then others were added from people also a part of these types of professional networks my work typically reaches.

But I think this is important to note up front – while some of these diagrams are simply a list of a few tools the person uses, many of them exhibit a HIGH degree of self-reflection, meta-cognition and technological adeptness. This is not to discount them as depictions of “what might become” for network learners in general, but I would caution to assert that they were reflective of how all network learners currently learn (or currently conceptualize their personal learning networks, as first and foremostly that’s what these diagrams are, conceptualizations rather than the things themselves.)

Diagram ‘Orientations’

The first thing that struck me looking at the collection of diagrams is that there are some distinct “orientations” that jump out – diagrams that I describe as tool, use, resource, flow people, or hybrid oriented.

Tool Oriented

By far the most prominent is what I called “Tool-Oriented” diagrams. Likely an obvious enough name, these are diagrams that by and large depict PLEs as simply a collection of tools. These make up the vast majority of the diagrams in the collection, 62 out of 79 (though as I note below, many of these also exhibit additional orientations and there are fewer that are solely tool oriented diagrams.)

For me these are the least interesting of the diagrams. While it is useful to see which tools people typically conceive of in their PLEs (additional analysis of which is done below), these fail to reflect any of the dynamism I typically associate with network learning. Still, the MAJORITY of diagrams take this tact, which raises the question (taken up below) of whether a PLE is best understood simply as a collection of (albeit networked & loosely coupled) tools that stand in contrast with earlier monolithic approaches to learning environments, or if its that AND something more.

Use Oriented

Numbering 32 of the 79 diagrams, “use orientation” was the next most common orientation in the collection, by which I mean diagrams that explicitly list the aims of a personal learning environment. Often, though not always, these are accompanied by the tools used to fulfill these uses (making these into “hybrid” diagrams, see below). These are far more useful in contrasting how people conceptualize learning within a PLE compared to more traditional teaching and learning approaches. As I’ll discuss below, while there are many similarities, there are some key different uses and practices developed by PLE users that differentiate the way they are learning (and what) from their predecessors.

Resource Oriented

While there are no diagrams that are solely “resource oriented,” many of the diagrams do list educational resources, both formal and informal, as part of the PLE. These seems important to note; while many earlier conceptualizations and practices of education, both online and off, have been accused of focusing too closely on content as the mechanism for learning, the critics pendulum has often swung too far in the opposite direction, seemingly content as having little or no role at all in learning. To me, neither of these extremes are correct, and the presence of various resources in the PLE diagrams offers a happy medium – resources, both consumed and created, shared and personal, digital and physical, do have a place in how networked learners conceive their learning and environments. Especially in conjunction with the other orientations.

People Oriented

In some sense, ALL of the diagrams that depicted networked tools or resources were “people oriented.” But I chose this term to describe diagrams that explicitly mentioned or depicted people or groups of people as part of the PLE. As in the case of “resource oriented” diagrams, there are almost none that are solely “people oriented.” But it was surprising to me that only 15 of the 79 diagrams seemed to explicitly depict or mention people as part of the PLE.

Flow Oriented

Flow Orientation” was also a characteristic that rarely appeared on its own, but 20 of the diagrams made real efforts to show how information and connections flowed between tools and people in their networks.


Finally, as I’ve alluded to, 32 of these diagrams reflected more than one of these orientations, and these I have termed “hybrid.” For me these are typically the richest diagrams in that they depict PLEs as dynamic processes in which tools and resource have uses and flow into and out of systems and conversations. This reflects my own experience of being a network learner.

Dominance of Certain Tools

It seems unsurprising, especially given the popularity of certain services and the relative homogeneity of the sample, that the diagrams which identified specific tools (or types of tools) were dominated by a select few. Blogs (59) dominated, but twitter (33), social bookmarking (43), flickr (28), and youtube (21) were also consistently listed. In addition, while I did not tag the diagrams as such, synchronous tools like skype and Elluminate, as well as email and eportfolios were all regularly listed.

Social networking sites were also listed as common elements of PLEs – Facebook was listed in 25 diagrams, and (shocking to me) linkedin in 15. (Shocking because clearly these folks have figured out a use for linkedin that elludes me.)

Given how often they are mentioned in the same breath as blogs, wikis (25) seemed relatively underrepresented in the tools people singled out in their PLEs. Even more surprising to me was how little wikipedia (9) was mentioned to me, given its dominance in search rankings and internet traffic.


In addition to these orientations, I was struck by the use (and sometimes lack thereof) of metaphors to depict PLEs. The main one (and I am not completely convinced that this was not in part an artefact of the digital drawing tools employed by many to create these diagrams, more below) was of a “network.” So commonplace was this that I did not officially code for it in the new collection’s tags.

Interestingly (and again, I suspect an artefact of the tools used to create the diagrams) most of these “networks” were mind-map type drawings most closely resembling hub-and-spoke networks. While they capture the individual user’s perspective of being at the “centre” of THEIR network, these are not actually accurate representations of how internet networks as a whole look. This issue, that “individual” networks are emergent phenomenon that differ depending on the location of the observer/participant is, I believe, a hugely rich avenue of exploration and challenge for network learning and networked society in general, but grist for some future post, not this one.

In addition to the standard “network” depictions were more abstract diagrams. These struck me as worthy of note because they are less easily reducible and for me capture some of the human elements of network learning that is so often overlooked, whether it be “love,” “growth” or simply the ephemeral nature of networks.

Finally, though not exactly “metaphors,” it seemed important to note the number of PLE diagrams that were in essence screenshots. Paradoxically, these were both, in my opinion, the least successful representations of PLEs, and yet some of the most valuable for new comers to PLEs (especially those that were screencasts or presentations) in that they gave specificity to a concept that can be ellusive.

PLEs and Informal/Formal Learning

The concept of PLEs originated both as a contrast to existing (e.g. LMS) models of online education and also out of a new set of affordances offered new Web 2.0 tools and practices. As explicitly PERSONAL learning environments, they start from the perspective of the individual learner. Yet many of the people interested in exploring PLEs and their potential have done so from within existing institutions, educational business models and practices (e.g. courses, cohorts,certification.)

Some of the diagrams reflect this attempt to conceptualize a relationship between PLEs and institutions (and their MLE/VLE) which I tagged as “institution oriented.” In addition, at least 13 diagrams explicitly reference the LMS as a component of the PLE.

Whilst a slightly different issues, it seemed worthy to note in this section the number of diagrams that explicitly noted a difference between private activities and public interactions, signalling, as in the case of the formal/informal distinction above, that in some conceptions PLEs are very much about accomodating and permitting flow between both.

The Effects of Digital Drawing Tools

I had a suspicion that the diagrams are greatly influenced by the tools people chose to use to draw them; that their tendency towards a certain type of depiciton (networks, entities & flows, venn diagrams) were because that is what those tools do well.

To see if this might be true, I coded those diagrams created with a digital drawing tool to contrast them with hand drawn diagrams (of which there were far fewer.)

The results seem inconclusive – if anything, the hand-drawn ones in the collection seem even more dominated by “network-like” drawings.


We know what PLEs are…

So given all of these observations, I’m wondering if there are any conclusions to be drawn. (N.B. in what follows I will refer regularly to wikipedia’s definiton of PLEs. Not because it is the only or best one, but as one developed on an openly editable platform with public standards for acceptability, so hopefully reflecting some sort of rough consensus.)

With the dominance of “tool oriented” diagrams, and the fact that the tools listed are well-known “Web 2.0″ tools, Wikipedia’s description of PLEs as “Technically, the PLE represents the integration of a number of “Web 2.0″ technologies like blogs, Wikis, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, etc.” seems spot on. Given also the prevelance in the diagrams of flows and networks, Downes description that PLEs “become[s]…not a single application, but a collection of interoperating applications—an environment rather than a system” seems supported too.

Given also the general lack of references to LMS and institutional systems (though there are some), the notions that PLEs “put[s] the individual learner at the center” and are about “the independent learner” seem generally reflected in the diagrams.

…but must constantly find this out for ourselves

However, there is one assertion about what PLEs are and how people use them that is generally not reflected in the diagrams – that PLEs “provid[e] support for learners to set their own learning goals.” A very few of the diagrams do make mention of keeping track of goals, whether this be explicitly as a “use” or in the form of tools like ToDo lists or sites like 43things. But by and large this idea of  “learning goals” seems absent from the diagrams.

I believe this gets at the heart of some of the tensions that exist between existing institutional models of education and emerging visions of network learning. The absence of “goal setting” (and its corollary, learning paths AKA curriculum) on the diagrams is in part by design, but also in part a short coming of the current conceptualizations. By design because, in a truly personal learning environment, the goals and paths one follows aren’t necessarily the predefined ones of the past but instead are constantly emerging based on where one finds oneself and what one needs at the time, or as Downes writes “according to the student’s own needs and interests.”

But this absence is also a shortcoming because it throws the baby out with the bathwater, reflecting a somewhat all-or-nothing attitude towards pre-existing curriculum, practices like instructional design (which attempt to anticipate the sequence and instructional interventions through which something can be taught or learned) as (more importantly to me) towards meta-cognitive skills, practices and tools to support the learners own definition of goals and paths.

Clearly, the appropriateness of pre-existing, curricular-based means of learning depends quite a lot on both what is being learned and the learner themselves. But there are times when it seems beyond question that simply following a set of instructions or looking something up is both the easiest and most common way to learn a fact or concept. Yet the relative lack (only 12 out of 79) of explicit reference to pre-existing learning resources does seem to support a pendulum-swing away from this older content-centric vision of learning. That may not be an entirely bad thing, as it has perhaps dominated for far too long, but in an effort to contrast it I do fear we sometimes overstate the lack of importance of content. I am NOT arguing that curriculum or content-focused education and learning is best or the only way, but that it does still have a place.

More importantly to me though, the absence in the diagrams of methods or tools to set goals and identify learning paths doesn’t speak to their originators’ lack of insight or understanding (these come from some of the smartest people I know) but instead that as a whole we are still grappling with how to reconcile the network age of seemingly infinite content, people, connections and activities, with our limited lifespans, limited abilities to pay attention, and limited energies to expend on any one thing.

This is what I was trying to get at in the revised version of my Becoming a Network Learner talk which I gave at the TLT conference in 2010 in Saskatchewan. That it is great to swim in this vast ocean we call the Internet, but if we do so without reference points, without some direction, we run the risk of finding ourselves miles from shore, out of breath, unable to tread water any longer. The constant lament of information overload, internet distractedness, etc, seem very real to me.

The trouble in actually depicting this on a diagram is that it’s not particularly a tool that is needed (though I do think things like social filters and constrained search, recommendation engines, etc can help.) It’s more about constantly re-embedding (or remembering that they are already, or trying not to extract them from) these tools, these networks, these connections in our lives, in our goals, our dreams, our aims, which themselves WILL NOT magically emerge from the network.

This is also why I consistently resist what I see as the reification of an active process in the term “personal learning environment” in favour of simply talking about “network learning.” For whatever reason, as soon as we start using nouns, we then want to categorize and enumerate every aspect of them, but in doing so too often lose sight that each of them is unique, that the common characteristics are emergent phenomena, and that as much as you can try to describe it for someone else, as much as you want to help them, it is only when we each do it for ourselves, as lived experience, that it becomes real. And for some reason, describing this using a verb/gerund like “network learning” seems to me to resist, ever so slightly, this tendency to try and abstract what needs to be a personal process into a general “thing.”

All of which is to say, finally – the PLE is dead! Long live the PLE!



educamp Colombia & Becoming a Network Learner


Last week it was my immense honor and privilege to speak with 3 groups of post-secondary educators in Colombia as part of their educamp sessions. Diego Leal invited me to come and do something on “personal learning environments” based on the workshop I had just co-lead a few weeks previously in Phoenix.

The result was this talk (I think there is video of the last version I gave which I will link to when I get it) in which I tried as best I could to capture some of my own struggle to accept that the future is no longer best understood by looking to the past, and my own take on how my relationships with people (and the context we share) informs how I learn with and from them in various tools that make up my PLE.

But, in the spirit of a ‘camp,’ this was not a one-way exchange (hindered though I was by my absolute lack of Spanish, something I very much regret.) I truly learned much from the experience, both about the amazing country of Colombia, but also about how we should be running professional development workshops. The educamps were very inspiring. Every attention to detail had been paid to create the enabling conditions for learner-supported and learner-directed learning to occur.

Each of the three sessions I attended were held in a Conference Centre, and as I understood it, this was both to provide a space with a reliable simulatenous internet connection for sometimes over 100 people, but also to find a space large enough for their camp model.

You see, in these educamps, space design was an integral part. The Ministry of Education (and Cintel, their partner in delivering these camps) had gone to the trouble of purchasing very comfortable (and stylish, I might add) furniture that was trucked

around to each event. This might seem like an indulgence until you experienced how this created an informal room setup, allowing learners to sit near each other, easily form small groups, and move around the room, leading to the kind of self-organizing behaviour one expects in a ‘camp’ session.

Similarly, throughout most of the day, there was a soundsystem playing music in the background. This was not simply ‘filler’ though the presence of background music certainly added to the sense of informality and helped people relax. Instead, the music actually became a ‘cue’ to help prompt people in not too directive a way to consider moving along; every so often the volume level of the music would go up, and over time people started to use this as the cue to perhaps look for a new conversation.

There were many other seemingly “small” details which I think had a profoundly positive impact on the experience for these learners. All learners received a white ‘camp’ shirt at the start, creating a bit of an equal playing field. One of the first acitivites was asking the participants to ‘tag’ themselves with which of the classes of tools (they did not focus on single specific tools but instead general classes, like ‘Readers’ or ‘social bookmarking tools’) with which they had experience. In doing this, partly they were making a promise to other learners that if someone came up and asked them about one of their tags, they would talk to them about it.

The morning was then given over to the learners exploring (along with some ‘expert’ help, students with some more experience with specific tools, all wearing red shirts) specific tools or groups of tools that they themselves identified as being of interest to them. The idea was not to master the entire array of technologies (there being at least 12 classes of tools that had been identified) nor master them in any prescribed way or order, but instead to explore ones own need in a hands on way, side-by-side with other learners. It is difficult to describe, but I have NEVER seen this kind of buzz or energy happen in ANY of the dozens of North American “pro D” workshops I have led or been subjected to. Indeed, as I told my hosts, I think the great testament to the success of these events is that, despite the fact that they were already scheduled to run from 8am until 5:30pm, we had to kick people out at 5:30!
You can see more photos from the workshop in this flickr collection. They are not great photos, and to some they might look simply like masses of people milling about. To me, they look like masses of people learning together, from each other and not simply mastering prescribed material but actually forming social networks at the same time as they are learning what they wanted and needed to learn. This was a model which truly understood that while studying may be boring, Learning can be fun (and always personal!) A model I hope I can learn to replicate in the years to come. So thank you, Diego, for letting me experience this, it truly was a great learning experience for me. – SWL

Planning to Share versus Just Sharing

(This is a long post, born out of years of frustration with ineffective institutional collaborations. If you only want the highlights, here they are: grow your network by sharing, not planning to share or deciding who to share with; the tech doesn’t determine the sharing – if you want to share, you will; weave your network by sharing what you can, and they will share what they can – people won’t share [without a lot of added incentives] stuff that’s not easy or compelling for them to share. Create virtuous cycles that amplify network effects. Given the right ‘set,’ simple tech is all they need to get started.)

I have been asked to participate in many projects over the years that start once a bunch of departments, institutions or organizations notice that they have a lot in common with others and decide that it would be a good idea to collaborate, to share “best practices” or “data” or whatever. It always ‘sounds’ like a good idea. I am big on sharing and have benefited much over the years from stuff I’ve shared and stuff shared with me by my peers.

But inevitably, with a very few exceptions, these projects spend an enormous amount of time defining what is to be shared, figuring out how to share it, setting up the mechanisms to share it, and then…not really sharing much. Or sharing once but costing so much time, effort or money that they do not get sustained. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? I don’t feel like this phenomenon is isolated to me or somehow occurs because of my own personal ineptitude, but you never know.

Now I contrast that with the learning networks which I inhabit, and in which every single day I share my learning and have knowledge and learning shared back with me. I know it works. I literally don’t think I could do my job any longer without it – the pace of change is too rapid, the number of developments I need to follow and master too great, and without my network I would drown. But I am not drowning, indeed I feel regularly that I am enjoying surfing these waves and glance over to see other surfers right there beside me, silly grins on all of our faces. So it feels to me like it’s working, like we ARE sharing, and thriving because of it.

So I began to wonder, why does one the (institutional-driven/focused) approach continually fail while my personal learning network continues to thrive. Here are some thoughts on why:

We grow our network by sharing, they start their network by setting up inital agreements

We just finished a workshop this week on “Weaving your own PLE.” While part of this was definitely an effort at straight tech training, that in my mind was actually the minor part – the whole reason many of us are so attracted to blogs, microblogs, social media, etc., in the first place is that they are SIMPLE to use and don’t require a lot of training.

No, in my mind, a lot of the message was helping newcomers to get over the hump of “well, I created a blog/joined this service/etc, but how come no one is reading it?” A lot of what we discussed were the practices by which you can grow your connections, and by and large these involve some form of sharing: writing interesting posts (sharing your insight and learning); writing comments (sharing feedback/conversation); publishing work in open spaces (and pointing to it). Your network will grow. It may take a little time, but it will grow. The other thing we emphasized was a line I think I stole from Dave Winer – “It doesn’t matter if there are only 2 people reading your blog as long as they are the right 2 people.” The notion that if you grow your network organically, don’t force it, it will settle, over time, on just what you need.

Contrast this with these formal initiatives to network “organizations.” In my experience, these start with meetings in which people first agree that sharing is a good idea, and then follow up meetings to decide what they might share, then, somewhere way down the line, some sharing might happen. The whole time, some of the parts of a network are already present and could have just started sharing what they have, heck they could have started before ever meeting, even WITHOUT ever meeting, but this never happens. (I say part, because if it’s a network it will grow to include many others not in any intial group.)

We share what we share, they want to share what they often don’t have (or even really want)

Much of the sharing that happens in my learning network happens through seredipity. People publish a blog post, bookmark a delicious link, etc, as a normal part of their own workflow,and whether through syndication or the “All seeing eye of Google,” it comes my way, as John Krutsch would say, “Right On Time.” Or I ask the network, through my blog or twitter, or sometimes directly, for help with a question or problem: sometimes the answer comes in seconds, because someone’s already worked it out; sometimes in minutes, maybe because a slight twist needs to be given to existing work; sometimes in days or weeks, when it tweaks someone else’s mind as much as mine and they do the work because it seems worhtwhile to them and they can do it; sometimes it comes in months or years, because it’s a big problem. But so far, it’s never not come, eventually. Our sharing is “good enough,” not perfect; optimal, not ideal. We don’t build our entire houses on this single foundation, but it sure helps get a lot of structure built quickly on many an occassion.

Contrast this with the formal approach. In my experience, a ton of time goes into defining ahead of time what is to be shared. Often with little thought to whether it’s actually something that is easy for them to share. And always, because its done ahead of time, with the assumption that it will be value, not because someone is asking for it, right then, with a burning need. Maybe I’m being too harsh, but my experience over a decade consulting and working on these kinds of projects is that I’m not. Someone always thinks that defining these terms ahead of time is a good idea. And my experience is that you then get people not sharing very much, because to do so takes extra effort, and that what does get shared doesn’t actually get used, because despite what they said while they were sitting in the requirements gathering sessions, they didn’t actually know what the compelling need was, it just sounded like a good idea at the time.

By the way, if my writing is making it seem that I haven’t done this myself, many times, that’s just wrong. For the longest time, it seemed like a good idea to me too.

We share with people, they share with “Institutions”

I have never spoken to “an institution.” I would be scared if one started to speak to me. But I’ve spoken and shared with many *people* in institutions. Many *people* use stuff I have shared. And usually, in my experience, its people who directly, not through some intermediary, have a need.

The institutional approach, in my experience, is driven by people who will end up not being the ones doing the actual sharing nor producing what is to be shared. They might have the need, but they are acting on behalf of some larger entity. The need ends up getting diffused over all the people involved ultimately in sharing, and the people who go to the meetings, form the relationships, have *the actual network* end up delegating the work to people who are excluded from the network, acting as proxies, instead of forming their *own* network. There is nothing stopping them from doing so except the need being defined at the top of the org but driven to the bottom, instead of the need being defined (differently) at each level of the organization and at each level personal networks being built (and if this were happening, the whole notion of “levels” would no doubt start to get a bit woobly.)

We develop multiple (informal) channels while they focus on a single official mechanism

I blog. I use twitter. I use delicious. I use flickr. I use facebook (when I have to.) I use drop.io. I use slideshare. I use scribd. I use google docs. I use… the list goes on and on. Many of the ones above are ones that have persisted in my practice for some time now, while there are others that come and go. The point is, though, I have yet to come across a situation where someone in my network asked for help (through any of these channels, or indeed simply through email) and I (or someone in the network) did not find SOME way to share what they needed with them. More often than not, we’d shared it ahead of time and it’s Google finding it, and typically always things are shared in a way that allowed everyone else simply to benefit from that act of sharing. The technology is NOT the problem. Given a compelling need to connect, people will find a way, be it through smoke signals, Morse code or Usenet news groups.

Contrast this with these formal initiatives to network “organizations” – in my experience, much time goes into finding the right single “platform” to collaborate in (and somehow it always ends up to blame – too clunky, too this, too that.) And because typically the needs for the platform have been defined by the collective’s/collaboration’s needs, and not each of the individual users/institutions, what results is a central “bucket” that people are reluctant to contribute to, that is secondary to their ‘normal’ workflow, and that results in at least some of the motivation (of getting some credit, because even those of us who give things away still like to enjoy some recognition) being diminshed. And again, in my experience, in not a whole lot of sharing going on.

What to do if you are stuck having to facilitate sharing amongst a large group of institutions?

So hopefully it’s clear at this point that I am a big believer in everyone, no matter what their role in an organization, developing their own personal learning network/environment. But the reality is, you and I are going to get asked for years to come to help groups who say they want to share. So what do we do. Well, if you can, my advice is to provision as little tech as possible and urge an approach that focuses on the sharing and the network creation first. But if you must provide a single “platform,” my advice is to focus on providing one with these three simple pieces:

  • a simple way to find out who else is out there (profile, even just a directory)
  • some simple channels to communicate: email lists/addresses, threaded discussions
  • a simple way to publish content

That’s it. Maybe a synchronous tool. If the need and desire to share is real, these basic means (which really, they already have access to, but sometimes you need to build them a new one, after all we all like to feel special sometimes) are ALL THEY NEED TO SHARE. You see, at the end of the day, that’s all any of us, who started building our personal learning networks with, say, blogs, actually had. And it worked. It works every day. – SWL

PLE Workshop/Mashing up your PLE session


Yesterday it was my IMMENSE privilege to co-facilitate a pre-conference workshop with Jared Stein and Chris Lott on “Weaving your own PLE.” I think for all three of us it was an experiment, developed at a distance through Google docs, wikispaces and a couple of Skype calls. Ultimately, it is up to the participants to judge if it was a success, and the proof will be in how many of them continue on with what they started over that day, but it felt like it went pretty well.

My contribution was a 2 hour session on “Mashing up your PLE.” We had decided to split it into 2 streams, and the (suggested self-)selelction criteria was prior experience reading and writing blogs (and, sort of as an obvious corollary, awareness of RSS.)

(As an aside – we are WELL aware of the issues that surround this approach. We made every effort to emphasize: personal choice; that PLEs involve people and resources not on the network; the PEOPLE are critical, and that they need to grow their OWN networks, not adopt someone else’s; etc. But our goal was to get people who were not swimming in the flow, but who will increasingly be met by students and colleagues who ARE, to start, somewhere, anywhere. To take the plunge, with as many supports as we could muster, in the context of a pre-conference f2f workshop, to sustain it long term.)

I picked 4 “mashup” skills or techniques that I think can help people who already partly immersed in networked learning to be more effective networked learners:

It was a lot to get through in under 2 hours. I know I blew through a lot of stuff and that I often speak too quickly when I present, partly out of nerves, partly for the same reason that I am an exuberant gesticulator – this stuff gets me excited! But I did see lots of eyes lighting up: feed2js always blows people away, you can see the wheels turning of how they can use it; the google spreadsheet “importHTML=” trick works like magic, and while people don’t immediately grok how this is SO much more powerful than importing a page in Excel, when you show them the “More Options” publishing options suddenly you can see the penny drop; I think I sold a few people on “constrained search engines” but it’s Google Coop On-the-Fly that really gets the jaws dropping; and finally, both OER Recommender and the WorldCat/Amazon greasemonkey script provide pretty vivid examples of how you can bring educational resources directly INTO your everyday web experience with NO EXTRA EFFORT!

My only regret is that in my current position (and in my current practice) I typically only get to do these kind of sessions once before I move on. Which is a shame, because in this particular case I have a ton of ideas of how to improve it. For instance, taking a leave out of Alan (and many others’) book, I realized that if I had connected there 4 pieces in more of a story, it would make it more compelling. And in terms of making it educationally more effective, I think that forming the room into small groups, showing them a number of different techniques in each of these areas, and then setting them a problem to solve together (e.g. “figure out how to scrape this site. Feel free to use Google spreadsheets, Yahoo pipes, Dapper, or any other method you think will work”) would make this way more memorable and effective. But ultimately require more time.

Anyways, this was a ton of fun to work on if only to once again get a chance to work through some ideas and practice of my own, which is ultimately what keeps driving me to do new presentations each time, they are one of my only “teaching” opportunities I have right now and allow me to work out stuff that I’d otherwise not get a chance to dig into. – SWL