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General

three early ples/plns

Firstmouseunderside.jpg

I’d suggest that the modern PLE goes back to 1945 and that we can get a sense of how they can be used and designed by looking at how some of the first ones show up.

I’d consider the Memex, a unrealized analog device for accessing documents, and for creating new documents and trails between documents, one of the first modern PLEs.  The designer, Vannevar Bush, uses persona in scenarios to indicate how the Memex would be used. We also get a vision of how a PLE is used in Doug Engelbart‘s demo of an early GUI, using a mouse, a querty keyboard, and a chording keyboard to collaborate in realtime using hypertext in The Mother of All Demos, 1971.

A third example is Ted Nelson’s design for another unrealized project, Project Xanadu. Again, Nelson uses personas and scenarios to suggest not only how the system would work but how people would use it.

In all three of these designs, the emphasis is not on the learning so much as the demoing. The learning that goes on by using the PLE is implied, unstated, but the systems are clearly designed for learning.

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General

consideration of two ple/n diagrams: turing machines

I teach writing, so every now and then – at least once each course –  I ask students to abandon written texts with an assignment to “Diagram X …” Might be “Make a diagram the plot of Ulysses.” Or “Diagram your progress – or lack of it – in this course so far.” I don’t ask them to make maps, although many do, and some don’t. I don’t specify what media or mode to use. I let them make those choices.

What happens is that we as a class get to reconsider what we’ve been considering. No one has ever actually diagrammed the plot of Ulysses. What the students produce are not plots. It’s always the diagrammer’s conception of the plot – or, to phrase it better because at this point I’m not isn’t a matter of the individual’s understanding or expression and I don’t want to caught up in the issues surrounding the individual – it’s better to say that each diagram is a representation of the plot.

 

So, the PLE Diagrams at edtechpost tell us about PLEs – how they are assembled and used – by illustrating various conceptions of them. None of them make an argument for correctness of their conception, nor their completeness, nor their uniqueness, nor their value. They enact the PLE-PLN emphasis we were discussing in the 15 Sept Elluminate session, but they don’t make an argument for the validity of the perspective. They all leave stuff out, and they are all colored by the lenses the makers are wearing at the time.

 

Here’s a diagram of Elgg.

 

graphic1.jpg

 

It’s titled a landscape, but it isn’t a map of land, nor a scape. There’s little that is map-like, although the icons of services tend to function like waypoints. Elgg itself – the user – is represented as an egg-shape in the hierarchical middle of the diagram, just off visual center. Six cloud-like entities are connected by double-headed arrows to the egg, along with one box LDAP, and a second box (SQI) with two single-headed arrows.  One of the cloud arrows is labeled: build own: Communities (That is, you build your own communities). The clouds are labeled in a variety of modes: nouns, verbs (search, weblogging), and characterization (Powerful permissions). Some have detail by way of inputs: Search, for instance, is surrounded by double-headed arrows to content services; weblogging by the same to weblog services. Social Networking is connected to foaf networks, and other Elgg accounts. The boxes (rather than clouds) connect to CMS-like spaces: a CMS by way of LDAP, and GLOBE by way of SQI. The boxes, rather than the clouds, are being used to indicate a formality that the cloud mediators and the egg centerpoint don’t have. There’s a metaphor at work: these mediators, linkers to links, are nebulous, cloudy, fuzzy, organic – in comparison to the big box ideas of CMS and GLOBE – although GLOBE receives more attention in a set of notes.

 

Two sets of notes appear: One set in green are labeled Notes, and address customization of the system. The second set, in yellow, detail how GLOBE works as an aggregator and agent for locating and selecting the most popular data.

 

It’s interesting that when possible the iconic logos are used to identify the cloud services. This takes extra work on the part of the designer, so it’s going to carry some significance. There’s less a suggestion of the corporate here (to indicate corporate, the designer would use a box, as with CMS) and more the suggestion of the personal. The CMS, in fact, is generic, indicated only with bare sans serif text, to include D2L, Black Board, Moodle or whatever. The platform, apparently, doesn’t matter: it’s the box.

 

The search links and the weblogging links all labeled rss – which illustrate that the various services are accessible by the same means; social networking is foaf, or direct when it comes to other elgg accounts.

 

The search cloud is connected to the personal file repository as well as the central egg, and weblogging by way of the search to the repository.

 

What to make of this? The learner is in the center, but every path to content is mediated. The personal file repository is just another cloud in the sky – not a central one, either. Other ellgs appear as just another link to an egg rather than to, say, a network. In fact, no other human agents appear in the diagram, which is, in the end, a start diagram and not a network. GLOBE gets some attention by way of notes explaining how it will work, but not what the Elgg at the center will do with the information. GLOBE, in fact, seems to be a central mediator as it will assemble what others in the network are looking at, but not providing direct links to those others. What the learner does with the stuff, the content, the results of searches, is invisible in the egg and under-represented in the diagram. The Elgg searches, blogs, files in a repository, but the diagram represents inputs, but no real sense of how inputs are converted into outputs.

 

Compare the Elgg diagram to Stephen Downe’s diagram.

L.png

 

The space of the diagram is isolated by a box, and the elements represented by geometric shapes, some of which are template shapes from the design software.  At a hierarchical center is a representation of a computer application. Arrows and notes on the application indicate how it’s used: Inputs appear in the lower left corner pane, selected by a user, the selected content dragged to the editor, where it is worked with, then outputted. There are two sets of inputs, one in light blue, from Local Files, and a second set in light green, from an Identity Server. The human output is represented by rose colored arrows. One arrow goes to a scripts database where the output is distributed by rss to subscribers (generic people, indicated by a simple stick diagram). The second arrow goes to MySpace, Blogger, and Flickr, all indicated not by icons as in elgg but template primitives.

 

The arrows indicating personal, human production are mapped over the network connections, indicated by geometric black lines and labeled with protocols: OPML and RSS. Protocol labels also appear above the application: HTML + AJAX.

 

What we’re seeing is the user’s production path layered on top of, and distinct from, the network paths and designs. The terminology of the underlying diagram is dominated by computer terms: pretty generic terms that laypeople will be familiar with: Local file upload, Populates lists and scripts, Save to remote storage. The central application, with multiple panes and a clock-wise indicated path of production, gives a glimpse of what the user does when working with the PLE. It doesn’t diagram how the user makes choices; the user is absent as an agency that selects from a list and outputs another selection.

 

Both diagrams are diagrams of Turing machines. They both bring in both human and technological frames. But both under-represent how the PLE/N is used, even at a workflow level. And both leave out how things are learned by using the PLE. This is not a flaw. It’s a function of perspective. But it would be interesting to look for and construct a diagram as a scenario of learning. Constructing persona and scenarios are used as techniques for designing websites and software. I’d bet they can be revealing used here, too.

 

Part of my point is this: When I have students diagram, they report that they have learned something about their own understanding of what they are diagramming, even if it only they aren’t sure they understand it. But I’m not sure from their diagrams what they have learned about the object of the diagram. And the students learn more about what they understand when we analyze the diagrams closely. But, again, I can’t be sure what more they understand about the object of their diagram by way of analyzing the diagrams. They might be able to tell, but I can’t.

 

I’m not sure what to do with that.

 

Composed on a MacBook at the living room table. Drafted in DevonThink, from RSS feeds, edited and uploaded using MarsEdit.

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Digital Literacy New Media

Diagrams, exemplars, bootstrapping in #PLENK2010



Ergonomic Workspace Planner, Workstation Installation ToolLooking through some diagrams of PLEs at edtechpost has given me the impetus to create a diagram of my own, and the permission to really goof with it. Exemplars.

To my mind, these diagrams illustrate what happens when a straightforward exercise is approached with a PLE attitude. Given the variety of diagrams, it looks like learners chose their own terminology, media, and modes to work in. The diagrams become semiotically supercharged. The titles, the terminology used, the contexts represented, features of the model overall (eg: where the learner is placed in the model and how represented; how links, knowledge, services, contexts are represented, and the like), as well as the choice of media and mode (whiteboard, big paper, concept mapping software, illustration software, t-shirt) all signify as choices.

The variety complicates easy reading of each diagram and of the collection, but that’s appropriate for the issue. The diagrams become the ground and impetus for another turn. That is, they have to be actively interpreted, worked with, in order to become personal knowledge.

Which opens us into critical literacies. Interpreting these diagrams demands an approach – for, me a semiotic approach. Bootstrapping again. This would be the point where I would look into social semiotics social semiotics as a way of making sense of the diagrams.

Composed at the office, Target, and in the front garden. Posted using BlogPress from an iPad

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