Monday, August 23, 2010

Something's gotta give

Sad delicious As we start the run up to our first year PLE module, I've been thinking about what worked well last year, what didn't, and what needs fixing this time round.

What worked well is easy. Friendfolios (and the students who contributed and are still contributing to them) were the star performer. Consequently, we will be rolling out Friendfeed as glue for the disparate PLE elements at the start of the year rather than at the start of the second semester. We have not taken this decision lightly, as we have concerns that unleashing Friendfeed in the first week of term could mean that it becomes just another social destination rather than retaining the academic distinctiveness we managed to achieve last year. We're gambling on our pact with students not to invade their Facebook social space to rescue us from this peril. (It's also where our student peer mentor team comes in, but more about them at a later date.) Note that Blackboard is slowly fading into the background...

Rolling out Friendfeed early on will not only enable us to kick off the reflective activities we ran last year much earlier. But it will also simplify the assessment of student reading via RSS feeds in Google Reader - rather that wrestling with the vicissitudes of sharing in Reader, students will simply hook their Reader account up to Friendfeed where the discussion and assessment will take place.

Astute readers will have noticed that neither Hefce nor the ConDems have added any additional hours to the day, and students were already buckling at the number of signups the loosely-joined PLE imposed, so something's gotta go. And sadly, that something is delicious. There are several reasons for this decision. Students struggled with the distinction between Reader and delicious, at least in terms of the way we used and assessed them. They couldn't see the point of delicious and the proportion of students who continue to use it after the course has finished is tiny. Although Friendfeed is no substitute for a proper bookmarking service, I am finding in terms of my own practice that I am using delicious less than I used to, and relying more on the hive mind/filter. The upside of dropping delicious is that we won't have to deal with the horrible Yahoo registration system this time round. It looks like the deadly hand of Yahoo is well on the way to killing delicious. In fact, the only services students will need to sign up for this year are Friendfeed and Google.

Yes, we loose something by dropping delicious from the course. But we also gain in terms of building a more coherent network-based PLE, which is slowly mutating into a PLN. And we reduce assessment and administration load as we harness learning networks to deliver the goods.