#PLENK2010 Curation and Balance

End of Week 1 Notes (based on listening to the recordings of the two live sessions, having read a couple of references from the list and commented here – having kept an eye on the Daily and Twitter stream – and popped in on the Moodle forums – but not read much)

There has been lots of discussion this week about whether Personal Learning Environment (PLE) and/or Personal Learning Network (PLN) are the right terms to describe what this is all about and some recognition that this a semantics issue. According to Rita Kop PLE is a UK term and PLN an American term. Dave Cormier questions whether the term personal should be used at all. Stephen Downes points out that personal is an OK term if you think about [Personal Learning] Network as opposed to [Personal] Learning Network – and similarly for PLE. I like that – but for me, the words are not as important as the process – although I can see that the process needs nominalising for ease of reference. If I am going to think about introducing the idea of PLEs/PLNs to my colleagues or students then I will be talking about the process and the implications of this process for learning rather than what we should call it, i.e. why it might be preferable for students to learn in environments/spaces of their own choice rather than be confined to an institutions VLE/LMS.

There was a brief discussion in one of the live sessions about whether we choose networks or whether networks choose us – an interesting thought.  I would have thought both. In terms of PLEs/PLNs, Stephen’s comment was that its not a question of choosing so much as not having choices imposed on us – to me this is a good way of thinking about what the ‘personal’ might mean in PLE/PLN. It reminds me of my exhortations to my children to study harder at school because one of the values of education is that it affords increased choice.

A big discussion has been around Curation and Curatorial Teaching in the context of the role of supporting PLEs/PLNs. What does it mean? At first I thought it is just the American term for what Gilly Salmon calls ‘summarising’ in her work on the role of the e-moderator. But I can see that in a massive open online course (MOOC) it needs to be a little different to this and also that George’s definition of curator/curation has a different emphasis – http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=93

Here is a quote from George’s blog post from as long ago as 2007 (and don’t miss the political correctness in terms of gender references! Would this be necessary in 2010?)

The joint model of network administrator and curator form the foundation of what education should be. An expert (the curator) exists in the artifacts displayed, resources reviewed in class, concepts being discussed. But she’s behind the scenes providing interpretation, direction, provocation, and yes, even guiding. A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don’t adhere to traditional in-class teacher-centric power structures. A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. While learners are free to explore, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline. Their freedom to explore is unbounded. But when they engage with subject matter, the key concepts of a discipline are transparently reflected through the curatorial actions of the teacher.

So from this post and from the discussion in this week’s live session we can see that a curator is intended to be more of an interpreter than a summarizer, possibly less objective than a summarizer, but with no less or more of a teaching role, which according to Stephen should be to aggregate, assimilate, analyse and advise (my interpretation of Stephen’s comments!). This is what Stephen does with The Daily – but he doesn’t think that curation is an adequate word for what this is all about, which he sees as journalism, reportage, descriptive activity and selection. On reflection and looking back over my experience of working with Gilly Salmon’s ideas, I think that summarising is probably very similar to curating when  describing the moderator’s role. In my experience, a summary inevitably involves selection and interpretation.

Finally – this week – I have noted how often the word ‘balance’ has cropped up in discussions. So we have had:

We need to find a balance between

  • over-guiding and not providing enough structure
  • niche and diversity
  • creation of and curation of artefacts and resources
  • facilitator and participant voice
  • power relationships in networks

This for me is getting at what we need to be thinking about, if we are considering introducing this approach to learning in more traditional settings. What else do we need to balance as this sort of thinking seems to me to be key to learning in and/or facilitating learning in open networks?

8 thoughts on “#PLENK2010 Curation and Balance

  1. Sean FitzGerald September 19, 2010 / 2:48 am

    Surely summarising is a subset of curating, because curating includes other activities, such as selecting what is to be summarised in the first place?

    Then again, as I think about it curating itself is a subset of facilitating, because there is more to being a facilitator than curating like providing feedback, encouragement, challenging etc.

    Perhaps it’s just about the changing role of the facilitator to include more summarising, curating and gardening (another one of George’s metaphors), rather than coming up with a new term.

    Or perhaps we are getting too caught up in semantics! 🙂

  2. jennymackness September 19, 2010 / 7:28 am

    Hi Sean – In terms of curation – in my head this is what I have always thought of as ‘weaving’ and summarising’ – one of the many roles of an e-moderator (or the moderator can pass that role on to participants, as George and Dave tried to do in the live session). This role includes filtering and selecting – also interpreting, commenting and raising questions for future consideration. Depending on the type of course it might be more or less objective/subjective, so for example my summaries for university lecturers might have a different tone/emphasis than those for undergraduates.

    So – Yes – for me this week has been largely about semantics.

    Thanks for your comment.


  3. Heli Nurmi September 19, 2010 / 7:53 am

    Thanks again, Jenny!

    I learned a lot about the basic concepts by reading this post. I had not noticed those differences by following other materials and discussions.

    So you must be an expert learner or learner-expert suitable to me 🙂 I hope you continue blogging..

  4. ctscho September 20, 2010 / 3:16 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    I’m going to go tangential on you again 🙂 for two thoughts that caught my attention. First, the brief discussion about whether we choose networks or whether networks choose us. The phrasing around “networks choosing” set me back for a moment because I’m wondering if a network comprised of open, diverse, autonomous, etc. nodes really has that kind of agency. A community or group, yes. Nodes within a network, particularly if they are people, perhaps. But I don’t really envision a network as a selective entity or adjudicator of individual acceptability or popularity or interest. I realize that there is a huge aggregation toward the vision of a network as a group of people — i.e. a PLN is (apparently) made of up people. But this is not the definition of network that was left lingering in my brain post-CCK:-)

    Secondly, the relationship between PLEs, PLNs and choice. You note “It reminds me of my exhortations to my children to study harder at school because one of the values of education is that it affords increased choice.” The increased ability for choice (personal, individual, community, etc.) as well as the opportunity not to have others’ choices imposed on us seems to me to be key points (two sides of a coin?), regardless of the definition issue. Interestingly, in addition to the idea that investing in education now leads to choice later (without tilting too much toward what Freier called the “banking” metaphor for education), I also balance my exhortations with the not-quite-opposite encouragement to “explore the dimensions and motivations for choice(s) now, because it affords increased ability to manage your future learning.”

    I like your emphasis on process, which keeps me from getting bogged down in the system-to-replace/modify-a-system conversation about PLEs and LMSs and more focused on emergence, responsiveness and creativity in learning.


  5. jennymackness September 20, 2010 / 6:19 pm

    To Heli – thank you 🙂

  6. jennymackness September 20, 2010 / 6:33 pm

    Hi Carmen

    I can see that you have been a lot more thoughtful than me about all this. It think the point you make about whether or networks can ‘choose’ is an interesting one and reminds me of discussions that Matthias and I had about the role of personal and conceptual connections in networks. I don’t want to speak for Matthias, but we did recognise that he leans towards an interest in conceptual connections in networks and I lean towards an interest in personal connections. So from what you say above I would suspect that when you think of networks you think of conceptual connections, whereas I always think of people (forgive me if this is too much of an assumption and over-simplification). So I always remember that Etienne Wenger has said that a community is always a form of network, but a network is not always a community. When I think of my network I think of people/community – when I think of network in general I simply think of a source of information.

    I love this –

    I also balance my exhortations with the not-quite-opposite encouragement to “explore the dimensions and motivations for choice(s) now, because it affords increased ability to manage your future learning.”

    .. and wish I’d been wise enough when my children were younger to say this to them too. I’m afraid I went for what I now see as a more negative addition to my exhortations – that they should remember that they would have to take the consequences of the choices they made :- ) Fortunately my children still seem to like me most of the time!

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