Reflecting on the Personal Learning Network

I have mixed feelings and thoughts about the PLN requirement.  I am about halfway through the program. I have taken classes horribly out of sequence. So, my introduction to the PLN was through Owen Guthrie’s Online Pedagogy course. Accordingly, despite Owen’s efforts it still felt contextually weird, and somewhat artificial. Nonetheless, I also appreciated having a name for something that I had been developing organically for most of my life.

So, despite how old fashioned they are, libraries are still central in my PLN. As a small child, 4-5 we lived within walking distance, I was allowed to check out as many books, at a time, as I was years old. I gamed that rule by making several trips per day and exchanging books I was finished with for new ones. Once school started in earnest, the library became the place where I was in control of my learning in a way that I was not in school. Google was a couple of sets of encyclopedias. As well, San Diego has a rich set of museums in Balboa Park, and the Scripps Research Institute and Zoo are valuable aspects of my PLN. I recall a moment when I was ten years old reflecting on my book smarts but practical ignorance. Therefore, making, and tinkering became important to me. In this way, I also connected with my Grandfather, and so my PLN suddenly included the craft of the hand and eye and people (mainly old-timers but not, my school teachers). I hated school, elementary, middle and high school all. It is a wonder, actually because of a car accident putting me out of work that I went to college. College was great stuff and graduate school even better. Accordingly, I have taken classes almost continuously throughout my adult life. I have stayed in contact with professors for years following their classes. John Schumacher until his death is one example. Bob Whitcomb is another. We are fast friends and talk regularly working on each other’s’ challenges, work, life, whatever.

I share all of this because it feels like it is missing from the ONID PLN assignment (and here I am referring to the thematic reoccurring PLN assignment that occurs across ONID courses). The PLN is mostly focused on online tools and resources, and that almost seems to negate a lifetime of learning. I think the assignment would be better if it built on what we are already good at, and instructors helped us plug into online resources that amplified that.

I am not a huge fan of Twitter though over the last year and a half I have found ways to use it to good professional effect. Not so much in creating a web presence but in keeping informed of relevant online content. I had heard the librarians, at my previous job, talking about Diigo. One, in particular, I hold in high regard, used it and so I was willing to be patient with it. However, it was not until Skip’s presentation this semester that the penny dropped for me. That said, bookmarks, spreadsheets, bibliographies are all still good ways to manage web resources, though not necessarily “socially.”

All of that acknowledged I hate having a quota of retweets to make and all the required tags are annoying, and finally I just had to rebel. I see myself participating in the spirit of the assignment but the letter of the law – just felt to school for me.

I am visible and moderately active on LinkedIn, and that is a great source of work-related articles, videos, blogs, podcasts along with too much drek and rubbish. It is unclear to me why it is not a priority in the PLN assignment. G+ is an interesting tool used in the way this program does.

Unfortunately, I do not hear enough in the PLN assignment about attending workshops and trainings and networking. One door that may open at those events is an opportunity to get involved with professional organizations. I attended an EDUCAUSE leadership training and was roped into working on the NERCOMP conference selection committee for the library track at the annual event. That was a great bad experience, and I opted to leave it alone. However, I also have not thrown the baby out with the bathwater other opportunities like that will allow me to build quickly a reputation in Alaska. Moreover, I would urge an early or mid-career person to do it sooner than later. Conference presentations are a tremendous way to grow a network quickly, as well. The little I did immediately opened doors for additional presentations and consulting. My previous boss dragged me kicking and screaming into that, and he was right.

In the end, I would not encourage killing the PLN assignment.  Rather, make more of it, and let learners, at least, sketch out the parameters of their network then add gasoline to their fire by suggesting online resources and tools that amplify the learners’ native activities. Right now it feels half-conceived, awkward, too much about a rubric and too much about the internet.

The Illest Homework in Forever.

Writing about the process of creating “podcasts” is the work of this piece. In this program, this is the second time I have been required to something like this. My reflection on the first was deeply articulate, I said something to the effect, of “This is the illest homework I’ve had in forever.” Therefore, I was pleased to see this assignment. I remember as a kid listening to the local public radio station doing extended replays of radio shows from the 1930’s. Abbott and Costello’s landmark “Who’s on First,” Orson Wells, “War of the Worlds,” and on the lighter end “The Burns and Allen Show” for some examples. For me, these radio shows were magical, like books, but unlike TV. Yet, interestingly, I find YouTubers magical like books and radio and unlike TV, (though lately writing for TV is better than movies.) Writing, since browsers, has again become magical as well. The magic, I believe, is that creation of content is in everybody’s hands now.

I think making the spoken content is an interesting process. On one end of the continuum, for me, is a very writerly approach. The written revision comes from struggling with the transition to speech as I verbally stumble over words read easily but spoken with difficulty. On the other hand, some scripts originate with spoken words, improvisational, and only later are written down and polished. Beyond that, I suspect that the more I did this the more attention I would pay to rhythm and syllables, alliteration, cadence, and volume. For now, I was satisfied to come up with topically relevant content.

Audacity reminds me of Photoshop in that they are refined and deeply nuanced programs. They have several ways to do any particular chore and from several different user interfaces. While I am content that I produced these several audio clips on time and under budget, I am not content with their technical quality. Some of that discontent comes from cheap hardware, namely my microphone. Some discontent comes from simply needing more practice and a better understanding of the software. And, some comes from needing a better understanding of genre conventions.

Editing is an art of its own. At this point, my sources are Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel and Robert Rodriguez, 10 Minute Film School. Kundera speaks of his musical training as significantly important and informative of his composition in writing.

art-of-the-novel dust jacket

Rodrigues speaks of editing with the camera planning the shots ahead so less editing afterward is necessary.

Too, as I mentioned above I might take wisdom from rappers in thinking about rhythm and rhyme in my composition. Rapping Deconstructed is for me less about becoming a rapper and more about becoming self-conscious of the magic of rhetoric, again. The musicality, planful and mindful composition, all topped with the spiciness of improvisation that returns us to music as a metaphor, the pentatonic scale, and the chord progressions set the parameters, but within that is nearly an infinity of possibility.

I offer the following scripts from my audio recordings. They move from improvisational to scripted, though after the fact that is probably less obvious.

Today I want to talk about Moodle and from the perspective of an aspiring Instructional Designer.

First, I want to distance myself from the argument that we are better than this that the best online instruction only occurs in the open environment of the untamed internet. Most colleges and universities have selected one or a couple learning management systems that they support. Similarly, in the business world learning management systems are frequently standardized and selected for compatibility or interoperability with their HR department’s employee management system. Learning management systems are an important skill set for Instructional Designers.

I like Moodle because it is open source and being open source that means almost every internet service provider includes a one-click install of it as part of your service package when you buy domain and hosting. I cannot recommend taking advantage of this highly enough.

Once you set up your personal instance of Moodle, you have the opportunity to interact with the program as an administrator and teacher. Now it is also possible to install the Moodle app on your personal mobile device and test your content in that way, as well. Creating your own development domain lets you master both administrative and instructional functions.

Our tendency is immediately to explore the role of “Teacher” and to begin creating content. I would warn folks away from that and instead to explore the role of Administrator. Explore the various roles that an administrator can create and assign. As well, administrators have authority over authentication, account management, permissions, and enrolments. I am unsure about the effectiveness of it; I have used my own instance of Moodle in my recent job search. I created user accounts for my interviewers and invited them to review a couple of courses I have developed and achieved at my Moodle installation.

So, while I was disappointed with Moodle’s “big brother” competitor’s mobile app I am looking forward to experimenting with Moodle’s mobile app just to see how it works.

LMS have the same basic functions Moodle’s availability allows us to explore and master these basics hence preparing us for our Instructional Designer role.

I find the presence of a semicolon in a spoken piece laughable, to begin with. My process here started with my own use of Moodle. I then moved to reviewing their website for highlights to develop as content. Finally, I spoke to the microphone until I had most of the script. I forced myself to come in under three minutes and so the gap between my content and my outro required some spontaneity and some finessing. From this recording, I learned that I dropped my volume at the end of sentences fading rather than punching.

Internet service in Dillingham is quite expensive and slow. Therefore, I found myself researching on my phone. I discovered Heppell’s website on my work desktop, but the heavy lifting was done from my phone. This script was further towards the written end of the continuum yet it to developed out of recording, writing and revising.

Today I want to talk about Professor Stephen Heppell at Anglia Polytechnic University started this as an outgrowth of his Ultralab project. Heppell offers his version of the inception of the project at his website, “” The initial conversations leading to the program occurred in 1998. One of the cool features of the program is that they developed a new vocabulary and rather than students, they had “researchers” I will respect that in the following. The project focused on researchers excluded from institutional education, school refusals, school phobic, school exclusions, children in long-term hospital care, and profoundly physically impaired. Beyond the goodness of the mission are two other striking elements Heppell was acutely aware of the compelling case that money makes for government officials, Heppell drops the number 25 billion pounds in reengagement savings. Second, Heppell’s list of “early heroes” is a striking list of leaders, non-profit, for profit, journalists, educators, and government officials. My first take away is entrepreneurship whether business, non-profit, or social has a similar recipe for success, networking, and storytelling are fundamental skills.

Heppell also offers the literal sketch on a bar napkin for the technology plan for delivery to researchers. In 1998, it was perhaps relatively radical, now it is a tried and true recipe. I like that Heppell talks about other versions being explored and the realization that that part of the project they got nearly right on the first draft. After inception comes a lot of hard work by many dedicated individuals and once relative success is achieved then continuity becomes important. Far too many projects like this end with their funding, Heppell offers academic, administrative, and social accomplishments for role modeling.

Simply the program worked and has stood the test of time; it has become a model for other similar programs. A British Non-profit called Inclusion Trust is currently operating it. I encourage folks, particularly folks looking for alternatives to the ranks and rows of our classrooms to explore and adapt Stephen Heppell’s work.

Because I had the Moodle script I had a feel for how much of a page would take three minutes to speak, so some of this composition was based on how big a text block I had achieved.  Finally, I worked up the OCW script. This I did sitting at my keyboard with a Word document and my iPhone to search the internet.

Today, I want to talk about the euphemistically titled “Open Courseware.” Massachusetts Institute of Technology led the way in 2001 by starting a project to make virtually all their course content available online. In 2001, this was a completely unheard of approach. Most scholars in higher education considered course content to be proprietary and part of what made an institution competitive and unique. MIT lead in two important ways through this initiative. They anticipated “content creation” as a profoundly important marketing tool. As well, they anticipated and understood that online learning and online peer review were important future trends. In the intervening years, many other universities have joined with them and an amazing wealth of instructional content is available consequently.

On the marketing side, it is easy to understand that their leadership position in technology is nearly unquestionable because of this strategy. Content marketing is now an established new profession I believe, in part, because of this initiative. All organizations are facing questions about positioning themselves as thought leaders and contributors to the knowledge economy.

Sensibly, MIT has examined their website traffic as part of this initiative and the volume is impressive, certainly. MIT has observed three groups, educators, students and self-learners who traffic their site and resources. Of the self-learners, we find people already established in their professions who want to broaden their knowledge followed by people who need to brush up existing skills, or learn a new skill are frequent user of these resources.

I can think of another relatively new profession, Instructional Designers, who might use these types of resources as well. I can imagine using them to either audit or augment course content depending on the instructor I was working with. I can imagine using these resources for inspiration also.

Unfortunately, MIT’s OCW website is not optimized for mobile devices. However, they have a specialized search page focused on educators desiring to use MIT’s resources. Their search protocol is quite interesting it first offers a choice between instructional approach and teaching materials. Unfortunately, I was frustrated in using their searches since I continually received error messages from their website. However, given the many other universities around the world who have followed suit I am not worried that I could find a way to enrich any instructional project I work on. Perhaps this is old news for many folks but for some of us it represents a new class of resources to add to our toolkit.

In this case, I wrote the script entirely. I revised it based first on verbal stumbles. Second, I edited for concerns that are more standard, overstatement, and accuracy for example. By the end I was feeling quite peevish, perhaps cross even, with MIT of all places for having such a bad and broken website (in fairness the brokenness may well be blamed on Dillingham’s internet access, but I have no way to test that, so my pettiness is completely justified.)

Composition and editing in making digital audio recordings has a second moment during recording.  One may keep the tape rolling and simply re-speak a stumble knowing that they can snip away an offending “umm.”  Finally, there is the actual editing phase though because of split functions and track movement one can still engage in composition even at this late stage.

At work, I am currently engaged in editing a professor’s Blackboard screencasts recorded from the Collaborate module. They will suffice. However, I am intrigued with constructing the audio separate from the video. Alternatively, is simply focusing on creating excellent audio in the first and last place. I recall my celebration of Bronet and Schumacher and their criticism of our cultures’ privileging visual knowledge, metaphor, and inquiry. I suspect that when we are not demanding and holding students attention by visual, auditory, and kinesthetic we experience ourselves as losing control. Students at a distance are not under the influence of the rooms’ ranks and rows. Students at a distance are, just like us, multi-tasking, watching YouTube listening to Spotify, typing a text, an email, and a writing assignment. Is there power in giving up control and instead developing excellence in our performance simplified and amplified through a single sense?


Bronet, F., & Schumacher, J. (1999). Design in Movement: The Prospects of Interdisciplinary Design. Journal Of Architectural Education53(2), 97-109. doi:10.1162/104648899564475

Kundera, M. (2003). The Art of the Novel. Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition.

Paulo De Souza, M. (2008 July 5,). The Robert Rodriguez: 10 Minute Film School
(The 1st & Original). [Video file] Retrieved from

Vox. (2016, May 19). Rapping, deconstructed: The best rhymers of all time [Video file]. Retrieved from