Next Big Thingism, PLEs and Stating the Bleedin’ Obvious

I’m currently reading The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice by Martin Weller.  He talks articulately about what he calls ‘next big thingism’:


“If failing to engage with technology is one problem, then over-eager adoption of every new technology is another.  One of the effects of a digital, open, networked culture is that it amplifies success.  The network effect sees some very big winners, as a piece of content goes viral.  Suddenly, a YouTube clip of a child on the way back from the dentist has 75 million views.  These big successes are a distraction, however, they are outliers, freaks – they are not the norm.  The norm is a hundred hits or so.  Similarly, some projects achieve great success, and the obvious approach is to emulate them.  Wikipedia is such an oft-quoted example of how crowdsourcing can be successful that it is a cliché.  That Wikipedia works is amazing, but that doesn’t mean the same approach will work for every project.  Similarly, Twitter may be an excellent means of expanding a professional network, but forcing students to use it may be seen as irrelevant.


It is something of a myth that a digital generation of students is clamouring for these new technologies in their education.  Cann and Badge (2010) created a course on developing a personal learning environment using a variety of tools.  The module was not popular with students and seen as a distraction.”


That last couple of sentences link loosely I think to my earlier post: If you build it…they will (not) not come.  However, what really interested me was Weller’s mention of the creation of a course that looked at how to develop a personal learning environment.  As young people today might say in their young person’s vernacular: WTF?!


I’m a massive fan of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) but devising a course to work through in order to develop one’s own is ridiculous, because we create our own PLEs subconsciously and organically.  And I have more than one.  There’s my work-based PLE (office, desk, chair, PC, iPod, iPad, landline, BlackBerrry and Morrissey poster).  There’s my home PLE – or, as it’s more commonly known, my house.  Everything I need is there from the comfy chair by the bookshelf with an ashtray balanced on the arm rest through to my laptops (and they go wherever I want), my stereo and music collection, my ‘i’ devices, my phones, my kettle and that bottle of vodka I’ve got nestling in my fridge.  I didn’t have to be instructed or shown how to have this environment – it all just happened.  Oh, and let’s not forget my sitting on a train PLE which consists of iPad, iPod and BlackBerry.  And if I’m on my way home from a conference, the PLE usually also includes a crappy book (Jeremy Kyle’s autobiography this week) and a half bottle of white. 

We run the risk of over-stuffing our learners’ minds with technology that, 7 out of 10 times, gets forgotten about or becomes unsupported within weeks. I had great expectations for Google Wave, for example – could really see how it could be used in my teaching – but my learners were only just getting to grips and feeling comfortable with Google docs as a means of collaborating outside the classroom at the time – by adding yet another application to their digital arsenal, I was just giving them far too much information – and, as it happened, Google Wave fell by the wayside within weeks of its inception anyway.


I’ll be talking more about Weller’s Next Big Thingism in more detail in the next few weeks – along with anything else I’ve mentioned recently and promised to get back to.  Grasshopper mind, that’s me…

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