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Personal Learning Environment – Generation 2.0

Personal Learning Environment – Generation 2.0

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Published by Martin
Publication at ED-Media 2012, Denver, USA
Publication at ED-Media 2012, Denver, USA

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Published by: Martin on Jun 28, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Draft originally published at: Targhi, B., Ebner, M. & Kroell, C. (2012). Personal Learning Environment – Generation 2.0. In Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia andTelecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
Personal Learning Environment – Generation 2.0
Behnam TaraghiInformation Technology Services / Division of Social LearningGraz University of TechnologyGraz, Austria b.taraghi@tugraz.at Martin Ebner Information Technology Services / Division of Social LearningGraz University of TechnologyGraz, Austriamartin.ebner@tugraz.at Clemens KroellInformation Technology Services / Division of Social LearningGraz University of TechnologyGraz, Austriaclemens.kroell@tugraz.at 
: Teaching and learning efforts at universities has been dominated by LearningManagement Systems since years now. At the same time the so-called Web 2.0 technologies ariseand assist teachers as well as learners through communication or collaborating with each other.Furthermore new web technologies like mashups or new devices like smartphones allow us towork with the World Web Web from anywhere at anytime. In this publication a so-calledPersonal Learning Environment (PLE) is introduced which was launched at Graz University of Technology for the first time in 2010. After a prototype phase a complete redesign was carried outto improve usability and in that way better fit user´s needs. With the help of metaphor-like termssuch as “spaces” and apps the interface became quite easy to work with and fulfilled the changetowards learner-centered framework. This paper outlines the cornerstones of the PLEdevelopment and its redesign as well as first evaluation data in relation to the focus that thelearning environment of tomorrow has to integrate Web services as well as university wideservices in an easy and understandable way to become a real Personal Learning Environment.
In 2004 a buzzword, called Web 2.0 (O’Reilly 2006) described the change of our way we use the Interentand so to say our online behaviours. In other words, not the technology itself was the revolutionizing aspect, buthow it influenced our interacting with the software and how we became an active part within the World Wide Web(WWW). Downes stated that Web 2.0 is not a technology it is an attitude (Downes 2005) and defined the use of Web 2.0 technology for teaching and learning as e-learning 2.0. Since then many different research studies had beencarried out to show how weblogs (Farmer & Bartlett-Brag 2005), wikis (Augar et al. 2006), podcasting (Towned2005) as well as microblogging or social networks (Ebner & Maurer 2008) enhance education in meaningful ways.One of the youngest research fields in the area of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) is mobile learning,shortly m-learning. In the early 2000 first research projects took place and showed how the use of Personal DigitalAssistants (PDAs) help to increase learning efforts (Kukulka-Halme & Traxler 2005). Nevertheless the discussionsgained much more attention since the introduction of smartphones, driven by Apple’s iPhone and nowadays alsodevices using the mobile operating system Android. Mobile Internet and appropriate devices lead that teachers aswell as learners to use mobile phones in different contexts and of course also for teaching and learning purposes(Ebner et al. 2008).Due to its ubiquitous availability and pervasive use (Holzinger et al. 2006) (Klamma et al. 2007) mobiletechnologies as well as the social web influences our daily work and learning environments. Appropriate didacticalsettings must be carried out to bring all these possibilities to the classroom. In other words for educators it is quitechallenging not to become overwhelmed by the enormous number of different tools. Nowadays each university, atleast in Austria, provides a Learning Management System (LMS) as well as further possibilities to enhance
Draft originally published at: Targhi, B., Ebner, M. & Kroell, C. (2012). Personal Learning Environment – Generation 2.0. In Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia andTelecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
education by the use of digital media. Furthermore the WWW offers services like YouTube (for sharing Videos),Flickr (for sharing pictures), Slideshare (for sharing presentations), Scribd (for sharing documents), Mendeley (for sharing publications) or Delicious (for sharing bookmarks). Each of them might be useful also for teaching andlearning but did not find place easily within the different LMSs. In the last years developers tried to offer embeddingHTML-code of different portals or provided a possibility to integrate such services via Web services and APIs(Application Programming Interfaces). Bearing in mind that a LMS is teacher driven who provides content in amainly structured way for students the integration of this services did not help in order to assist self-regulatedlearning.Today innovative educators are convinced that the power of the WWW is its freedom, where anyone canuse services he/she needs for his/her personal learning efforts. Besides teacher given content, each learner mustdecide for him-/herself, which learning content too fits best and which resource will help to increase his/her learningoutcome. Nevertheless also educational institutions should support the change from a teacher-driven to a learner-driven approach.Bearing in mind the rapidly growing number of applications intended for the above described purposes, anefficient management of these tools could become extremely challenging. Various studies on Web 2.0 usageamongst students (Ebner & Nagler 2010) underline that it is hard to follow these tools and even more to monitor them in an appropriate way. Therefore during the last years different research work has been done addressing thequestion whether so called mashups can assist to overcome this lack of management (Kulathuramaiyer & Maurer 2007). Tuchinda (Tuchinda et al. 2008) postulates “the possibility to connect different resources in one environmentshould help to maintain the overview of all activities. Mashups merge contents, services and applications frommultiple websites in an integrated, coherent way”. The combination of different tiny applications, e.g. in form of widgets within a framework and with strong relationship to learning is called Personal Learning Environment (PLE).Following the idea that the learner itself can manage these applications according to his/her needs a PLE is able tooffer a new form of personalized learning (Wild et al. 2008).This publication aims to describe an already running prototype of a PLE at Graz University of Technology(TU Graz). The PLE was launched in 2010 university wide (Taraghi et al. 2009b) and redesigned in 2011. Thereforea general description is given and what an innovative learning environment has to look like to attract learners.Finally, the first collected data about the overall usage is presented to show how the acceptance of such anenvironment in higher education is.
Personal Learning Environment – an Integral Approach
The main idea in using a Personal Learning Environment is that there are many resources distributed onWWW that are driven in the learning process of the learners directly or indirectly. Nowadays universities and higher educational institutions provide their students with many online services such as LMS to enhance the learning performance and simplify the sophisticated learning process. At Graz University of Technology, despite of centralservices for all students and teachers (Ebner et al. 2010) that are provided by Information Technology Services(ITS), there are many other online applications and services that are provided by each faculty individually. Due tothe high number of these services and fast growth of the applied applications in TEL it turned out to be sophisticatedfor learners and teachers to mange or come across the resources that they actually need. On the other hand theapplied applications from WWW and services of universities individually base on general user requirements and donot rely on users’ individual needs. Each individual learner acts differently in terms of his/her learning behavior.Different learners may need different resources, learning objects and tools customized to their needs to reach thesame learning goal with the highest possible outcome. A PLE is aimed to integrating all possible tools and resourcesthat a learner may need during his/her learning process in a user-centered customizable way (Schaffert 2009).At TU Graz a PLE was launched that relies on mashup of widgets (Taraghi et al. 2009a). Widgets representindependent resources, services, and applications that are all integrated within the PLE. Users can select widgetsfrom a pool of widgets (“widget store” or “widget boutique” in case of the PLE at TU Graz), arrange them as they prefer and configure them to their actual needs and interests. Ebner and Taraghi described the concept of the PLE atTU Graz in details and gave an overview on some widgets that had been developed at the time the paper was published (Ebner & Taraghi 2010). During the first year (2010) several usability tests were performed on the firstPLE prototype that based on common methods of Human Computer Interactions (HCI). The tests targeted the user-friendliness of the system as a whole as well as the client structure of the User Interface (UI) that is illustrated indetails (compare Taraghi et al. 2009b). According to the usability results we decided to redesign the whole UIstructure for a better performance and higher user friendliness that is going to be described in the following sections.
Draft originally published at: Targhi, B., Ebner, M. & Kroell, C. (2012). Personal Learning Environment – Generation 2.0. In Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia andTelecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.
PLE as Widget Container
From a technical point of view the PLE at TU Graz is realized as a Rich Internet Application (RIA) thatacts as a widget container in browsers. There are different types of web-based widgets (Taraghi et al. 2009c); eachrelies on a different set of specifications. Recently two specifications have been established and applied in some projects: W3C widget specifications [1] that are implemented by Apache Wookie [2] and OpenSocial Gadgets thatare applied in iGoogle or e.g. within European (EU) project ROLE [3]. The widgets running within the PLE at TUGraz rely on an old version of W3C specifications. The PLE provides a server-side widget store for these widgetsand a client-side widget engine (widget container) where the widgets actually run. There are currently some effortsto provide an environment where both widget specifications (W3C and OpenSocial) can run next to each other, asocial mashup engine, by Apache Rave [4].Independent of the widget specifications chosen within one environment, it is important to guarantee themaintainability, scalability, and extendibility of the widgets in a productive system. To reach this goal for thedevelopment of widgets running in the PLE at TU Graz a predefined framework (Taraghi & Ebner 2010) is applied.Once the widgets are provided within the PLE, they are monitored automatically for usefulness (rating) andeventual negative feedback. Those with extreme low rates will not survive and are going to be removed respectivelywhereas the more used and interesting widgets are taken into an evolutional process (Taraghi et al. 2011b) andfurther development.Ubiquitous learning can also be applied within the concept of mashup-based PLEs. As a first step in thisregard a first survey has been finished (Taraghi et al. 2011a) to convert PLE widgets to Windows desktop gadgetsand Mac OS dashboard widgets.In the next section the new structure of the PLE as well as the widget container is briefly described.
PLE: User Interface
The PLE at TU Graz acts as a widget container to integrate the distributed resources, services andapplications in form of widgets into the learning environment. The initial concept behind the architecture of the UIof the PLE (Taraghi et al. 2009b) based on a sidebar, as a navigation and information element, on the left (Fig. 1 – element 1) and the main widget zones (Fig. 1 – element 2). The different widget labels were listed within the sidebar and served as a navigation element to find and install the widgets on widget zones. Widget zones were divided intothree columns where the widgets were positioned in a grid order. The former architecture of the UI was based on theassumption that a new widget-based UI is unfamiliar to the users und they may need to readjust themselves. Theidea implemented in that approach was to take the best of both: familiar traditional navigation-based UI and theunfamiliar widget-based UI. This led to confusion in most cases. On the other hand the assumption that the widget- based UI is unfamiliar to the users can be neglected by now through the high usage rate of mobile apps and smart phones as well as desktop widgets by majority of users.
Figure 1:
Former UI elements of the PLE architecture
[1] http://www.w3.org/TR/widgets/ (last visit 2011-12-10)[2] http://incubator.apache.org/wookie/ (last visit 2011-12-10)[3] http://www.role-project.eu/ (last visit 2011-12-10)[4] http://incubator.apache.org/rave/ (last visit 2011-12-10)

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