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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 and Telecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Personal Learning Environment – Generation 2.0
Behnam Taraghi Information Technology Services / Division of Social Learning Graz University of Technology Graz, Austria b.taraghi@tugraz.at Martin Ebner Information Technology Services / Division of Social Learning Graz University of Technology Graz, Austria martin.ebner@tugraz.at Clemens Kroell Information Technology Services / Division of Social Learning Graz University of Technology Graz, Austria clemens.kroell@tugraz.at
Abstract: Teaching and learning efforts at universities has been dominated by Learning Management Systems since years now. At the same time the so-called Web 2.0 technologies arise and 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 to work with the World Web Web from anywhere at anytime. In this publication a so-called Personal 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 out to improve usability and in that way better fit user´s needs. With the help of metaphor-like terms such as “spaces” and apps the interface became quite easy to work with and fulfilled the change towards learner-centered framework. This paper outlines the cornerstones of the PLE development and its redesign as well as first evaluation data in relation to the focus that the learning environment of tomorrow has to integrate Web services as well as university wide services in an easy and understandable way to become a real Personal Learning Environment.

Introduction
In 2004 a buzzword, called Web 2.0 (O’Reilly 2006) described the change of our way we use the Interent and so to say our online behaviours. In other words, not the technology itself was the revolutionizing aspect, but how 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 been carried out to show how weblogs (Farmer & Bartlett-Brag 2005), wikis (Augar et al. 2006), podcasting (Towned 2005) 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 Digital Assistants (PDAs) help to increase learning efforts (Kukulka-Halme & Traxler 2005). Nevertheless the discussions gained much more attention since the introduction of smartphones, driven by Apple’s iPhone and nowadays also devices using the mobile operating system Android. Mobile Internet and appropriate devices lead that teachers as well 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) mobile technologies as well as the social web influences our daily work and learning environments. Appropriate didactical settings must be carried out to bring all these possibilities to the classroom. In other words for educators it is quite challenging not to become overwhelmed by the enormous number of different tools. Nowadays each university, at least 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 and Telecommunications 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 and learning but did not find place easily within the different LMSs. In the last years developers tried to offer embedding HTML-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 a mainly structured way for students the integration of this services did not help in order to assist self-regulated learning. Today innovative educators are convinced that the power of the WWW is its freedom, where anyone can use services he/she needs for his/her personal learning efforts. Besides teacher given content, each learner must decide for him-/herself, which learning content too fits best and which resource will help to increase his/her learning outcome. Nevertheless also educational institutions should support the change from a teacher-driven to a learnerdriven approach. Bearing in mind the rapidly growing number of applications intended for the above described purposes, an efficient management of these tools could become extremely challenging. Various studies on Web 2.0 usage amongst 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 the question 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 environment should help to maintain the overview of all activities. Mashups merge contents, services and applications from multiple 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 to offer 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. Therefore a 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 an environment 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 on WWW 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 central services 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 to the high number of these services and fast growth of the applied applications in TEL it turned out to be sophisticated for learners and teachers to mange or come across the resources that they actually need. On the other hand the applied applications from WWW and services of universities individually base on general user requirements and do not 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 the same learning goal with the highest possible outcome. A PLE is aimed to integrating all possible tools and resources that 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 represent independent resources, services, and applications that are all integrated within the PLE. Users can select widgets from 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 at TU 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 first PLE prototype that based on common methods of Human Computer Interactions (HCI). The tests targeted the userfriendliness of the system as a whole as well as the client structure of the User Interface (UI) that is illustrated in details (compare Taraghi et al. 2009b). According to the usability results we decided to redesign the whole UI structure 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 and Telecommunications 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) that acts as a widget container in browsers. There are different types of web-based widgets (Taraghi et al. 2009c); each relies 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 that are applied in iGoogle or e.g. within European (EU) project ROLE [3]. The widgets running within the PLE at TU Graz rely on an old version of W3C specifications. The PLE provides a server-side widget store for these widgets and a client-side widget engine (widget container) where the widgets actually run. There are currently some efforts to provide an environment where both widget specifications (W3C and OpenSocial) can run next to each other, a social mashup engine, by Apache Rave [4]. Independent of the widget specifications chosen within one environment, it is important to guarantee the maintainability, scalability, and extendibility of the widgets in a productive system. To reach this goal for the development 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) and eventual negative feedback. Those with extreme low rates will not survive and are going to be removed respectively whereas the more used and interesting widgets are taken into an evolutional process (Taraghi et al. 2011b) and further development. Ubiquitous learning can also be applied within the concept of mashup-based PLEs. As a first step in this regard a first survey has been finished (Taraghi et al. 2011a) to convert PLE widgets to Windows desktop gadgets and 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 and applications in form of widgets into the learning environment. The initial concept behind the architecture of the UI of 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 into three columns where the widgets were positioned in a grid order. The former architecture of the UI was based on the assumption that a new widget-based UI is unfamiliar to the users und they may need to readjust themselves. The idea implemented in that approach was to take the best of both: familiar traditional navigation-based UI and the unfamiliar widget-based UI. This led to confusion in most cases. On the other hand the assumption that the widgetbased 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)

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 and Telecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. The new UI relies on full widget or app-based architecture. It consists of a number of “spaces”. Spaces are personal desktops, which are unrestricted in width and height. They bear close resemblance to the smartphone app environment where the apps are shown up and run. The learners can add several new spaces to their PLE or remove some if not needed. They can distribute, position, and arrange their widgets on different spaces, such as they like. The possibility of user-centered distribution of widgets in spaces can be considered as categorization of widgets that can be done by each user individually. The concept of spaces resembles a real-world learning environment where a learner can learn at several desks with different independent learning resources spread on, arranged in an arbitrary order by the learner himself. Figure 2 demonstrates a user’s space (space 1) where several widgets are installed and positioned by the user arbitrarily. Three widgets are related to language learning (translations), one widget is related to the administration service of the TU Graz (TUGRAZonline widget) where users can search for lectures, lecturers etc. Finally the last widget on the right side represents the library service where users can search for books and publications within the TU Graz library.

Figure 2: One Space in PLE, full of widgets arranged arbitrarily by the user.

Figure 3: A widget (example: Slideshare) in full sized view

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 and Telecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Furthermore the new design allows widgets to be viewed in full size for a better view or be minimized when not needed for a session. Figure 3 shows a Slideshare widget in full sized view. It will be possible to share spaces between one or multiple users in the near future. All users sharing one or multiple spaces will have the same rights within their shared spaces. If one user in a shared space installs a widget, all users sharing that distinct space would be able to use and work with that widget. Uninstalling a widget within the shared space by a user would remove the widget from the shared space for all users. Shared spaces make collaborative-based learning possible within the PLE. Users can configure the widgets according to their preferences. They can uninstall the widget if it is not needed any more and get in contact with the widget developer directly per email. All these actions are provided for each widget within the widget´s header. In fFigure 2 the widget on the very left (dict.cc) is actively used. Therefore the header is faded in for eventual use automatically (white icons around the top right corner). The widget management interface provides the possibility to have an overview of the whole spaces, the widgets within each space, and the arrangement of widgets in different spaces. The users can rearrange their widgets, move them to other spaces, reorder the spaces, delete or add new spaces to their PLE. Additionally the widget management interface can be used as a means of navigation within the PLE. Figure 4 shows an example of the overview (Space Management) interface where the user owns six spaces. Clicking on the space number navigates the user to the corresponding space. Additionally by selecting a widget the user can navigate to the widget and view it full sized.

Figure 4: Space Management Interface in PLE; allows adding, removing, reordering spaces, and moving widgets among spaces. It serves also as a navigation interface to individual spaces and widgets. The “Widget Boutique” is the label serving as widget store in the PLE of TU Graz. The Widget Boutique resembles the iPhone App Store or Android Market where users can view description of widgets, view details information on widgets, install widget instances, and finally comment and rate them. Figure 5 and figure 6 show the widget boutique interface. Widgets can be sorted out on different criteria such as user’s already installed widgets, most often used widgets, and top rated ones. The PLE administrator classifies widgets into different categories. Users can filter out the list of widgets by categories.

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 and Telecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Figure 5: Widget Boutique in PLE; allows installation, uninstallation of widget instances, as well as commenting and rating. Users can sort and filter widget lists in different ways. It is possible to install multiple instances of a widget in one’s own PLE. Through the widget boutique interface users have the possibility to uninstall all instances simultaneously or install a new instance on the actual space, navigate to the widget, rate and comment on the widget, as well as see the actual middle rate and number of total installations in PLE. As an example for that figure 6 shows the detail view of the “TUGRAZonline” widget in the widget boutique.

Figure 6: Detail view of a widget within Widget Boutique

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 and Telecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Discussion
In this chapter the general aspects and outcomes as well as first evaluations are being discussed: • User centered development: The crucial factor to start running a PLE, based on the mashups of widgets, is an appropriate number of initial widgets existing. In the first phase widgets of highest interest had to be developed that are needed probably by all users of TU Graz in order to increase the attractiveness and usefulness of the PLE in general. For example: access to the personal TU Graz e-mail account or other university wide services that are daily used are simply a precondition for launching a PLE as well as widgets personally connecting the popular social networks Facebook and Twitter. • Development by users: A further concept of the PLE is that users with basic knowledge of web programing should be able to enhance the framework. After short introduction learners themselves could integrate their personal widgets and share it with others. Users are not only consumers, or contributors, but can also become active developers for the PLE. Users come across the missing resources and applications that are required by or can be useful for them more probably than the administrators. They develop widgets of their interest and enhance the PLE with them. About 90% of the widgets running on the PLE have been developed by the students. The number of widgets is constantly increasing. • Attractiveness – fun theory: in order to make the PLE more attractive for users, the redesigned UI is built pretty much resembling to the mobile apps environments. Despite the UI, students are allowed to share their own developed widgets on the PLE. The widgets must not be necessarily associated with learning. “Weather forecast” and “Minesweeper” widgets are two examples of such widgets that have been shared by the users. The funnier the environment is, the more often it will be used. • User centered design: The overall design concept strongly relies on common and approved design concepts. For example the provided spaces are similar to the space concept of Apple’s operating system (Mac OS). Furthermore each widget can be compared with an application, shortly “app”, on common mobile phones and the Widget Boutique strongly reminds of the App-Stores (iTunes and Android Market). First usability studies carried out that users are able to work with the environment within seconds without any further explanation. • Learner centered framework: A further development of the PLE is the introduction of so-called shared spaces. Each space should not only belong to just one user, it should be shareable with any other user. Shared spaces will allow collaboration between teachers and learners as well as learners and learners. The most interesting didactical approach will be the use of the PLE as an integral part of an university lecture and in that context the equality of user rights and equal possibilities of teachers and learners within shared spaces.

Conclusion
The resemblance of the new UI to mobile app stores has attracted the users a lot. The new version of the TU Graz PLE has been launched on October 2011. Since then the number of active users have increased to over 200 users per day which is an increase of 400% in comparison to the former version. Spaces help learners to manage and classify their learning resources (widgets) as they are used to in their learning environments in real world. The navigation has been made much easier so that users can easily find the resources they are looking for. It is planned to build a notification mechanism for the PLE. Widgets will be able to send messages to the PLE and notify users individually about events happening within their scope. A use case e.g. is the email widget that sends notifications about newly incoming emails or the RSS feed widget that notifies the user about some new unread feeds. The notification messages will be highlighted at the toolbar on the top of the PLE so that the user is always notified about events of his interest happening, even if the corresponding widgets are not on the active space or minimized by the user. Finally it must be announced that the first lecture held including the PLE will take place in summer term 2012 with two learner groups at different universities. It can be summarized that the next steps beside development of further widgets is gathering practical experiences as well as doing evaluations on how learning and teaching can be optimized through such novel environment. Additionally, as the number of widgets and learning resources is increasing on the PLE a personalized recommender system will be needed in future to assist learners with suitable resources in their special learning process and activities.

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 and Telecommunications 2012 (pp. 1828-1835). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

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