PLEs and the Technicalities

My earlier blog postings have described my own preferred approach to the creation of a PLE which at its outer level is simply an easily customised web page. I chose a freely available well constructed CSS1 stylesheet that maximised the viewable area of the central content when viewed on a wide range fo devices and browsers, using a layout that allows for flexible width. Below this top levele entry web page a number of directories hold the locally stored content, for my own images, screenshots, and resources that it is suitable to provide locally (i.e. have no copyright issues) and these can be pulled into the web page via relative URLs to allow for the whole PLE to be easily shifted to a new hosting environment, used locally off a memory stick, or cut to CD. The resources and images can also be used in other blogging and course discussion forums via URL reference where appropriate.

This approach works fine for me, as I am comfortable with using a simple text editor to edit HTML directly, and have a simplistic but working understanding of the CSS style sheet approach. I also can access an area where I can store and serve the files easily. But this custom approach is not suitable for all. Technically a way to create such a custom web area and make changing its content and layout easier would be preferable for some. There are many drag and drop frameworks for dropping in content in “frames” and an emerging set of “widgets” that can be dropped into “containers” in such self hosted web sites using a number of script libraries. Again, this can be quite technical to initially set up, but easy to use thereafter. I do worry about the long term stability of some of these mechanisms though, and they do mean that the contents have to be served using a web server, rather than it being possible to simply copy and use the files on a memory stick or off a CD locally on a single computer off-line Some blogging frameworks like WordPress, richer content management systems like Drupal and Joomla, and commercial platforms like iGoogle provide simple approaches for columns of content with inclusion of “blocks” made up of various types of content, widgets and frames.

The issue of security and legality must also be taken into account. there can be legal constraints on the monitoring which an institution is obliged to perform on its own staff communications, and in some cases on the official communications of its students. Issues of copyright infringement may also need to be investigated. These legal requirements can be made more difficult in highly decentralised and personalised environments.

A study of the use of personal web sites as the basis for PLEs at Graz University of Technology (UT Graz) in Austria (Taraghi et al., 2010) described a set of issues to be considered before going on to describe their own framework and approach. They base their approach on work by Schaffert & Hilzensauer who describe seven crucial aspects to consider in the adoption of PLEs:

  • The role of the learner
  • Personalisation
  • Content
  • Social involvement
  • Educational & organisational

So, it is important to look at ways in which the basic approach of using a personalised web page and web area as the basis for a PLE might be made more widely accessible and accesptable within the constraints of an educational institution’s role and requirements. An educational establishment can encourage the use of PLEs alongside their institutional learning support systems. It could seek to provide a framework or “template” approach which all students can adopt and adapt a framework or arrangement that suits them, and that they feel comfortable supports them and the degree of autonomy they seek.

Reference

Schaffert, S. and Hilzensauer, W (2008) “On the way towards Personal Learning Environments: Seven crucial aspects,” in eLearning Papers, no. 9, July, 2008.

Taraghi, B., Ebner, M., Till, G. and Muhlburger, H. (2010) “Personal Learning Environment – A Conceptual Study”, iJET – Volume 5, Special Issue 1: “ICL2009 – MashUps for Learning”, January 2010.

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