Day 1: Where do you learn?

A diagram of a personal learning environment

This week’s Learning X is exploring learning in a digital world and thinking about our learning footprints.  There’s often lots of talk about students needing to be aware of their digital footprint as they live their lives online through social media channels.  Over the course of this week we’re going to switch the focus to how we as academics learn and the places we learn in.  We’ll  look at how we use technology more generally and go on to consider areas such as privacy, ownership and who’s in control of what we see online.  Developing our understanding of these issues can help shape how we can develop as teachers in the digital space in safe and positive ways and consider how we might then go on to use technology with our students.

A diagram of a personal learning environment
An example of a personal learning environment

As we begin to explore our learning footprints let’s start by thinking about how we learn. Everyone learns in different ways and about a vast array of different things.  We learn facts and skills and about our professional identities.  The process of learning is complex and how we approach it varies according to what we’re trying to learn or master together with the context of the learning.  Whilst many of us maybe have been, or are, involved in elements of formal learning through higher programmes of study and continuing professional development activities, much of our lifelong and life wide learning is informal and self-directed.  Different forms of content play a role in supporting our learning as do people, so much of learning is social and situated in the workplace in our communities of practice.  The digital world is also playing a growing role in supporting our learning and changing the look and feel of our learning environments and leading to the concept of the personal learning environment (PLE).  With access to information online 24/7 we can learn anytime, anyplace, anywhere and self-organise our learning and create our own PLE.  We can think about our PLE in terms of:

  • The spaces that we learn in, both the physical and the virtual world. For example in the office, on the sofa at home in the evenings, on the commute into university, at academic seminars, online courses or online forums.
  • The tools and resources that we use. These might be open and free to use or are paid for or closed and restricted access. There’s Google and the Library search and other databases to access resources to support our learning,  there are the tools, apps and websites that we might use.
  • Where we record and reflect on our learning.  Perhaps using pen and paper, by creating sketch notes or using digital tools and note taking apps to organise and file resources that support our learning.
  • How we share what we’ve learned.  In team meetings, conversations with colleagues or maybe share our learning through social networks and online forums.

The look and feel and what makes up a PLE will look different for each of us.

Think about your own personal learning environment (PLE).  The physical and virtual spaces that you learn in, the tools and resources that you use, how you record and reflect on your own learning and then share it more widely.

Begin to map out or sketch your own personal learning cycle or learning environment, detailing the places, spaces, resources and tools that you use to support your learning.  You can sketch this out any way you like. As you think about this don’t restrict yourself to learning that applies to your professional work life but also to your hobbies and interests, for example learning how to fix something, how to use the more advanced settings on a digital camera, how to ice a cake etc.  Consider whether there are differences between where formal and informal learning takes place. Once you’ve finished mapping your personal learning environment you could compare with some that other educators have created over on this PLE wiki.

Are there similarities  between your PLE and those on the wiki?  This was created several years ago and you’ll see that some of the images are missing which highlights that transient nature of content on the web.  Individuals close down sites and the content disappears.

It would be also be great to compare and contrast across the University so if you take a photograph with your phone you can upload it into this folder on the University’s One Drive only, open to those within the University.  Alternatively share it via Twitter and include the hashtag #UoDLearnX.

You might want to try this exercise with students.  It will give you an insight into how your students are learning and help them share useful resources and tips to support their learning.

With knowledge growing at exponential rates it can be a challenge to keep up to date and not feel over whelmed by constant streams of information flowing from multiple channels.  The ability to filter information is an essential skill and our professional and learning networks can play a key role in helping to sign post us to useful content and resources.

Building on the concept of the personal learning environment, Canadian Harold Jarche has coined the term – Personal Knowledge Mastery  (PKM) built on the principles of Seek > Sense > Share.  Jarche suggests that we need to take responsibility for our ongoing personal development and that we can’t always do this alone.  He encourages individuals to

  • Continuously seek out people and knowledge to improve the breadth and diversity of your knowledge networks.
  • Experiment on a regular basis to try out new practices in order to learn by doing.
  • Make sense of your life and work by making your thoughts explicit (sense-making). Review these from time to time.
  • Seek out communities of peers that will enable you to improve your professional practices.
  • Share your learning with discretion at work, in your communities of practice, and with your social networks.

Jarche highlights the process or routine of undertaking PKM will vary from individual to individual as we all adopt our own approach.

Some examples of approaches to PKM are outlined on this blog post ‘What is your PKM routine?‘ and there are links to other examples.  Harold’s blog provides a wealth of blog posts written over more than a decade on connecting work and learning and sharing.

Scot Leslie, an educational technologist in British Colombia, posted some observations on PLE diagrams over on his blog back in 2012.  It’s worthwhile reading this and seeing which category your own PLE diagram falls into.  What’s striking in reading Scott’s blog post is that a number of the images that Scott embedded into the blog post are missing, there are empty boxes where these diagrams would have appeared when he first published his post.  This highlights how some of the spaces that we use to support our learning can so quickly and easily disappear.  Individuals who were once enthusiastic bloggers stop and take down their sites.

The same is true of organisation websites and information portals.  One only has to think of the old HEA subject centres and the websites that supported their work which have all now pretty much disappeared.  This all points to the digital aspects of our PLEs being transient and in some cases having a short-shelf life as sites and digital tools come and go.  Even Google has retired tools which 5 years ago might have been a common feature on some PLE diagrams. Scot Leslie – Some Observations on PLE Diagrams

Day 2: Online identities, digital residents and visitors

Image of woman's face with no facial features and to the right a series of concentric circles with different social media icons, digital icons and communication icons

Image of woman's face with no facial features and to the right a series of concentric circles with different social media icons, digital icons and communication icons

Having looked at our personal learning environments and started to think about the digital spaces and tools that support our learning we’re going to move on and consider our interaction with digital spaces and where we might leave traces of our online identities.  As many of us live out elements of both our professional and personal lives in digital spaces it’s worth taking time to consider how we manage the various personas we may present in the digital realm. If we use digital tools and spaces in our teaching we also need to take care to make sure our students have an understanding of the implications of using them and encourage them to think about how they will manage their digital identities and gain awareness of how they can manage their learning footprints.

Dave White and Alison Le Cornu have proposed a metaphor for mapping how we engage with the web and different technologies in both our personal lives and professional lives as a continuum of visitors and residents. Previous attempts to categorise how we engage with the digital world have suggested that the extent of our use may be linked to our age  leading to the notion of digital natives and digital immigrants as outlined by Marc Prensky.  White and Le Cornu challenge this assumption and the premise behind their metaphor is that we visit some online spaces and don’t leave a footprint or trail of our presence whilst in other spaces we are resident and a record of our engagement and our identity is evident.  Many of us are visitors on Google as we undertake a search, we might also be visitors on a site like YouTube as we look for videos that we might use in our teaching or to support our learning but if we’re posting our own videos or commenting on videos on YouTube we can be seen as residents in this online space. Dave White gives a helpful overview of visitors and residents in this video.

Many in higher education circles have been guilty of perpetuating the myth that our students are all digital natives and therefore more digitally savvy than us as their teachers.  Evidence from work done by Jisc and others over the past 10 years has highlighted that whilst our students may be adept at using social media they do not necessarily have well developed understanding and skills on how to use technology to support their learning.  Applying the digital visitors and residents metaphor can help us gain a better understanding of where our students sit in the digital realm and help them begin to explore and better appreciate the identities they are leaving traces of online.
References and further reading

Have a go at mapping out your own digital visitors and residents map, either draw your own out on a piece of paper or download this Digital resident – visitor mapping template and complete.

Once you’ve completed the mapping exercise reflect on the following points:

  • Is there anything that surprises you having completed this mapping activity?
  • How likely is your map to be similar to that of your colleagues?
  • Do you think it would differ much from one created by one of your undergraduate, postgraduate or research students?
  • How many digital identities or personas relating to different areas of your life are resident on the web?
  • Given that individuals may have different motivtaions and philosophies which shape their interactions with and use of technologies, what impact do you think this might have on using different technologies in teaching and learning.  Think in particular about the use of social media tools such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in  education.  Do you think they have a role?  Have a read of Catherine Cronin’s post on Enacting Digital Identity.
  • Do you think students consider how the data and footprints they leave online are used by organisations such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple?
  • Is there anything you would change about your online activity or how you manage your online identities having completed this mapping exercise?

Feel free to share your reflections and thoughts in the comments sections below.

Asking your students to create their own visitor and resident maps is a useful way to understand how they are engaging with the world wide web and in particular how they use it to support their learning.  Also as we look to incorporate learning and teaching on digital skills and information literacy into our curricula, the visitor and residents exercise can help prepare the ground to go on and explore issues around online privacy and how online channels, and in particular social media channels, use our data and how in turn algorithms control much of what we see in our social media channels.  It’s an activity that can begin to raise students awareness of what they are doing online and make them consider their own digital identities in a more positive context than the more usual approaches that tend to focus on the negative aspects of online behaviour.

If you’re interested in doing this activity with your students, Dave White had produced a facilitators guide to support a group activity on visitors and residents that has been licensed for open use and reuse. You can access the guide and the accompanying resources and notes on his website Digital – Learning – Culture.

A recent paper from Maralyn Druce and Stella Howden outlines how this mode and exercise can be used as a lens to gain perspectives of students online learning behaviour. They highlight how understanding the visitor and resident spectrum of our students can provide insights into how they use various digital tools and could also help inform course design.

The visitor and resident model could also help you see where students might need some guidance on how to use some of the tools that we take for granted in our disciplines and help us to develop strategies to nurture their self efficacy when it comes to online learning.


Druce, M. and Howden, S., 2017. New perspectives on health professions students’e-learning: Looking through the lens of the “visitor and resident” model. Medical Teacher, pp.1-6.

Today’s link of the day is to a report titled ‘What makes a successful online learner?’ published by Jisc and which builds on their work looking at students’ digital experience in relation to learning.  Whilst it identifies that some of the attributes of successful online learners are more applicable to postgraduate and CPD courses delivered online it’s useful to read this report in the context of all of our students and reflect on how we can help them to develop as successful lifelong learners in a digital world.

This Slideshare presentation from the Jisc team working on this project outlines how this project was approached and summarises key recommendations for lecturers involved in delivering and designing online learning.

Learning X 2017-18 Season kicks off with Module Makeover

Building on the success of last semester’s first Learning X series theme on Copyright, we’ve planned a whole Season of Learning X for the 2017/18 academic session.  If you missed our first series, Learning X is our online approach to supporting learning and teaching in a digital world and consists of short and snappy online guided learning activities relating to everyday learning and teaching practice.  By developing a themed approach we hope that groups and individuals can learn together and develop learning conversations and networks.  The beauty of delivering this online is that you can join in when you want and the content will always be available.  We’re developing Learning X as a hybrid pedagogy approach and each series will be accompanied by a complementary workshop so that staff can meet up and ask further questions, get additional advice, tips and support.

The new season kicks off on Monday 7 August with a Module makeover series designed to help you get your modules ready for the start of the new session. Module makeover will encourage you to think about developing a module checklist to ensure you have all the key information ready to view for your students.  It will also point you to online learning on the web to help inspire you and highlight some tools and approaches that you might not be aware of. There will also be a Module Makeover workshop/surgery on Wednesday 9 August from 10.00-12.00hrs in the Eduzone in the Library.

The Learning X 2017/18  season Semester 1 schedule continues as outlined below.

28 August: Copyright – this series returns refreshed for a rerun with an accompanying workshop on 7th September.

2 October: Learning Footprints – this series will explore concepts such as digital residents and visitors together with personal learning environments and networks and also discuss privacy and safety in digital learning habitats.

9 October: Digital Scholarship – here we’ll be making use of the Open University’s OpenLearn module on the Digital Scholar to help highlight how we can harness digital approaches to our work around the scholarship of learning and teaching here at Dundee.

In semester 2 we’ll go on to explore themes such as learning design and assessment and we’ll publish dates for these once they’re confirmed.  In between our Learning X series  we’ll also be publishing one-off episodes to in response to direct requests we receive from the learning and teaching community and also focussing on innovative teaching approaches.

If you have suggestions for other topics and themes that we should be looking at over the next year please let us know.