Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


PLE Conference 2012 Unkeynote 1

Antonio de Figuerido and Frances Bell were invited to give the opening unkeynote at the PLE 2012 ConferenceMe and my network at the University of Aveiro, Portugal on 10 July.   We hope that the resources we provide here and elsewhere might become part of our PLEs. Conference participants and other interested parties were invited to submit questions in advance, and these were shared so that everyone was able to read and reflect on the questions prior to the unkeynote itself. Here were the first questions submitted, and by the start of the Conference this list had become much longer.  The questions were projected at the Aveiro session, and the Melbourne were supposed to have the session streamed but in the end had to come in via Skype so I am not sure what their experience was.  Anyway, they went off for tapas that looked delicious.  The Twitterstream was very active, as it has been throughout the conference.

The questions were projected to participants from show at and the audience came up with some fascinating responses.  Here is my attempt to draw out the themes raised in participant discussion around the questions.

The what

Early in the discussion, Antonio identified that the ontological question of what is a PLE?  does not seem to have been resolved.  Later on, someone suggested that we shouldn’t try to achieve an agreed definition, being better served by alternative perspectives in our exploration what we can do with PLEs.

The when

Time came up as an issue in many of the responses with the attractiveness of a PLE being the ‘just in time’ nature of its support being attractive for many PLE owners.  However, this did not entirely rule the possibility of ‘just in case’ learning (often a feature of more traditional learning) being enacted in people’s PLEs.

The who

There was discussion of ownership of PLEs – student/ teacher/ institution. When we were exploring Q3 where George asked if PLE was something you did or something you had, participants raised  the issue of identity – that the PLE is us and each of us is our network.

The why

Suggestions for why we might promote the use of PLEs by learners included:

Challenging learners’ views of what learning is

Formalising informal learning

Acknowledging informal learning in formal education

The how

Helping learners to choose and use technologies/tools effectively

Modelling learning behaviours that students can emulate – this tied in with the welcome to the introduction by Prof Antonio Moreira, the Director of the Department of Education.  He talked about historic shifts in teacher training from ‘sitting with Nelly’, through formal training, and back to learning by observing using PLEs.

There was discussion around the relative (un)importance of which tools we used and how they link together in networks of tools, people and resources.

The in-betweens

Emerging from discussion of all of the above was the relational aspects how they impact on and change each other.  Rather than technology determining social and cultural factors, participants were acknowledging that all three were changing each other.  This was especially evident in a rich discussion of ecologies of PLEs, and the emergent patterns that become visible rather than the (mythical) achievement of planned objectives.


This was my reflection and interpretation of the themes I saw emerging from the questions and answers in our unkeynote – but you will all have your own reflections that I hope you will share and explore via comments here, Twitter, face to face discussions, etc.

Post Script

Terminology is always a bugbear and definitions can stifle debate and discussion but one terminological issue struck me as I listened to the discussion.  There was a lot of talk about tools, and my personal view is regarding Twitter, Facebook, etc. as tools can conceal as much as it reveals.  For me these are (constantly morphing) services, on which and across which we can ‘do’ our PLEs.  The focus on service can emphasise ‘free’ and paid for services, and help draw out who is serving whom and who is paying for what.  A tool seems like something we can pick up and put down, but a service can give us a resource that may be ephemeral (like the paying advertisers receive from Facebook) or the service we provide (in return for ‘free’ use of Facebook) can result in persistent data about us over which we have lost control.  But maybe that’s another unkeynote;)


francesbell • July 12, 2012

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