18 December 2006 

PLEs continued

Since submitting the assignment detailed in this post about Personal Learning Environments, these updates:
  1. I discovered WidgetBox, only just released but running hot. Some in the PLE space are already touting it as a personal solution, as it allows Moodle users to add their personal webservices to their MoodleBlogs, which can then be ported elsewhere when study is complete.
  2. On behalf of the CETIS team at University of Bolton, Scott Wilson presented a short paper entitled Towards a Reference Model for the Personal Learning Environment at the ASCILITE conference in Sydney. The paper, and in particular the talk which I attended (the black-shirted tech support person at the back of the room), was a thorough disappointment. Perhaps the paper had been relegated from "full" to "short" status, I don't know. Scott began by asking how many had heard about PLEs--only a handful put up their hand. He then proceeded not to talk about PLEs at all! He used his fifteen minutes to cynically, and without prepared material, give his audience a lecture about critical theory and the powerplay that has left his team's work unrecognised in the past. I don't know what his problem was, but he obviously isn't interested in promoting his work and all the effort his team has put into the notion of PLEs.

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The present and future of Personal Learning Environments (PLE)

This post is recast from an assignment I completed about four months ago in a Masters Degree course entitled Innovative Practice and Emerging ICT, in which I investigated what PLEs are meant to be and where they might be going. It was originally part of a class wiki.

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Towards a Definition
  3. Driving Forces
  4. Developments to Date
  5. Barriers
  6. Future Potential
  7. References
  8. Web Links

Introduction

A definition for the term Personal Learning Environment (PLE), remains elusive. Conception about what should constitute a PLE depends on the perspective of the commentator. For example, the priorities for a PLE are different for a tertiary student, a university administrator, an instructor, a working professional, or an adult who persues an eclectic path of lifelong learning. Metaphorically, an individual may engage in a learning process that is either more acquisitional or participatory (Sfard, 1998). There are inconsistencies across these positions about what a PLE should do. But whether constructively and defensively, interest in PLE appears to be growing.

At the time of writing this introduction (August 2006), no particular product or service exists that can definitively be categorised as a PLE, although some prototypical work is in progress. An inclusive, authoritative account about PLEs does not yet exist. Only a handful of articles have appeared in the academic and public press about PLEs since the term gained currency in 2004. This article has been compiled after tracking recent conversations in the blogosphere and following social bookmarks.

Towards a Definition

The following definition is intended to introduce the general nature of PLEs:

a Personal Learning Environment is a facility for an individual to access, aggregate, configure and manipulate digital artefacts of their ongoing learning experiences.

This definition captures the following salient aspects, which seem to be common across all current viewpoints:

  1. PLEs are effectively controlled by the individual, thus decoupled from institutional portals like university Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) or workplace Learning Management Systems (LMS) for which the design goals are in response to institutional requirements.

  2. The artefacts operated upon through PLEs include the digital resources and references with which individuals wish to engage presently and perhaps recall in the future. Resources include not only static text and media but also dynamic services and their artefacts, such as instant messaging, online forum and weblog conversations. Whereas an ePortfolio contains actual assets for the purpose of reflection, assessment or self-promotion, the PLE includes a broader repository that also includes links and commentary for all three purposes.

  3. The primary goal of a PLE for an individual is to bring all the disparate artefacts of interest for learning under a single operating roof. The presumption is that there are many artefacts, organising them is time-consuming and it’s easy to forget about or lose them. PLEs are meant to simplify managing these artefacts, creating meaning through aggregation, linking and metadata tagging (eg comments, keywords).

  4. A PLE integrates with the digital services to which the individual currently subscribes. These could be the university VLE, the workplace LMS or a collection of so-called Web 2.0 services like social bookmarking or photo sharing.

  5. A PLE spans the various learning experiences to which an individual subscribes throughout life. High school students may begin to operate their own PLE, hooking it into their school’s VLE. Upon university entrance, it could be connected to the university VLE. If entering professional practice, the individual could then link the PLE to workplace learning and professional development facilities. All the while, the individual may wish to link selectively to an evolving parade of Web 2.0 services which are found to be useful for enabling personal growth and learning.



PLE Venn diagram

This diagram shows how PLEs are situated at the intersection of VLEs, Web 2.0 and an expanded view of ePortfolios.

Driving Forces

How a PLE might ultimately be deployed is bracketed by the forces driving its evolution and the barriers to acceptance.

The structure, features and policies of most VLE implementations tend to perpetuate the traditional instructivist models of education. The primary purpose of the systems is to organise course content for transmission to enrolled students. Only some VLEs provide shared file areas and collaborative facilities like chat and discussion forums. In universities, VLEs often act as secure gateways to digital indexes and research journals. Unless students manually copy materials out of the VLE walled garden, all traces of their learning experience through the VLE are lost once they complete their studies.

The notion of a PLE arose in response to the technical and policy constraints imposed by institutionalised VLEs and LMSs in both educational and workplace settings, which are perceived to impede personal learning choices. University administrators view access to external web services as a risk to the institution rather than an affordance for learners and faculty. Hence, they prefer the more limited view of PLEs as a configurable extension to a VLE, especially when they continue to see themselves as the monopoly technology service providers for their learning community (eg online enrolment, email addresses).

In North America the commercial vendors of VLEs dominate. There are unconfirmed media reports that the VLEs supplied by Blackboard Inc. serve over two thirds of all universities in Australia and New Zealand. On the other hand, in Europe more sites use inhouse and open source implementations (Vuorikari, 2003).

In January 2006, Blackboard Inc., the leading commercial vendor of academic VLEs, was granted US patent 6,988,138 on “Internet-based education support system and methods“, even though there is evidently a long history of virtual learning environments. It does not appear that the patent, if enforced, has any direct bearing on the emergence of PLEs, although the patent action may foster a backlash against VLEs.

Interestingly, some faculties have implemented and manage their own VLEs which are more dynamic, more concerned with learning experiences and are publicly-licensed products (eg .LRN, Moodle, Plone, Drupal, Sakai). These allow custom extensions, which may pave the way for the development of open APIs for connection by PLEs.

Enlightened educational practice has increasingly embraced student-centred learning. This includes the assignment of tasks with an open, constructivist foundation, where students push learning forward through active collaboration, problem-solving, investigation and discovery, creating meaning on their own terms. Where the Web serves as an avenue of inquiry, it seems natural that part of the student-centredness should be in the choice and configuration of tools for action. This is the space for a PLE.

So far, discussion about PLEs has emanated primarily from academic circles, who recognise that there are learning opportunities with some Web 2.0 services.

The use of ePortfolio (electronic portfolio) software and services is well established in many higher education jurisdictions, with administrators having set policies for their use (primarily for assessment). If PLEs are viewed simply as an extension of ePortfolios, then acceptance of them may be more assured.

Adults who engage in relatively unstructured inquiry or informal learning, for reasons of professional or skills development or general interest, could benefit from tools and techniques to organise their endeavours. At this stage, there is little anecdotal evidence of interest in this area. However, the possibilities may simply not be widely known yet.

For each online service, an individual’s identity must be provided for each session. On one’s regular personal computer, identity retention alleviates the problem by availing cookies and field prefills, including passwords. But this advantage is lost when using multiple computers. So organising one’s personal learning through a variety of web-based services involves managing multiple login names and passwords. A PLE could alleviate the daily problem of login identification by storing and safeguarding the data for automatic application. This problem could also be eased by developments in Identity 2.0, an evolving standards-based scheme in which an individual’s single, unique, verifiable web identity claim could be applied to securely grant access to multiple web services.

Software development companies are keen to make their product or service a nexus of attention. Whilst some learners may persist with the DIY approach to organising the scattered pieces of their learning environment, companies would rather see a PLE promoted as a particular product or service which solve the problem of that messiness. This applies not just to software for personal computers, but also for mobile PDAs.

Developments to Date

A WebTop is a new class of web-served applications enabling single-screen one-click preconfigured access to other web services which can be nominated by the user, for example photo sharing (eg FlickR), online calendar, weblogs, integrated feed aggregator, online word processor (eg Google Writely), shared spreadsheet (eg Google Spreadsheet), shared whiteboard (eg GE Imagination Cubed), social bookmarking (eg del.icio.us, Furl) and consolidated productivity services (eg Zoho). So far they are primarily aimed at business users, but many of their features match what is prescribed for a PLE. Examples include YouOS, 30Boxes and NetVibes.

A Mashup is like a WebTop, but the web services are combined much more tightly so that data from one is used to access information in another. A simple example is the integration of weblog with an embedded online calendar. In a more advanced, customised example, data from a particular Google Spreadsheet could be fed into Google Earth. A PLE could be implemented as a mashup.

The open source Mozilla FireFox browser has been extended by Flock to create a WebTop which integrates your browser with your weblog and other web services.

Some edubloggers have expressed the view that PLEs exist already in an ad hoc manner. Through their weblogs, they reflect on their own work and experiences and link to others. Through mashing into their weblog templates, they can directly open their own social bookmarks, images and other web services to which they subscribe. They use publicly-accessible server space to store and share files.

If an individual has enough server space available, with the right software facilities in place, plone or Drupal could be installed and employed as a PLE. These are content management systems (CMS) which handle many types of content including a wiki. Third-party modules may be added (eg KNotes weblog). This wiki entry about Personal Learning Environments is presented by a customised implementation of plone.

From late 2005 at Bolton University in the UK, A JISC-funded and CETIS-sponsored team are designing a reference model for a PLE. Through the project they will define the scope, review the theory, come up with scenarios (use cases), look for and document patterns, and define some specifications. All the while, the programming part of the team build some prototype software to see if it all makes sense. This prototype is called PLEX. Their project wiki offers the most comprehensive consideration about PLEs currently available. (Milligan, 2005)

The concept of an ePortfolio emerged from the paper-based folio used by design students for over half a century. By the mid-1990s, students began uploading examples of their work and linking them statically to their home pages, creating webfolios. Database-driven server-side applications (and the tools to build them) matured by the end of the millennium. By 2002, there was feverish activity to create ePortfolios as personalised learning content management systems. (Batson, 2002) Whether developed in-house or by software vendors, many higher education institutions began to implement them. Most ePortfolios are intended for document management, retrieval and presentation. (EduTools, 2006). Products offer various features for organisation, annotation, document linking, reflection, collaboration, formatting, goal setting, reporting, import/export and communication. Some are components of VLEs (eg Blackboard ePortfolio). Importantly, almost all ePortfolio products are licensed by institutions rather than individuals. Therefore, they are neither portable nor interoperable.

Barriers

In the absence of a new product or service, only those who are tech-savvey with a willingness to tinker will consider integrating their learning world through a wiki or a weblog. Whilst this is much easier than it used to be, thanks to templated software, it is unlikely that a large percentage of people will take this up.

For PLE software and services to be useful for students who must deal with a VLE, VLEs must provide the capability to interoperate. This requires that VLEs make secure software gateways (eg. APIs) available. It is unlikely that commercial VLEs are willing to distribute their control of the learning environment and provide flexibility, preferring instead to keep users within their proprietary range. In March 2006, Blackboard Inc. announced plans (Blackboard Beyond Initiative) to create network to connect users and alumni of their worldwide implementations, including proprietary social networking, personalisation, file sharing and ePortfolio presentation. It is in their commercial interest to cast their proprietary net as far and wide as possible.

On the other hand, such gateways for open source VLEs could appear and be implemented subject to institutional approval. But standardisation (aside from RSS feeds from within the VLE environment) is improbable, with each VLE having its own processing and storage idiosyncrasies. So the market will rely on developers providing separate plug-ins for each VLE, to mash into the learner’s PLE. The prospect of a lot of moving parts seems unassailable.

The issue of intellectual property and the management of digital rights looms large. Copies of research papers from subscribed journals may be located in a walled VLE for access by a particular cohort. But does subsequently peeling them into or referencing them from a PLE stretch the licence too far? These issues need to be addressed.

People fear putting all their eggs in one basket. Users must be able to export their PLE repository in some generic format for safekeeping, especially if the PLE is a web service.

PLEs may be seen as an extension of ePortfolios, but the latter are rarely used beyond school. The perception of ePortfolios as merely a presentation layer for stored digital assets must be stretched if PLEs are to be seen as their natural successor.

Future Potential

Because developments about PLEs are at such an embryonic stage, it would not be prudent to predict with too much conviction what will happen. Many published forecasts of technology adoption draw a line from current work as if the technology is determined to succeed (eg EDUCAUSE & New Media Consortium, 2006). But the barriers are significant, not least due to the lack of a clear vision of what a PLE should do.

The success of PLEs (those which are independent of commercial VLEs) will depend on:

  1. the ease with which they can be implemented and used by learners
  2. interoperability
  3. the confidence that learners and institutional administrators have with them.

While some prescribe a vision for learning which promotes pedagogies consistent with social constructivism (Dalsgaard 2006), getting there is quite another matter. As with any paradigm shift, the biggest barrier to technological revolution lies in the political and commercial inertia of the status quo. Many commentators believe it can only occur through grass-roots effort which will bootstrap a new market. (This is what occurred with ePortfolios.)

In the next year we should see a consolidation of views about what constitutes a PLE. There are benefits to both web-served (ie. like webtops) and desktop solutions, so surely hybrids will appear.

It is probable that within the next year pilot PLE projects will appear which will mash configurable access to Web 2.0 services into online ePortfolio-type environments. The next hurdle will be for higher education teachers to recommend that students obtain individual licences for these first-generation PLEs in conjuction with or as replacements to institutional ePortfolios. This shift will not be tivial, as there will be resistance to institutional policy change regarding the use of ePortfolios. Publicly-funded PLE projects will be more readily accepted.

This should kick-start efforts to create gateway APIs and plug-ins into open source VLEs, which can then be mashed in too. This development will be difficult and take considerable time. The success of this integration will be a determining factor in the viability of PLEs as a widely-used product. It will probably take at least three years for a PLE platform to become stable and a critical mass to have the confidence to take advantage of the technology.




References

Batson, T. (2002). The Electronic Portfolio Boom: What’s it All About?,” Campus Technology. Accessed 31 Aug 2006 from http://www.campustechnology.com/article.asp?id=6984

Dalsgaard, C. (2006). Social software: E-learning beyond learning management systems, European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 12 July 2006. Accessed 31 Aug 2006 from http://www.eurodl.org/materials/contrib/2006/Christian_Dalsgaard.htm.

EDUCAUSE & New Media Consortium (2006). 2006 Horizon Report. Accessed 25 July 2006 from http://www.educause.edu/LibraryDetailPage/666?ID=CSD4387

EduTools. (2006). ePortfolio: EduTools ePortfolio Review. Accessed 31 Aug 2006 from http://www.edutools.info/static.jsp?pj=16&page=HOME

Milligan, C. (2005) Colin Milligan Weblog, elgg.net. Accessed 31 Aug 2006 from http://elgg.net/cdmilligan/weblog/3720.html

Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors of learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2), 4-13.

van Harmelen, M. (2006). Personal Learning Environments. Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT’06), IEEE.

Vuorikari, R. (2003). Virtual Learning Environments for European Schools, a Survey and Commentary”, European SchoolNet, EUN Consortium, Brussels.

Vuorikari, R. (2005). Can personal digital knowledge artefacts’ management and social networks enhance learning? European SchoolNet, EUN Consortium, Brussels. Accessed 31 Aug 2006 from http://elgg.net/riina/files/-1/1444/social_networks_learning_vuorikari_22_9_2005.pdf.

Web Links

All web links are current at 31 Aug 2006 (see document source to view all URIs)

To follow current conversations about PLEs, start with the following del.icio.us tags:

PLE (user rlubensky): http://del.icio.us/rlubensky/PLE

PLE_Workshop_2006: http://del.icio.us/tag/PLE_Workshop_2006

Also these tags about PLEs from Technorati:

http://www.technorati.com/tag/Personal%20Learning%20Environments

http://www.technorati.com/tag/PLE?language=en

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12 December 2006 

First-hand comments about Citizens' Assemblies

I'm accumulating comments by participants of the Citizens' Assemblies which are occurring in Ontario and Netherlands (which just completed), especially relating to learning. These come by way of J. H. Snider's blog. Henk van der Kolk, a Political Science Professor at the University of Twente, The Netherlands:
Whether this group was in the end better able to think about and discuss electoral systems than, for example, my students in the university, is not entirely clear. Many (I even think most) members were in the end not really ‘experts’. The fact that even the final votes were strongly influenced by some discussions on the final days, suggests that many members still did not have strong opinions (or knowledge). However, some members were experts, knowing perfectly what they were doing. The course of events, however, forced the ‘experts’ to narrow down the range of alternatives quite soon. Since districts and individualized systems (like STV) were disliked more or less from the start, while proportionality (and political parties) was almost sacrosanct, no-one was really interested in the details of these non-PR systems and expertise on these systems did not really develop. Even expertise about panache and cumulating votes (aspects of PR systems) was virtually absent, since most members did not like this idea. Many experts therefore headed for a viable, not too different, and simple system. Thus, expertise was limited and largely developed on the basis of the viable alternatives as seen at the beginning of the summer (after the consultation phase). There is therefore at least a grain of truth in the often heard assessment that CAs are no experts and that this kind of deliberative democracy has its limits. But again, this was a complex issue.
David Hulshuis, Member, Netherlands Citizens Assembly:
I had never expected that such a diverse group of people would come up with such a widely supported, well-founded advisory report. Even though the topic of the assembly was rather complex and very abstract at times, most participants have put in a lot of effort to understand the matter at hand and critically discuss the issues at length. Although I am sure that some people will have had difficulties understanding - even in the final phase, the majority of the members have learned a lot and have invested much time and energy in the assembly. What struck me most in the whole process is how emotionally involved many people get in the assembly. This probably emphasizes how important the assembly was to many of its members. It was very clear from the beginning that the assembly's success was dependent on its members, but also for a large part on the chairwoman and the secretariat, in order to keep on schedule and to keep the assembly together. They have done a wonderful job! I surely hope there will be more projects like these in the Netherlands, and should I ever have the chance to be part of a citizens' assembly again, I definitely won't need to think twice!
Pat Miller, Member of the Ontario Citizens Assembly:
The Citizens Assembly has been a wonderful experience for me as I had been retired for a number of years. At the age of 72, I wondered if I even had the capacity to take in and understand what I needed to make any useful contribution. Surprise, surprise! I found that, having a fair amount of time available during the week, I have been able to cram many months –(or even years) of study into that time. I was very computer literate to begin with and had an interest in politics from my teens. I am at the stage now when I feel confident in expressing the pros and cons of the various electoral systems. As for the assembly meetings, the organization has been so well managed by the Secretariat that we have been enabled to learn as fast as we are able. The format of plenary sessions and small group meetings has worked well on the whole. There are different learning styles apparent that impact on our ability to work as efficiently as possible. While the selection of each candidate was at the final stage literally a name pulled out of a hat, the people who accepted the initial request to be considered had to fit certain demographics. Also it was important they were able to commit to the time necessary. I must make special mention of our Chair, George Thomson. He has the gift of making us feel comfortable while keeping us on our time-lines. He is a concensus maker; the perfect type to get us to final decision in my opinion. Also, Dr. Jonathan Rose is an excellent teacher; his presentations are clean, clear and delivered with energy and enthusiasm, so important to keeping our attention.
Arita Droog, Member of the Ontario Citizens Assembly:
My experience so far with the Citizens’ Assembly is just what I expected it to be. I expected that it would be difficult to get into an electoral mind set. I expected that it would take me some time to be comfortable with the language. I expected that I would need to do lots of homework. And I expected that people would be interested its future. So far my expectations were right, all except that people would be interested. Don’t get me wrong, once I explain what I’m doing they are interested and ask questions, but usually more of a political nature than an electoral. I think we need to get more press out there to explain to people exactly what is going on. We have been promised that if we do decide to make a change to the system there will be an educational program set up to inform the public. But in the meantime, we need the press to come to our sessions to see what we are doing, what we are learning, so that there are no misconceptions about it. We have received some rather unfavourable press from some big city papers, if only these reporters had come to see for themselves, then they could report the facts not their perceptions. Non-partisan teachers, facilitators, professors and many a political scientist have schooled us. We have been challenged to learn from the best. From my way of thinking these folks cannot even agree on a definitive system, so our task will not be an easy one. I don’t think there has been a weekend where there were less than 100 of the 103 members, that’s what I call dedication. The only thing that I can see that will improve what we are doing is to have a meeting room at the hotel, where we can openly discuss our thoughts on various topics like: values and principles, representation for women and minorities, voter turnout etc., just so we can hash it out amongst ourselves. I believe come next session such a space will be at our disposal. This should help get things out in the open before final decision time. In conclusion, I feel that this journey we are on will not end when we hand in our final report. I believe, that should we recommend a change, we will be in the thick of it for years to come. I look forward to the challenge.
David Proulx, Member of the Ontario Citizens Assembly:
Now that the learning phase is complete I feel a little more comfortable in discussing electoral systems but am still far from being a scholar or political scientist. Professor Jonathan Rose provided us with the adequate amount of information to help us make our final decision. The help that we received from the secretariat team, from transportation to extra information or anything else that we needed, was excellent. The one area that I was disappointed with, and I don't feel that it was the secretariat team's fault, was the lack of media coverage. Something this important was barely covered in the media.
Ben Rogers, 15 Nov 2006 www.opendemocracy.net Citizen assemblies: radical common sense
The British Columbia experiment in particular shows that citizens are more than capable of picking their way through difficult policy issues. Having reviewed all the various options, the assembly proposed a well-argued recommendation for proportional representation. In the referendum that followed, their choice was endorsed by some 58% - only 2% short of the 60% needed to change the system. Liberals have not traditionally looked kindly on direct democracy, and viewed referenda with particular suspicion. But citizens' juries and citizens' assemblies on the Canadian model possess what referenda, and much of Britain's representative system, so conspicuously lacks - a deliberative dimension. They give citizens involved in them a chance to get to grips with an issue. Their recommendations are informed and considered. If they proved successful in the British context, they could even be incorporated into the constitution, in the form of a permanent advisory citizens' assembly (or "third chamber"), alongside the House of Commons and reformed House of Lords. What sort of issues should be put to citizens' assemblies? The politicians could start by seeking advice in areas where they most lack democratic legitimacy - where their decisions might be viewed as suspect, because they themselves are an interested party. Issues of constitutional and voting system reform are conspicuous examples. Beyond this, there is a strong case for using citizens' assemblies when government needs to win legitimacy for tough decisions - road-pricing, say, or fuel taxes, or making voting compulsory - or making decisions that effect under-represented groups. With as little as a third of young people voting in national elections, we badly need to some other way of engaging them in decision-making processes. A rolling young citizens' assembly would be one way forward. Citizens will of course be broadly in favour of citizen assemblies, as these would represent a shift in the balance of power in citizens' favour. The press will hate them, just as it hated Tony Blair's "big conversation". These sorts of forums threaten the media's self-appointed role as the voice of public opinion. What about the politicians? Their first instincts will be negative. Aren't they there to make decisions for us? But it should not be hard to persuade them that they stand to gain. As Gordon Brown discovered when he gave independence to the Bank of England in the aftermath of New Labour's 1997 election victory, giving power away can be empowering. New Labour has expressed interest in citizens' juries and deliberative assemblies for years now - the term "third chamber" was even coined by the Downing Street strategy unit. The 2005 Labour manifesto nods to these ideas again. But so far there have been only words. The action is taking place abroad. The question now is: will Labour move on this? Or will what looked until recently like too radical an idea for Labour become Conservative common sense?

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11 December 2006 

ASCILITE 2006 success

I was up in Sydney on Monday and Tuesday to be a technical helper at ASCILITE 2006. I had been invited because University of Sydney and the CoCo research centre organised it this year. It was great to catch up with some of my cohort and several people from past lives. The event was staged at the Conservatory of Music, a terrific venue. I stayed in Kirribilli, so just need to take the ferry across the harbour to get there. And the train was nearby to take me straight to the airport when my time was up. Unfortunately, due to my obligations to look after certain rooms and ensure speakers got their slide decks into the Macs used for presentations, I didn't see too many different papers. However, when I did have a few minutes, I was lucky to see some good ones. What surprised me was how many people were talking about consensus-building and dialogue, but in an educational context. This really made me feel like I'm in the right space with my evolving passion for deliberation.

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My first deliberative event

I was privileged to be on the staff of the Yarra River Values Forum, held last weekend in Melbourne. The event was organised by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, a research centre in the University of Technology, Sydney. Twenty-six citizens of the catchment region, representing over three million people, were the audience to several expert speakers about water resource management and conservation. The event was sponsored by SmartWater, an consortium of the water authorities and the Victorian state government. After three days of learning and deliberation, they presented their recommendations about what was important to them about the future management of the Yarra River. All did not all go smoothly. The market research company that recruited the participant didn't follow the protocols necessary to satisfy representative distribution, undermining the legitimacy of the event. Many came as advocates of particular positions rather than as open-minded citizens. Also, the learning included a bidding game modelling exercise used by economists called "willingness to pay", to which participants reacted with resentment. My role was official dogsbody. My observer status was unofficial, so I missed a lot when I was out of the room carrying out administrative and other tasks. I was particularly interested in seeing how learning occurred, both as a result of the presentations and through their collaborative discourse and deliberation. Importantly, the event revealed some questions which I hope to address in my research. At the top of that list is the challenge of epistemic fluency, at term coined by Morrison & Collins (1995) and more recently considered by my supervisor at University of Sydney, Peter Goodyear. Epistemic fluency is the capability of an individual to view a situation using a variety of perspectives and conceptual models. For those of us in university, it is our stock and trade (there, I've just used a metaphor). But many ordinary people, like those who participate in citizen deliberation, are very literal and are unfamiliar with such mental gymnastics. During the learning phase, I think some participants didn't even realise that they were completing exercises, as there was repeated complaint about simplifications and other scaffolding.
Morrison, D. & Collins, A. (1995). Epistemic Fluency and Constructivist Learning Environments. Educational Technology, v35 n5 p39-45.

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