Discussion Forum 2

Hi and welcome to Discussion Forum 2. Your moderators will be Dave H and Janet B. We look forward to your ideas.

Question:  In your given teaching environment, what factors would promote and encourage the use of PLEs and what factors may act to limit or impede the effective use of PLEs? How might these factors influence whether or not you invested the time and money in PLEs?


35 Responses to Discussion Forum 2

  1. ronnahoglund says:

    A limiting factor to the use of PLEs in my professional college program would be the push towards standardization. The accrediting body, as well as the national examining board, has clear expectations and guidelines. Graduates from the program are expected to perform at a similar, specified level. This is easiest done by administering clear cut curricula and objective tests that can be measured. Another limiting factor is time. We are already fighting against the lack of it. Yes, PLEs appear to mostly take place outside of the classroom but I worry about burning my students out. Besides course work, the second year of the program involves field placement. Since placements are completed at different locations for each student, it is a subjective area assessed by many different people. Work in the field is one area of the program where students could develop their own PLE – in conjunction with their training manual.

    • Janet B. says:

      Hi Ronna,

      Your points about accreditation and student burn-out are very well made. I had been thinking about how students who struggle might find PLEs difficult to manage, but I think you are right that there is a danger that highly-motivated students might take on too much or not know when they have gone far enough with a topic or project. While PLEs are supposed to be led by the student, I would think that it would still be critical that a teacher or mentor of some type was providing guidelines and support.

      Accreditation standards are also an important idea to consider in many institutions. It was interesting reading Chelsea’s post comment (below) about the setting that she works in. I think that many institutes are not there yet, although maybe with time they will be.
      Janet B.

  2. Deborah says:

    We have a very strict acceptable use policy which means that students cannot access sites such as YouTube and Facebook from their school accounts. Teachers in my Board were only granted permission to access YouTube last year! The filters in place on the network are also quite extensive and I sometimes have to apply to have legitimate sites that I need to use with my students, unblocked.

    Another limiting factor is time. The curriculum is very ambitious and there is always pressure to ensure you cover the big ideas so students will be well prepared for the next year of the course. While I think it’s great to allow students choice (who doesn’t like that?), I sense the classroom could get a bit chaotic with different students doing different things. I think that students need to have enough maturity to take ownership for their own learning and set their own goals. This self-regulation is not something that is intuitive for many of our students, though, so I think a great deal of mentoring would need to occur in earlier grades to assist students in developing this learning skill.

    • Janet B. says:

      Hi Deborah,

      I would definitely agree that PLEs would look very different in a grade 3 setting, then a grade 12 or post-secondary level. Even within one age group, I think they would vary greatly depending on the student. For example, one of my friends just finished her master’s, but said she would never have completed it if it had been online. She needed the face-to-face weekly motivation of seeing her instructor and fellow students to get through. So her PLE and mine (I love the online setting) would look very different even though we are at the same educational level.

      I really liked your point about mentoring early on. I think developing a PLE would require guidance and scaffolding, maybe starting with just one topic in one subject, and then growing from there.


    • etec522grp4 says:

      Hi Deborah,

      As already mentioned, you have brought up some good concerns. The chaos in the classroom can be a bit overwhelming especially if the students are all working on just a single task. However, if students are in smaller groups on authentic tasks, then it may be easier to manage small group chaos without taking away from the learning opportunities.
      I agree that scaffolding and development would be helpful in the younger grades and then introduced into later grades.


    • etec511dlg8 says:

      Hi Deborah,

      You make a valid point about access to many sites like YouTube and Facebook, but attitudes are changing about these sites and they are presently being acknowledged as educationally valid. In our district, as of next year, we will have access to most of these previously blocked social media sites. I hope that your district goes the way of ours.

      I agree that time is always a huge factor in any curriculum. Although self-directed learning does require a lot of self-regulation and time, as I learned in ETEC 530 regarding project based learning, teachers can scaffold the process by constraining the activities (like Janet said). For instance, your project could consist of sending them to a specific site to do a specific activity and then giving them the opportunity to choose the second related activity and site from a very short list of options. This would allow them some choice, but in a controlled environment. As they showed that they could handle the responsibility of this type of learning, constraints could be slowly loosened allowing them to build self-regulation skills and comfort with managing different educational technology tools for their own educational purposes.

      But don’t misunderstand my meaning, this will not be easy, which leaves it up to us as educators have to ask ourselves, is it worth it?

      Cheers, Steve

      • Janet says:

        Great question, Steve. Is it worth it? When I think of some of the students in my class, I worry that they would find it overwhelming. That isn’t to say that it wouldn’t be valuable to them, just that maturity and skill level would maybe make it challenging for them. Other students would absolutely eat it up and flourish. I think I would like to try it – taking it in small steps to start with and see how it goes. Oddly enough, I can think of ways of implementing PLEs in small steps in science, but I am struggling to figure out how to do it in math. I have a few ideas, but I find it harder wrapping my mind around it.

        Do you think PLEs lend themselves to certain subjects more than others?


    • Jody says:

      Hmm. Are we in the same board? LOL

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful posts, Ronna and Deborah. I like your solutions for making PLEs specific to students and developing PLEs within the confines of pre-existing expectations (and limitations). There is definitely a huge learning curve for all of us (students included) in terms of information management and approaches to learning!

    I am fortunate to work in a learning environment with a mission focussed on empowered student learning and meeting the needs of each student. With this as our focus, the development of PLEs is a natural and obvious choice. While we are accredited by the IB and NEASC/CIS, both organizations recognize the importance of student learning and preparing students to live in a world that is changing at an astounding pace, so their evaluations of our progress do not limit us in our efforts to match educational requirements to the needs of our students. We continue to keep university acceptance and meeting of standards in our goals, but rather than viewing these as the ceiling, we view them as a way-points. Ultimately, our mission is for students to “respect self and others, love learning, and contribute as globally aware citizens,” all of which are supported by developing PLEs.

    The challenges we face are (as Deborah pointed out) trying to do too much (if each subject uses different PLE tools we could all become overwhelmed!) and finding the balance between diversity of tools and common tools. I think the solution is to choose a base set and allow students and teachers to blossom from there, but with so many options entering the buffet, I struggle to formalize the base set.

    • Janet B. says:

      Hi Chelsea,

      It sounds like you work in a very innovative and open environment. I have to say I am a little jealous 🙂 Thank you for giving us an example of how PLEs can work – and some of the problems with them – in what I assume must be a very academic setting.


      • Thanks, Janet. Don’t be jealous, nowhere I’ve been is really better than anywhere else I’ve been, it’s all just life 🙂 Thank you for assuming we’re very academic, it certainly is academic for teachers in terms of what we need to know and be able to do, and maybe old-school academic for students, but it is a current challenge to tap into the students’ creativity and curiosity and connect it to what they do for school.

    • Leonora says:

      Hi Chelsea.
      I like your suggestion of a “base set” for the PLE tools – although as you rightfully point out, formalizing the base set is a challenge. I believe that some consistency would be helpful in terms of strengthening the learning community and reducing learner “burn out” as Ronna mentioned. The use of PLE tools has to be purposeful, otherwise it may discourage learners to utilize them.


      • Thanks for your thoughts, Leonora, you’ve got me thinking about criteria to get a tool into the base-set, starting with purposeful. 🙂 Chelsea

  4. baek12 says:

    The push for differentiated learning in the classroom and the substantial needs in my current school would be an argument for PLEs. Sometimes we meet the needs of the lower and average students in our classes but I feel that the upper portion of students is missed. PLEs would offer
    these students more opportunities to direct their own learning and in doing so extend their learning beyond the confines of the classroom. Factors that would limit the use of PLEs in my current context is the age of my students. I currently teach grade 3 students who still require much teacher guidance and modelling in the learning process. Introducing PLEs at this grade level to students who have the maturity required to drive their own learning may be a place to start.


    • Janet B. says:

      Hi Valerie,

      Your comment about the upper portion of our students, or enrichment, really hits home. We were discussing the lack of enrichment opportunities within our school district this morning in the staffroom and PLEs for some of those students would make a world of difference. Some of the toughest students to deal with are those really bright kids who have disengaged through boredom or from an aversion to busy work/jumping through hoops. A PLE would certainly be a way to differentiate instruction and make it more meaningful to some of those students.


    • etec522grp4 says:

      Introducing PLEs for the more advanced students as an introductory phase is definitely a sound idea. For it to be effective, they would also need equally engage content for which to put the PLEs into use.


  5. colin says:

    I teach computer classes in a Gr.8-12 environment. I think it’s a great idea for students to use PLEs “at home” to enhance their learning based on their hobbies and interests. However, I am not entirely sure about them being used in a structured classroom with a set curriculum for the same reasons mentioned by others. Some students may benefit from PLEs as a supplement.

    At this moment, I know I don’t have the skills or training to pioneer PLEs in the courses I teach. Nevertheless, I think it’s worthwhile keeping an eye out on successful implementations of PLEs in future educational journals and case studies.


    • etec522grp4 says:


      I think these kinds of tools are similar to other technologies, which educators use in that we don’t actually need to be experts in order to facilitate their use. What we do need is the idea and the willingness to try that idea. The PLEs are afterall the learners and if we give them some ideas or examples of how they can be used, then they will decide, which facets and tools work well for them.


  6. I have never heard of or used PLE with my classes before and so reading through your blog was very eye opening for me. I am a business education teacher and teach the majority of my classes in computer labs. I can see so many opportunities for using PLE in my classes. For example, when I do a stock market project with my students they could use symbaloo or netvibes to help them gather research information on the various companies and keep track of any news releases that happen, Factors that might limit the use include whether the websites are blocked at the district level. Many social networking type sites are block and so I will need to check into this. Additionally, due to the often extremely slow internet connection I am not sure if using these types of websites would be a good use of class time if they take a long time to load and refresh information. However, I am really excited about using PLEs in my classes and am looking forward to testing it out in September.


    Greg Campbell

  7. Helen says:

    Since my current position involves teaching new teachers, I can certainly see the value of integrating PLE’s into the teaching/learning with my students (soon to be educators). The challenges, as I see them, include awareness, collaboration and compelling purpose.

    First, how do I make students aware of all the potential tools available for personally engaging in learning. It’s finding just the right tool to get past the hesitation, fear and lack of interest. Beginning with something they are already using can be the doorway to developing their shift from a personal to professional perspective (e.g. Facebook, Twitter).

    Having students collaborate and share their information through PLE’s would be an exciting opportunity that would extend into their professional lives as well. I think applications like Symbaloo, Diigo, Prezi, LiveBinder, WordPress are just the right ones to get them started – beginning small, building on each creation as they work with content and tasks.

    Applying the right tool the the right task is the final challenge. It’s getting students to find a compelling purpose to do what they do within their personal learning time that will make the difference in their PLE’s. Getting a job in teaching is just that compelling purpose. Having a personal electronic portfolio of documents, creations, and displays done in a variety of web applications, linked through one page in Symbaloo, can showcase their credentials and repertoire of teaching skills. Building the connections to professional standards will extend the purpose into a life-long learning process. Easy to envision, tougher to enact since many students focus just on the marks they will get for doing specific tasks.

    Factors that will impede the integration of PLE’s into work with students/teachers include time, technology and support. Having a community of inquiry at both the student level and the teaching level will help build in networking and support. Taking things one step at a time will help manage the chaos and confusion.


    • Janet B. says:

      Hi Helen,
      You did a great job of summing up the exciting aspects of PLEs, as well as some of the challenges. I think one way of having students start experimenting with PLEs is to introduce them through a site like this one … I am sure there are many other sites like it, too, but finding one with things to try and an outline of the pedagogy involved is a great starting point.

      Thanks for contributing,

  8. I teach ESL/ELSA classes. The levels I teach varies from Lit ( literacy) to four ( and that is based on CLB system -Canadian Language Benchmarks). One of the hurdles that faces using the PLEs is the lack of language basic skills among the lower level students (that is pre-lit, lit and level 1 and 2). They need direct guidance in how to use the language and there is no room for the PLEs at this stage in the process of learning. Also the “time” issue that most of my colleagues talked about in this discussion corner. There is a specific curriculum that offers specific topics intstructors needs to cover in a specific period of time and that again leaves no room for educational varieties like the PLEs. however ,using the PLEs can thrive among those students who have higher levels. Most of the ELSA target students came from countries where using computers is not popular for many reasons: political, social, and economic.But these same students usually excel in using the PLEs because they have knowledge thirst to learning such important things which they couldn’t use back home.
    There is another issue here that I would love to highlight, most of the ESL and ELSA teachers belong to an elder generation age wise. These teachers are not ready to start learning something beyond the simple basic use of computers. The PLEs need more complicated skills in using the computers. That is why the students ( the higher level ones) are left on their own to explore the endless possibilities of learning through the PLEs. To put it a clear way such teachers demote using the PLEs whereas their students promote the them. apparently this is a common problem not in the ESL field only but in classes K-12 as well.

    • etec522grp4 says:

      Hi Hussain,

      It’s is good point you have that many older teachers are more resistant to using technology in the learning process. It depends upon the number of available staff and time, but one approach we are taking where I work is to develop a technology team, which can facilitate user development and skills in a constructive and successful manner such that it is not overwhelming and that they can see the add value of such tools. There will of course some who are not just resistant due to a techno-hesitancy, but also because they are unwilling to change how they teach just because it is easier for them.
      Alas, only so much can be done about that, other than demonstrate and modeling.


  9. Kenton says:

    I teach high school mathematics and, although I love the idea of students creating a PLE, I feel that it probably has more apllications to myself as a teacher. That doesn’t mean that students can’t be introduced to their use, and from there perhaps they will be able to adjust them (PLE’s) to classroom use. The use of a PLE in the classroom would greatly benifit colaboration and communication between students, and perhaps I will try in the near future, but for now, I will focus on creating my personal PLE and share what I have learned through this presentation with my fellow teachers. The power of a PLE is great for teachers and we should be encouraging ourselves and others to make use of this learning potential.

    • Janet B. says:

      Hi Kenton,
      I am also going to start with coordinating my own PLE. Even after I am done the MET program, I think it would be an valuable way of organizing pro-d stuff. Too often, for me, I get ideas from Pro-D events and then the paper gets filed and months, or even years later, i find it and go, “Oh, yeah!”. Having things organized in a digital PLE would make it much easier, and more likely, to access.

      You also mentioned sharing the idea of PLEs with our colleagues. What do you think would be a positive, effective way to do that?


    • etec511dlg8 says:

      Hi Kenton,

      I also teach math and agree that PLEs may not seem to be the best fit for Math but recently I had a new experience that made me reconsider.

      A couple of weeks ago, my top student in Math 12 and Calculus couldn’t solve a homework question, after talking with his Dad, who also taught Math 12 in the past, they still couldn’t solve it together. Soon the student resigned himself to asking me in the morning, but his Dad suggested that they Google the problem to find a solution. Sure enough, the exact same problem had been solved online, yet the student hadn’t even considered doing an internet search.

      Despite our belief that students today are digital natives, they often lack the confidence and skills to go looking for answers on the internet (this scenario is not an isolated incidence), surprising, I know. By having students set up a PLE for Math, we could educate and empower them to construct a meaningful resource for math and homework help. Their PLE could consist of various math sites, solution sites, Wolfram Alpha, a site for class peers to discuss homework, etc…..a kind of cornucopia of math related resources all in a centralized tool box at their disposal. With a little help and some guidance, the skeleton of their tool box could be set up at the beginning of the year and new resources could be added as they go. I haven’t tried this, but will definitely be doing it for next year.

      What do you think?

      Cheers, Steve

  10. etec511dlg8 says:

    Ideally, I love PLEs and everything they represent. But I also agree with my peers that have concerns about self-regulation, overwhelming choices, and curriculum constructs. Theoretically, many of these concerns could be managed with proper scaffolding, constraints and overarching goals….but of course this would require considerable creativity, innovation, administrative-parent-student support, and effort.

    It would also require that teachers be incredibly comfortable with not painting themselves as the experts in the classroom. In these scenarios, students would be outlearning their teachers and asking questions that the teacher may be unable to answer. This would therefore require the teacher to become an expert in Socratic questioning and research methods to facilitate student’s learning.

    However, my greatest concern is assessment. Without a system of analysis that would allow teachers to summarize, visualize and compile student’s activities within their PLE, teachers would be overwhelmed by the assessment process. This is where extending these environments into the field of analytics may allow teachers to more readily review students’ learning journeys. It’s great to set students free and allow them to make their own meaning, but like in Math, the product doesn’t always reflect the process. Teacher’s need to be able to summatively AND formatively assess students work in order to give meaningful feedback.

    Overall, an interesting educational practice, but practical applications and wide spread acceptance may still be a thing of the future.

    Cheers, Steve

    • etec522grp4 says:

      Hi Steve,
      You raise a good point about assessment, and I agree that if a teacher were to try and assess the PLE itself, it could be a very difficult task, unless a rubric was used and one looked at the levels of organization and use of various tools to support the learning.

      I see the use of PLEs as a tool to help learners organize the tools and resources they need to complete the learning process. However, the actual assessment of learning would be in how they completed the particular task such as solved the problem, or created a product. As a reflection I might ask them to identify what features and tools they drew upon to help them reach a particular point.


    • Marie-France Hétu says:

      Hi Steve,

      You make very good points concerning the obstacles teachers have to overcome. I agree that teachers have to have a tremendous amount of creativity, initiative and patience to integrate PLE’s within course curriculum.
      I think teachers also need support – training needs to start right from teacher college and schools and school boards need to support teachers in these endeavours. This means providing teachers with time to explore programs and aps and tech support. School boards also need to include technology within curriculum – and as you say Steve, this includes researching ways to properly and fairly assess students who work online\with technology/with aps etc.
      The only problem is that technology is moving so quickly I’m not sure school boards have time to catch up . . .


  11. Dennis says:

    I fell like I have been setting up a PLE for our students lately as we are making a list of educational apps to use with our new iPads in the school. Students will not be able to download their own apps as we monitor the devices and wipe them after every class, setting them back to the apps that we load.

    The biggest obstacle that we are still facing is access to technology in the classroom. In an ideal PLE every student would have a device to access ther information they need all the time. This is what we do in our own lives and are beginning to see it more in schools. Our school is switching from only allowing devices in specific classes to allowing kids to have them in every class. We have our skeptics but I think the students will appreciate the freedom to use their own technology. I am sure will will run into some issues as we triain them on proper technology use but I am hopeful that the benefits will outweigh these issues.

    Another issue we are facing is teacher comfort with technology in general, much less, helping kids create a PLE for their class. I struggle to know how to tackle this issue as it remains as one of my major challenges with my colleagues on staff. I think they see it as more work for them and don’t see how curriculum can be woven with technology. I am open to any suggestions in this area.


    • etec522grp4 says:

      I am curious about the iPads, are you loaning them to the students for each class? We are also using iPads, but they are student owned so I am hoping that it will encourage more responsibility. We also have some hesistant staff, but most seem pretty keen.
      What about if you helped the students create PLEs on symbaloo as it is web-based and then it would consistently be there for the students to use even if the iPads are wiped daily.


      • Dennis says:


        We will be sharing the 60 iPads around the school as well as 60 laptops and 2 computer labs so symbaloo will be a great place to store or link our online tools. Right now our students use bookmarks in Google chrome to keep track of the pages they visit on regular basis.

        My goal is to have students bring in their own devices and then provide those that don’ have access to a device with a school device. We will see how that goes.


  12. Jody says:

    As a media teacher, I love the idea of Symbaloo and I can think of many places where this could be applied. I also think that it would be a great way to use as a metacognitive piece at the end. It would allow students to visually represent how they learned, what they accessed and how they put all of their work together.

    I do see many issues, though. Our board limits the sites we can access…all social networking sites, Youtube, most other video sites, any game related site and so forth are all blocked. In fact, I’m not even sure if Symbaloo itself would work LOL. For this to work best, the students need access to computers. Our school lost 100 computers last year, but they have made our school Wifi, as I think we’re moving towards BYOD…so with that in mind, the access is an issue both physically with machines/devices and then of course with restricted net access…

    Hopefully this will change soon…cause the potential for this type of tool, I think, is great

  13. kimberleenoel says:

    Hi all,
    The biggest limiting factor that I would have as a primary/elementary teacher would be the very strict policy our board employs as a means of ensuring student privacy/security. Network filters within the school would prevent students from accessing most (if not all) of the sites.

    As a teacher I have better access and will be using a number of these myself, but with primary/elementary students I would not be able to use these 😦


  14. Marie-France Hétu says:


    In my line of work the biggest limiting factor is that DND has very tight security, therefore this limits my use of PLE’s – I can’t expect students to use PLE’s in class. However, I certainly intend to use PLE’s to organize MET information and also to present material to my FSL classes.


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