Scott Wilson (University of Bolton UK) is a proponent of PLE's. He admirably seeks middle ground between closed and open systems or IT Departments and student learning processes. Scott is in tune with my recent Changing the Debate post. In a paper (MS Word doc) he wrote this year with others, Scott proposed the use of PLE's to avoid the calamitous excesses of any typical IT Department in pursuit of a bulletproof, stable infrastructure.
This week Pete Reilly coincidentally provided context to this issue of IT department excesses. Pete enumerated how a bullet proof infrastructure for a K-12 school system feels like a "prison lock down" to its users:
Is it success to tie down a network to the point where teachers and students can't use the A: Drive; can't load software on the C: Drive, have the "right click" mouse feature disabled, can't attach peripherals, can't use applications like Skype, have little storage space for projects, cannot create and/or store podcasts, videos, blogs, and wikis; while having little or no access to "approved applications" and files from home or locations outside of the school?
In his paper: Preparing for Disruption, Scott referenced one of my all time favorite books: Systemantics - How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail, John Gall (1975) I seem to read that book once every ten years or so. I reread it last weekend for the fourth time with all these PLE issues on my mind. I came to lots of new realizations by juxtaposing these two domains in my mind. PLE's could operate in failure mode if they get tainted by effects of large systems and became a job requirement:
- The PLE would be taken as an accurate representation of the person, (the chart is the patient, the personnel file is the employee)
- The PLE would be monitored closely to know the person, evaluate job performance, decide on raises/promotions, and reassign to other jobs
- The PLE would necessitate a large reporting commitment, filed on schedule (number of feeds added/deleted, number of items written, number of links/comments received, etc)
- Those inputs to the PLE monitoring system would be regarded as the outputs of the system; a good week of PLE measures would show impressive increases in the number of feeds added, posts written, comments received, links made.
- Questions about personal learning would be disregarded as: beyond the scope of the PLE monitoring system, mere speculative concerns or unsubstantiated opinions that spawn disunity.
- The PLE's would generate a new set of problems and layer of management to oversee the meetings, training programs and policy revisions to deal with those problems.
- Those new PLE problems might include:
- certifying the quality of PLE's
- terminating substandard PLE's
- limiting the scope/depth of PLE topics to align with system goals
- offering incentives to get apathetic employees to keep their PLE up to standard
- confining PLE endeavors to planned goals and program objectives
- reprimanding creators of deviant PLE's who indulge in serendipitous developments
- The devoted keepers of PLE's would become delusional about their value, assuming they must be doing good to get so much attention from management, failing to notice that no personal learning was actually occurring.
In other words, that same pattern of destructive excess that IT Departments exhibit in making an infrastructure bulletproof, could destroy the value of PLE's if management adopts them as a job requirement.