Personal Learning Network

a diagram of a personal learning network: two concentric circles labeled reflect (inside) and collect (outside) surrounded by arrows and boxes representing connection and sharing

I envision my PLN like a spinning wheel with a tire constantly collecting and shedding mud and rocks and a shiny hubcap for reflection. When I first designed the image above, I hoped to have separate, curved arrows for connection and sharing, to better indicate the motion, but my layout abilities in Pages did not match my vision.

In thinking about my PLN, I realized that I had multiple distinct, though overlapping, learning environments. While I use Google and email in every sphere of my life, other tools are limited to one or two environments either by necessity or by utility. To represent this, I color-coded where I use each resource. Universals are in licorice. Things that are part of only my personal learning environment are fern. My student learning environment is blueberry. Things that are part of both my personal and student environments, but not my work environments, are ocean. (And so on.)

Based on the initial “readings” for this assignment, I believed that a personal learning network was an intentional construct built inside a personal learning environment (although that was never articulated in quite that way). It did not occur to me until I created this diagram that our personal learning networks might span multiple distinct learning environments.

One line struck me in the Dan LaSota’s resource on Personal Learning Environments:

“The most effective PLE for an individual will be one that is well curated, easily accessible, reviewed often and discussed with other members of one’s learning community.”

Mine is none of these things. The closest I get to well-curated and easily accessible is a podcast playlist that I start (and rarely finish) every morning. It brings me news from a few different perspectives. Other than listening to it with my two small children, nothing about that ritual is shared. Thinking about this brought me back to the conclusion from the Audrey Watters piece that we read for the first assignment: what if I created a page on my website that curated my PLE/PLN for me? I said in my last post that I don’t go to my own website “to have a think,” but I could create a page that curates for me all of the online sources that I want to include regularly in my learning environment and shares that environment with anyone who wants to experience it. That would, in effect, create a platform to connect, collect, reflect, and share.

When I started working on this assignment, I dug up my PLN diagram from the iTeach workshop I participated in, in May 2015. At that time, I was very interested in what information I was consuming and how. This time, I chose to focus more on the how and the context. When I made this diagram, my son was only six weeks old, and I still had a full-time job with an office and a classroom. I taught much of the same material that I do now, but both of my jobs were moving toward blended instruction. My PLE/PLN was much more unified then, although the content was not much different.

References will be added here soon.

Watters Response – A Domain of One’s Own

I am late in posting this response. For the past two weeks, whenever I have had the chance to work on this assignment, I have been wrestling with a disagreement with Audrey Watters, and I have had to restart my response every time I sat down to write it. I do not like how she presents A Domain of One’s Own in her piece “Why ‘A Domain of One’s Own’ Matters (For the Future of Knowledge),” but I struggled to articulate my disagreement without sounding like a contrarian. (I am a contrarian.) I doubt that I succeed here.

I have to agree with Watters at the start. A website is “pretty special.” Having one’s own website affords one a certain level of participation in the Web that not having one does not. I admit that I was hesitant to create a website for myself—why should I merit such attention?—except that I was required to create one for my first ONID course. And I have been happy to have and use that presence on the Web ever since. In the democratic realm of the Web, a website is individual sovereignty and agency in a way that a user profile on a network—social, professional, or scholarly—is not.

Watters appeals to Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision for the Web and his worries about its present course. I read Sir Tim’s open letter at The Guardian. While Watters lists his three main points accurately, I read a linking concern in his article that Watters glosses past, to go onto her rewording: the relationship between personal data and money needs to be changed so that people have more control over how their personal data are used and what they see on the Web. Berners-Lee’s second and third concerns flow directly from the first. And a Domain of One’s Own can do very little to address them; in fact, in the present climate, a Domain of One’s Own might exasperate the problem.

Watters focuses the discussion back onto education with her own restatement of Sir Tim’s three issues and then announces, “By providing students and staff with a domain, I think we can start to address this.” She might be right, but where she goes from there is where I start to disagree, ever so slightly.

That scholars learn and begin to think about digital technologies is incidental to a Domain of One’s Own: scholars are using these technologies to further scholarship. Watters places that scholarship wholly online, but scholarship does not exist only online. Scholars are not engaging the Web. Scholars are engaging each other, using the Web, just like a classroom or a lecture hall or a coffeeshop.

Watters goes on the discuss the freedom in a Domain of One’s Own. There are no requirements. Each scholar can set up their own domain however they see fit. They can then share their content in the “for-profit, ad-based venues” of Facebook, &c. Watters still sees the use in those platforms, but derides VLEs (which I had to look up, because I have always heard them called LMSs). I don’t see the difference: LMSs are specialized networks, and they have their uses. Students will need to be able to navigate arbitrary online systems in their careers, so navigating a LMS is a useful skill, even if you wouldn’t put it on your résumé. The skills to set up and customize a Domain of One’s Own are marketable, not that skills are the end-goal. Watters notes that this is not a campaign to get academics to “learn to code,” but a certain level of Web literacy is inherent. (Perhaps that’s what she meant above, where I first disagreed with her.) The beauty and purpose of a Domain of One’s Own, ultimately, is that is provides a home-base for one’s online identity and for projecting one’s ideas onto the Web.

Watters’s closing paragraph sums up her argument and my reaction to it quite nicely. She writes,

And that’s the Web. That’s your domain. You cultivate ideas there—quite carefully, no doubt, because others might pop by for a think. But also because it’s your space for a think.

If I go online “for a think,” it will be to visit others’ domains, to see how their thoughts might interact with mine. Although I put some thought into my own site, I never go there “for a think,” but I hope others might. And that is why having a Domain of One’s Own is important: so that we can visit each other online and see each others’ ideas, not just have our own ideas echoed back to us by an algorithm.



Berners-Lee, T. (2017, March 11). I invented the web. Here are three things we need to change to save it. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Watters, A. (2017, April 4). Why ‘a domain of one’s own’ matters (for the future of knowledge). [Blog] Retrieved from

Not-so-final advice

Here are a few pieces of advice for future Nousionauts.

  1. Don’t be shy.
    I’m shy. I don’t engage people very readily. Because of it, I don’t think I got everything out of the class that I could have. Engage your classmates. When you have an opportunity use an unfamiliar web tool on an activity, use it.
  2. Take your time on Collection I.
    It is easy to finish Collection I in a small fraction of the time it will take you to complete the other Collections. Take your time. Set your website up the way you want it. Don’t be surprised by Collections II and III.
  3. Plan.
    Chris tells you to look ahead and plan ahead. Do it. It will save you a lot of trouble at the end.
  4. Ask.
    If you have a question, ask it. Asking questions—whether about ideas or assignments—will enrich your nousion experience.

Good luck!

Not-so-final thinking

I have been thinking for a year now about how to integrate digital citizenship, &c., into teaching developmental math. My students, in my humble opinion, need some exposure to these ideas, but they don’t really fit into the math curriculum. At the same time, I have been looking for an opportunity to integrate some math web literacy and coding into my classes. Leave it to the Not-so-final Project to pull these two ideas together.

What I am creating here is a lesson and resource that will be live for my Mathematics Skills (aka Math Lab) students this fall. (If you teach math and you like it, you’re welcome to use it. I’ll CC license it.) It is currently under construction—and I don’t think it can ever be finished—but you will see the effect. (If you look soon after I post this, you will only see the outline. I’m building it live.) There is a basic introduction to the idea of digital lit/cit. I’ll link heavily to others’ resources on this—there’s no reason for me to rehash it. What makes this lesson math-specific are the discussions of how to express math on the web and how to be a good citizen with the many math resources available online.

What I hope to provide my students is a resource that they can use throughout the semester to communicate with each other and their instructors more effectively. In 2017, on a rural UAF campus, that naturally comes in the context of digital lit/cit.

Here it is…

A Brief Guide to Doing Math Online

Collection III Roundup

Here are my activities for Collection III. Some of them are pages, not posts, so I will tag this post and label the links.

Intellectual Product, not Property {IP: Friend or Foe?}

Small Group Communication {Collaborate (a Little)}

Making Sense of Copyright, Fair Use, and the Commons {Making Sense of Copyright, Fair(ish) Use, The (Creative) Commons, Weave It, Think About Your Thinking, Who to Follow}

Worked Together {Work Together}

Slacking Productive {Get Productive}

Worked together

Last summer I worked with two Nousion classmates to create the Small Group Protocol presentation that you see below in this feed (or here). Heidi, Samantha, and I all had schedule conflicts the week that the activity was assigned, so jumped ahead and finished the project early. Heidi initially posted on Twitter looking for a group to collaborate. After Samantha and I responded, the conversation moved to email and then to a shared Google doc. The entire project was completed within these media—there was never a face-to-face meeting or a video or voice call, but we all agreed on a time to work together on the shared doc. The vast majority of the communication in the project came in comments, chat, and inline edits inside the doc. At the end we jumped to Google Slides for the final presentation and continued the same way.

Google [Drive] Apps make this kind of collaboration easy. I highly recommend using them for any collaborative, creative effort such as this. Their output capabilities are somewhat limited, but they offer a good framework to start, and a final project can be built from there. Using the protocol that we describe in the presentation helps a lot, too.

Slacking productive

Last week my family took a vacation on the road system. We rented a house in Talkeetna for a week with a family of friends from Asheville, North Carolina, who had never been to Alaska before. The trip included my two-year-old son’s third visit to Denali and first ride on a bus, a boat, and a TRAIN!

I was hoping to leave my laptop home and stay connected to class activities by mobile apps. I ended up bringing my laptop anyway and trying to get some work done after the kids went to bed at night, but the mobile apps did prove to be more productive for me.

Since we are using Slack for class communications, I have the app on my iPhone. It probably took me a couple weeks to realize that there were two places where I had to turn on notifications (both in Settings and inside the app itself) in order to get it to badge the icon whenever someone posts something. I found this before I left on vacation, so the app was working for me while I was away.

Taking Chris’s suggestion, I also started using the Feedly iPhone app to follow all of the class blogs. I like the simplicity and the appearance of the interface, but I am not impressed by the functionality. It doesn’t update in real time. Posts I read in the morning show up new in the afternoon. Sometimes my own posts don’t show up for days. Comments as separate threads dilute original posts and are hard to follow. It would make infinitely more sense if it had a conversation view, like gmail. As an advantage, though, I can quickly get to an individual blog, if I want to see what a particular classmate has to say on an issue.

Slack ended up being the far more useful tool for keeping track of what everyone else in class was doing. I did make a fatal error in my slacking though: I didn’t break out of my shell and start posting until I got back from vacation, so barely anyone saw the posts I put up right before I left—I didn’t make optimal use of the tool.

Going forward, I am still using both tools, but I am still looking to Slack first, and only following up with Feedly.

Small Group Communication

Note: This post originally appeared 28 June 2016. My collaborators on this assignment were my classmates in Nousion last summer. The post has not been modified since its original appearance past this note.

Collaborate (a Little)

Heidi Olson (@holson), Samantha Ward (@imaginarynums), and I created this presentation on Small Group Communication protocols, based on the Small Group Communication Factors survey. The presentation itself explains our work. Enjoy.

Intellectual Product, not Property

Note: This post originally appeared 6 July 2016. It has not been modified past this note. The original comments still appear below.


It appears to be the popular position to argue against “intellectual property,” based on the class readings, so please allow me to argue for it, at least in part.

In most cases, I argue that words have meanings and should be used accordingly. Thus if something is to be called “intellectual property,” it should be both intellectual and property, or perhaps the intersection of the two. Google gives us these definitions, edited to fit the format here:

intellectual: of or relating to the intellect, appealing to or requiring use of the intellect, possessing a highly developed intellect; a person possessing a highly developed intellect.

property: a thing or things belonging to someone, a building or buildings and the land belonging to it or them, the right to the possession, use, or disposal of something, ownership, possessions collectively, an attribute, quality, or characteristic of something

Without descending into the legal arguments about what property is—I leave that entirely to Kinsella—let’s look at what this says. “Intellectual property” is something of or relating to the intellect that a person has the right to the possession, use, or disposal of… ownership [of]. As we have read, ownership of things of the intellect makes no sense. I agree. The right to the possession, use, or disposal of things of the intellect does make sense, though, and I will argue for that here.

At this point I need to make two distinctions in my argument.

First, it matters what the “property” in question is: ideas are different from products of art.

Second, it matters who the subject of the property is. I believe that IP rights should exist for individual persons, not corporations, and only for the initial creator of the thing being protected. (My argument here against corporate ownership is similar to that against Citizens United.)

On the first point, I would argue that intellectual property should be reconsidered as intellectual product. Here is where the distinction lies between ideas and art. It has always been acceptable to borrow ideas from other writers, but never to copy their words. And while you can claim that everything is a remix, and therefore there is no authorship, I would argue that authorship is the art of the elegant remix, which results in an original work, an intellectual product.

Ideas should not be protected. Ideas that are protected are stunted ideas: they cannot spread, grow, interact with other ideas, or develop. When I think about the spread of ideas, my first thought is of the silk road, as we were taught in 8th grade. When I think about MV5BMjE4MTU2MTEyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDcxNzQzMw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,677,1000_AL_suppressed or stunted ideas, my first thought is the movie V for Vendetta: ideas are greater than the people who carry them. Although we may associate a particular idea with a particular person, it is the idea that lives on. Protecting an idea by law does not protect the idea: it stunts the idea and protects the vanity of the person who claims to own it.

Art, by contrast, should be protected. If a person creates a work of art, cynical as we may be about remixing, that person should have the right to profit from that work of art in the same way that a builder profits from a house or a baker from a loaf of bread. If I write a poem or an essay or a story, I should be able to profit from it and control its distribution.

Now, an artist can profit from his or her work by sale of the work. I often recall the story that Julia Ward Howe sold The Battle Hymn of the Republic—a song we probably all recognize 155 years after it was written—to The Atlantic Monthly magazine for $4. Whether or not she profited from its later republishing and use, I do not know. But like the builder above, she created a product and sold it. You might say that she has no more right to it thereafter.

In a different situation, I create works (like this website)—I wouldn’t call them art—as a product of my employment. I do not profit from their use, but I am compensated for the time and effort I put into producing them. This is much like the baker above, who might not profit from each individual loaf, but might make a living from his ongoing work.

In either case, the artist or author profits from his or her creation. In the first, it is by direct sale. In the second, it is by salary. Ownership of the product is not the issue: the creator creates and disposes of the intellectual product as he or she sees fit.

I hold that the right to control the intellectual product is not transferrable to another person or to a corporation. If the creator of the intellectual product sells the product to a person or a corporation, that product does not become the buyer’s property. While the buyer can profit from the intellectual product‘s use, the buyer does not have the right to control its use or distribution, since the buyer’s intellect did not create it.

This argument breaks down quickly, I’m afraid.
This may be a fruitful point for discussion.

Which brings me to my second point— This, to me, is a question of fairness for original authorship. If I publish a poem or an essay or a story, that intellectual product is mine, not the publisher’s. The publisher did not create it; the publisher only gave it a medium for expression. Once published, the publisher has no right to control the sharing and use of the intellectual product, nor to attribution. Credit should be attributed to the author.

Likewise, when I create something in the course of my daily work, it does not become the intellectual property of my employers. They did not create it. They have no right to control the sharing and use of the intellectual product, nor to attribution. Credit should be attributed to the author. Their benefit, for which they paid, came in their free right to use the intellectual product, but it does not extend over the intellectual product.

Thus, if a person creates a product by his or her intellect, he or she has the right to share that product for his or her own profit. Once shared, no one has the right to control future sharing. Further, no corporation or individual buyer has the right to claim “intellectual property rights” over the product of another person’s intellect.

The choice, then, lies with the creator of the intellectual product: how should the product be shared with the world? Should it be shared freely, or should its first use be sold to another individual or a company? Should it be published or kept private? Once published, there is no controlling who will use it or benefit from it, but anyone who copies or reproduces it should give credit, if not payment, to the original creator.

The question of attribution arises here. It is always appropriate to attribute one’s ideas to their sources. Likewise, reproduced art should always be attributed to its creator or author, if known. The responsibility seems to fall on the conscience of the end user. It is here that perhaps the law should compel users and remixers to give credit where credit is due.