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Unpacking Personal Learning Environments

The 2011 K-12 Horizon Report listed personal learning environments, or PLEs for short, as one of its six technologies to watch. But what does a personal learning environment mean? And what does it look like?

Three educators and researchers here at the annual ISTE conference in Philadelphia attempted to answer that question and share their experiences with PLEs, in a session Wednesday.

Laura Deisley, the director of 21st century learning at the Lovett School in Atlanta; Wendy Drexler, a researcher from the University of Florida's College of Education; and Buffy Hamilton, a media specialist at Creekview High School in Canton, Ga., talked about their experiences building personal learning environments with students in their districts and what they have learned from those endeavors.

Drexler began the presentation by giving her definition of PLEs. "A PLE is the space we choose to make learning connections," she said. PLEs are not a specific type of technology, the presenters stressed, but rather an approach or a process.

In Hamilton's school, she worked with a teacher to teach two classes of students how to build their own PLEs about a topic that interested them. Students grouped all of their blogs, outside blogs, videos, images, and other media and sources of information onto an information dashboard to learn the latest developments about their topic. The students created wikis to show and document what they had learned.

Perhaps an easier way to explain PLEs is through an example from one of the students Drexler studied. The clip below does a good job showing the potential PLEs have to help students organize information, research new topics, and survey new media for personal or educational purposes.

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