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Personal learning, research: a re-look

This edition of NetSpeak describes tools/resources aiding individual research/learning and introduces the concept of personal learning environment (PLE), an idea gaining ground among academicians.

A distinct feature of the Net age is the access to a plethora of free resources/tools that greatly facilitate learning. Unlike in the past, resources that were hitherto available only to a selected few are now available universally. Educational materi als from prestigious institutions are no longer restricted to their four walls.

Besides the much discussed MIT open courseware (http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/home/home/index.htm), several institutions have hosted their teaching materials and video lectures for free download. Fullbright School’s OpenCourseware (http://ocw.fetp.edu.vn/home.cfm), Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative ( http://www.cmu.edu/oli/), NPTEL (http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/home.php), a joint project of seven IITs and IISc., are a few among them.

Tools like OpenCourseware Finder (http://ocwfinder.com/) and Lecture archives ( http://www.lecturesarchive.com/4466.html) can be used to locate these resources. In addition to the static content mentioned above, lots of pedagogical resources are being generated on Wikis and social bookmarking/Web 2.0 sites too. According to learning requirements one can also exploit the services of content dissemination applications (like blogs), microblogging tools (like twitter) and the like. IM networks like gTalk and skype enable interaction with experts and fellow learners across the globe. In this regard, you may try out the recently launched communication product OovOO ( http://www.oovoo.com/) that facilitates text/audio/video conversations in real-time. One advantage of this product is the built-in facility to record the conversation.

An important dimension of any learning process is the facility to record/store the collected materials with the relevant comments/annotations. In addition to book-marking a web page, one may need to highlight certain paragraphs or review/make a comment on that page. This means, a tool that enables us to store bookmarks, annotate/comment on a web page would greatly ease the learning process. The on-line social annotation service, Diigo ( http://www.diigo.com/) could come in handy on this count.

Apart from allowing you to store the web links on its server, it offers means for annotating a web page, putting sticky notes on to it and the like. If you find a video, Diigo lets you clip that on to its server.

You can make the stored resources either private or public or limit it to a selected few. To use the service, create an account with it and download Diigo toolbar from its site. From the above discussion it is apparent that learning with the Net is easy, provided you identify the relevant resources/tools. Depending on the learning context/requirement and of course, on your attitude/skill level, tools/resources may change/evolve.

The set of tools you choose for online learning constitutes what is otherwise referred to as personal learning environment (PLE- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki

/History_of_personal_learning_environments). As these tools are scattered across the Web, there is a risk of forgetting/losing them. If you can keep all these tools in one place, your learning becomes easier. A web based infrastructure, for assembling all the relevant tools pertaining to a specific learning objective, would certainly make the learning endeavour efficient. For this, personal home page creation services such as Netvibes and Pageflakes could come in handy.

Pageflakes ( http://www.pageflakes.com/) allows you to generate a page with all your favourite services (social book marking, e-mail and news sites) embedded on it. If a service is not available on its built-in service toolbox (called ‘Flake’), Pageflakes provides the facility to create your own widget for integrating that service. Netvibes ( http://www.netvibes.com/), with its latest version Ginger, lets you create several home pages separated on tabs. This means if you have different learning requirements, you can create separate pages for each of them.

While doing research for this piece, this author had the opportunity to revisit the Firefox based browser Flock (discussed in the past: http://www.hindu.com/biz/2005/11/14/stories/2005111400161700.htm) and realised that it has progressed significantly. The latest version of this browser, with features for accessing several online services directly from it, could be an addition for on-line learning/research.

Topcited

The number of times an article gets cited by other authors is a measure of its academic value/ relevance. Naturally, a researcher would be keen to obtain the most cited articles on his area of concern. Those of you looking for such information may find the application Topcited, from Scopus (http://info.scopus.com/overview/what/), provider of abstract/database of research literature, useful.

J. MURALI

He can be contacted at: jmurali@gmail.com

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