Cogged PLE’s

Jenny mentioned that the process we worked through for our paper, was not open to all. At least, it can be made a little more transparent here.

1. The wiki

We were working with PBwiki, and I can really recommend it. When we first started in a previous project with four people, PBwiki made it easy for our inhomogenous group to get along with each other, because it offered the basic collaboration facilities in different flavors or variants which, surprisingly, went together well. Everybody was able to find one variant that s/he could intuitively understand and use with ease for their active contribution, while the same variant could at least be passively used by the partners who preferred a different variant for their active work. So the wiki helped to reconcile our differing work styles and temperaments, which is a great challenge.

Probably I need to elaborate what these variants were:

  • We placed our annotations either on the wiki page itself (e. g., indented with bullets), or at the bottom of the page as comments (rather in the style of a forum);
  • Regarding the pages, we sometimes crammed lots of differently colored text, with different sorts of timestamps, into one page, and sometimes we just started new pages.
  • As for the navigation, we took care of this partly with folders, and partly with the Sidebar.
  • hyperlinking was done either manually with copy & paste, or with specially provided buttons;
  • and for alerting about changes, we could use either use the “Recent Activity” listing, or email notification.

Solely the Wysiwyg editor is a bit mulish. But we were able to tolerate it as just another chaotic “team member”, once we had adopted a liberal attitude towards the others’ work styles, according to the motto “The wiser head gives in” 🙂 The optics of a text soon gets ugly, but content-wise, the tool stays robust.


The newer features of PBworks are IMHO not at all relevant, compared to the workhorse wiki.

Absolutely worth emphasizing: This wiki went well with our work style of “peer leadership“. Almost everyone happened to play, now and again, the necessary role of the “wiki gardener”. Perhaps a group with a domination-addict, would have despaired over this tool …!

2. Our tandem

So when the two of us started the new wiki, the technical tool was not so much of a problem that it could have clouded the substantial work. The organization and structuring of the subject matter has wonderfully worked, although it was never discussed, let alone agreed-upon or negotiated.


The structure and workflow just emerged over time. Basically, there were three stages involved, albeit phase shifted and overlapping, for the individual parts:

  1. The free-flowing, informal, not directly goal-oriented discussion of a topic or an aspect, that sparked from various occasions. It typically consisted in a back and forth of questions and partial responses which, of course, left new questions open.
  2. A harvesting stage, where important thoughts were summarized at the bottom of a page, eventually 66 items on 10 pages. These were numbered and labeled with a letter indicating the source page and an eye-catcher keyword, and these labels were subsequently juggled around in various overviews, summary listings, or maps. The noteworthy experience here was that each of us made their summaries in their own way. The active creation of these harvest artifacts was completely optimized for the creator. But the direct or indirect benefit for the passive observer of this part of the work, was completely sufficient also without any agreement or negotiation.
  3. Building upon the results of the intermediary summaries, either new discussions and pages sparked, or the drafts for the final sections were composed.

3. Cogged PLEs

So one might say that the wiki work environment was, for each partner, their customized PLE, as far as the active tool usage was concerned. But the passive usage of the partner’s tools and artefacts was so closely interlocked (due to the novel affordance of online reaction speed and asynchronous reflectivity mentioned in section 2 of e-resonance), that each one had the impression that these tools and artefacts were closely cogged into their own PLE.

4. Closed workspace

Finally, the question remains to be answered: Why is it necessary to collaborate in a closed workspace, if credit and ambition are not an issue and the final result wil be openly available, anyway?

Not long ago, I would have responded that the main reason is that I am uncomfortable with my messy provisional thinking and learning in public. But after multiple MOOCs with their homework assignments done in public, this situation becomes more familiar. It is similar as it was previously with other open components of one’s PLE, for example, bookmarks. Not long ago it seemed to be an absurd idea to me to publish my bookmarks except very few that seemed suited. But you simply get used to the idea, and now it’s the other way around: Only very few bookmarks are not suitable for being left in the open.

Similarly, only a very few discussions of our collaborations would have needed a separate, closed treatment (and so these could have easily been done by a few emails). It is not the private notes like “this weekend I won’t work on the wiki because I visit my … in …”. Rather, it is mostly when doubting the competence of an author being discussed, when there is not yet sufficient evidence to publicly contadict (or no energy for opening a second theatre of war).

It is not about protecting our content from possible readers, it is about protecting incidental readers from the content. Because this content is just incomprehensible, disturbing noise, like murmuring and babbling in the library reading room. Because within a close collaboration, the language and cues are not clear and explicit enough for outside people to understand; they are very context dependent shorthand and situational, private language, as explained in the Böttger diagram cited in section 2 of e-resonance. So it’s basically a kind of politeness not to pollute our web spaces, the feeds, the keyword searches of interested readers with the half-baken stuff.

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3 Responses to Cogged PLE’s

  1. Hi Matthias,
    So delighted to learn about your views and experience in this research, & the wiki. I would surely take your advice when working on this research on MOOC. I could imagine the work hard that was required in preparing the CMaps and the everlasting conversation required to share ideas and work on the drafts.
    Congratulations again to you and Jenny for this fantastic research, and I think your artifact has marked another milestone in blogging research.

  2. Keith Lyons says:

    A delightful, informative and thought-provoking post Matthias.



  3. x28 says:

    Hi John and Keith,
    many thanks to Australia!

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