cognitive, social and teacher presence and PLEs

This posting is in response to Derek Wenmouth's diagram - OLE a school perspective - illustrating a school-based PLE. This is currently being discussed in a very interesting online discussion seminar run by Derek Wenmouth and Derek Chirnside on SCOPE.

It strikes me in all this talk about personal learning ecologies and personal learning environments (PLEs) that we are paying a lot of attention to the structure of the system. I am currently exploring how Derek's proposed system can help with learning. At the moment the diagram represents a mish mash of ways to collect together content - very important but not enough to stimulate engagement and reflection and deep learning.

Inherent in the use of some of the tools e.g. blogs, is a belief that communication will happen but I think we need to look carefully at this. Just because we keep a blog does not mean that someone will give us feedback on the content. We could also have a collection of tools in a system such as that proposed by D and have no interaction at all with another human being. At least in a classroom, there is a teacher to guide or control the learning.

My question is how can a PLE incorporate teacher presence and scaffolded learning and still enable the learners to have autonomy in their choices?

Is a PLE only really any good for the development of a cognitive presence online? i.e. information processing and can this truly happen without discourse and input from another human? Does a PLE automatically stimulate social interaction? I have found that there is no guarantee of a social presence i.e. interaction with other students, and even if this occurs and is unguided and unstructured, how much learning actually occurs? I believe that if any system such as a PLE is to succeed, teacher presence is very important. There is more about the ideas of cognitive, social and teacher presence in an article called:
Farmer, J. (2004). Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environments. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 274-283). Perth, 5-8 December.
Actual example of the use of social networking tools and strategies in a course.In a course where I co-teach design for flexible learning, we have encouraged participants to set up their own PLEs using a blog, account, mailing list and wiki as the backbone. They also have access to a LMS discussion and content on a course wiki,and are encouraged to use a range of open source software e.g. audacity for audio, gimpshop and gimp for image manipulation, CMap and Gliffy for mindmapping, and web-based tools e.g. Flickr (images), BubbleshareslideshareYoutubebliptv. There is variable take-up. Some really explore and try out lots of things to design and create resources and a learning space for themselves, others sit on the fringes.

The blogs which each student is required to keep and the course wiki and mailing list, and del.ici.ous accounts depend very much on an active teacher presence to keep the participants linked and motivated. It also depends on these items being connected to the course assessment. The tools are there, but without facilitation by the "teachers" the participants tend to learn in isolation apart from when they come together for f2f workshops.

We have found that unless guidance is provided by the "teachers" very few of them provide feedback to each others' blogs, contribute to the wiki or del.ici.ous account or contribute meaningful discussion to the mailing list.