We’re in the process of getting serious about our PLEs@CQUni project. The following is a copy of a submission to CQUni’s Vice-Chancellor’s Executive to tell them about the project. Sharing it here so others can know what we’re trying to do and why and also on the off chance that others might criticise and suggest alternate approaches that improve what we’re doing.

Something as complex, novel and emergent as the PLEs@CQUni project doesn’t lend itself well to a 2 page summary. Some of the following may change as the CQUni context changes, as society and the available technology changes, and as the people working on the project change.

A 2 page summary doesn’t necessarily make a good blog post. Better out than in. You might also note a slight boosterish tone in the “What has been done” section, sort of had to be done.

Our papers (Jones, 2008, Muldoon, 2008, and Beer and Jones, 2008) from the recent PLE Symposium might provide some additional insight into where we are coming from.


The following offers an explanation of the rationale and approach to be used in the PLEs @ CQU project. It aims to answer the following questions:

  • What will the project achieve and what has already happened?
  • Why should CQU embark on this project?
  • How will it work?


The PLE concept is still new and there remains a diversity of interpretations of what a PLE is and what it might do (Johnson, Hollins, Wilson, & Liber, 2006). The most commonly accepted definition is of a PLE being a collection of systems (not necessarily involving ICT) that help learners control and manage their own learning and achieve learning goals by enabling learners to: set their own learning goals; manage the content and process of their learning; and communicate with others in the process of learning. Unlike centralised, instructor-controlled Learning Management System (LMS), PLEs are distributed, social and learner-centric. PLEs fulfil the requirements, including connecting, social, personal, creative, flexible, open and reflexive, identified as characteristic of future learning spaces (Puni, 2007).

The PLE concept has often been positioned as a counterpoint to the institutional LMS. The musical definition of counterpoint “involves the writing of musical lines which sound very different from each other, but sound harmonious when played together” (Counterpoint, 2008). The outcomes of the PLEs @ CQU project will seek to work harmoniously with CQU’s learning management system (LMS). The PLEs @ CQU project seeks to concentrate on the important approaches to learning which the LMS cannot address and subsequently further increase the quality of CQU’s learning and teaching. The PLEs @ CQU project seeks to build on CQU’s existing systems and past experience in e-learning.

What has been done

So far, the PLEs @ CQU project has built on or commenced the following projects:

  • Blog Aggregation Management (BAM).
    Originally funded by the Faculty of Business and Informatics this project led to the development of an approach that supports the use of external blogs by students for activities such as reflective journals. The approach provides a set of management interfaces that allow staff to observe, manage and mark student blogs hosted externally to CQU. The BAM tools integrate with and build upon CQU’s existing systems including Webfuse, Blackboard and OASIS. Over 1000 students in 13 course offerings have made use of BAM since late 2006.

    BAM’s original use in 2006 was profiled (not by CQU staff) in the ELI Discovery Tool: Guide to Blogging (Coghlan et al., 2007) which concluded

    One of the most compelling aspects of the project was the simple way it married Web 2.0 applications with institutional systems. This approach has the potential to give institutional teaching and learning systems greater efficacy and agility by making use of the many free or inexpensive—but useful—tools like blogs proliferating on the Internet and to liberate institutional computing staff and resources for other efforts.

  • Web 2.0 course site.
    During T2, 2007 a Web 2.0 course site was developed in conjunction with staff from the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Education. The aim of the project was to discover how to develop the entire functionality for a course website using Web 2.0 tools, achieve effective learning outcomes and still provide a coherent course website within one of CQU’s existing learning management systems.
  • Extending the LMS into social software.
    In late 2007 the discussion forum used as part of CQU’s Webfuse Learning Management System was extended to generate an RSS feed, a basis for extending it into social software. This discussion forum is now used by courses in both Blackboard and Webfuse.
  • Learning networks.
    The website of the Curriculum Design and Development Unit (http://cddu.cqu.edu.au) has been implemented using the software used by Wikipedia and extended through the use of blogs, social bookmarking and RSS feeds to form the basis of a learning network for CDDU staff. This work is foundational to a project aiming to implement a discipline based learning network for use by CQU programs, initially for the Bachelor of Professional Communication (Beer & Jones, 2008).
  • PLE Symposium.
    As part of the PLE project’s aim of developing an understanding of the role PLEs can play within a university, DTLS staff organised a symposium on this question as part of the 5th International Lifelong Learning Conference. The symposium included five papers in total with three authored by DTLS staff (Beer & Jones, 2008; Jones, 2008; Muldoon, 2008). One of these papers was selected as one of the three best papers for the conference.


The following sections provide a summary of some, but not all, of the fundamental reasons for the PLEs@CQUni project. Many of these reasons are discussed in significantly greater detail in the education, information technology and broader research literatures.

Societal changes

  • The rise of social software (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_software), software as a service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_as_a_service) and other technical trends which are having a significant impact on conceptualisations of how and what technology is used to support learning and teaching within universities.
  • Growing recognition of the importance of lifelong learning, open access to resources, the information age, changing understanding of learning and teaching and other factors having a significant impact on conceptualisations of learning and teaching within universities.
  • The changing nature and expectations of our students.
    There is widespread research suggesting that the next generation of students are likely to be different from previous students and consequently have different expectations and be better suited to different approaches to learning and technology (Oblinger & Oblinger, 2005).

CQU’s strategic aims

The following lists a number of requirements from CQU’s draft strategic plan 2008-2012 which the PLEs @ CQU project will support.

  • Develop a new CQUniversity learning platform and the development of educational models for the future that are aligned with our broad mission “to be what you want to be”.
  • Provide a multimodal educational platform supported by appropriate technology.
  • Increasing the University’s research performance.
  • Invest in the development of staff to ensure that they have the requisite skills and abilities to support the attainment of the University’s strategic objectives.
  • Increase revenue and decrease costs.


The project will extend, refine and better resource an existing participatory design process (Reigeluth, 1993) incorporating a number of individual design-based research interventions (Wang & Hanafin, 2005) to design, develop and evaluate application of PLE associated concepts within the CQU context. The process will have a specific focus on identifying and responding to institutional requirements with an emphasis on helping staff develop the complex, multifaceted and situated knowledge necessary to make effective use of e-learning (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). A particular emphasis will be on working with students to identify their needs, preferences and increase their capacity for managing their own learning.

This approach will be enabled through the efforts of two staff specifically employed to work on the PLEs @ CQU project with support from other DTLS staff. The PLEs @ CQU project has strong connections and potential overlaps with a range of other activities at CQU (e.g. the LMS project, the Student Learning Journey etc.). For this reason it is important that the PLEs @ CQU project seek to collaborate closely with these other CQU projects. Additional detail of the thinking behind how the PLEs @ CQU project will operate can be found in a paper (Jones, 2008) presented at the PLE symposium.


Beer, C., & Jones, D. (2008). Learning networks: harnessing the power of online communities for discipline and lifelong learning. Paper presented at the Lifelong Learning: reflecting on successes and framing futures. Keynote and refereed papers from the 5th International Lifelong Learning Conference, Rockhampton.

Coghlan, E., Crawford, J., Little, J., Lomas, C., Lombardi, M., Oblinger, D., et al. (2007). ELI Discovery Tool: Guide to Blogging. Journal. Retrieved 3 July 2008, from http://www-cdn.educause.edu/eli/GuideToBlogging/13552

Johnson, M., Hollins, P., Wilson, S., & Liber, O. (2006). Towards a reference model for the personal learning environment. Paper presented at the The 23rd Annual Conference of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Sydney, Australia.

Jones, D. (2008). PLES: framing one future for lifelong learning, e-learning and universities. Paper presented at the Lifelong Learning: reflecting on successes and framing futures. Keynote and refereed papers from the 5th International Lifelong Learning Conference, Rockhampton.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. (2006). Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054.

Muldoon, N. (2008). Self-direction and lifelong learning in the information age: can PLEs help? Paper presented at the Lifelong Learning: reflecting on successes and framing futures. Keynote and refereed papers from the 5th International Lifelong Learning Conference, Rockhampton.
Oblinger, D., & Oblinger, J. (2005). Educating the Net Generation: EDUCAUSE.

Puni, Y. (2007). Learning spaces: an ICT-enabled model of future learning in the knowledge-based society. European Journal of Education, 42(2), 185-199.

Reigeluth, C. M. (1993). Principles of Educational Systems Design. International Journal of Educational Research, 19(2), 117-131.

Wang, F., & Hanafin, M. (2005). Design-Based Research and Technology-Enhanced Learning Environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 5-23.