PAcMan: A personal activity manager for lifelong learners
The Personal Activity Manager – in short PAcMan – is a Firefox extension which is being developed at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, bringing the concept of the mash-up personal learning environment (MUPPLE) partially from the server to the client-side. Recapitulatory, MUPPLE aims at empowering learners to design learning environments for their lifelong learning activities, i.e. supporting them in utilising learning tools in order to connect to learning networks and to collaborate with other actors on shared artefacts. The original MUPPLE approach is based on a server-sided architecture which captures learner interactions with the environment and provides good practice sharing facilities as well as recommendations for different kind of end-users (cf. Wild et al., 2008).
PAcMan is an attempt to shift PLE functionality to the client-side for various reasons. First of all, a client-sided solution has advantages in terms of tracking desktop and web applications thus being able to manage holistic and more realistic activities. Secondly, the responsiveness of a client-sided system is higher, as the online platform depends on the Internet connection. Thirdly, recordings of user interactions represent highly sensitive data which should be controlled and shared by the learners only.
One of the main goals of PAcMan is to enable users to easily design and manage lifelong learning activities at any time and on any XUL-compliant environment (e.g. Firefox or XULRunner). Although PAcMan – in contrast to the first MUPPLE prototype – does not require an Internet connection, it is planned to support learners by practice sharing functionality from online repositories. Given the fact that PAcMan runs as a stand-alone, client-sided application, users have the full control over their data as well as the free choice to share their lifelong learning activities with others and to benefit from good practices of peers. This may raise the attitude to experiment with this tool without having to fear that personal data could unwittingly be stored on an online platform. Unless learners do not want to share their activities and they do not require good practices from others, they do not need to connect to online services and avoid unnecessary Internet traffic and costs.
The user interface of PAcMan (see Screenshots below) comprises two areas. The sidebar on the left-hand side contains facilities for creating and browsing the lifelong learning activities and the contained interactions (resources) of a learner.The local repository which cannot be removed includes all activities captured locally on the computer. These activities are listed in a hierarchical tree in the upper part of the sidebar, showing not only the names but also corresponding icons. If the user connects to an online repository, recommendations for activity patterns (pre-configured PLEs) and single learner interactions (tools and artefacts) can be accessed. Furthermore, a learner can choose to share learning experiences by providing own patterns to these repositories.
If you are logged in, then you can see two buttons displayed on the bottom of the sidebar. Clicking on the button 'Pattern Store' gets you directly connected to your favorite online repository, where you can search for patterns and download them to your client-sided PLE for further use. If you have designed a pattern of which you think that it might be useful for other learners, select your Activity and click on the 'Share Activity'-button. Your Pattern will be uploaded to the pattern-repository very easily.
On the right-hand side, the online resource currently opened is displayed in the browser-view of Firefox. By interacting with the sidebar, a user can switch between different resources. The browser-view interacts with the sidebar through a context-menu providing the functionality of adding and removing resources to existing or self-defined activities.
The example screenshot of PAcMan comprises a collaborative writing activity in which the current user participates according to a specific role (author, reviewer, and so on). However, PAcMan can be used to manage any kind of personal activity which involves (web and desktop) applications, artefacts which are locally stored or shared over an online server, and other actors. In principle, it is also possible to use PAcMan as a pure modelling tool for real-world activities. However, activities without involving computerised tools or peer actors lack concrete hand-on skills and social competences for personal learning environments.
Wild, F., Mödritscher, F., and Sigurdarson, S.: Designing for Change: Mash-Up Personal Learning Environments. eLearning Papers, 9, July 2008, http://www.elearningeuropa.info/files/media/media15972.pdf (2010-01-26).