Sunday, 28 June 2009

E-Learning Roundup (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Wikipedia + Edupunk = Murder, Madness, and Mayhem?

Apologies – this is a very long post but the role of this blog is duel purpose: to disseminate information and to act as tool of reflection. So it’s a long post as there’s a great deal I wish to internalise.

Okay so this is possibly one of the bravest exercises I have ever seen using learning technology let alone wikis. Imagine letting your students loose on the web, freely collaborating under the scrutiny of, and in some cases, collaborating with the outside world.

Murder, Madness, Mayhem & Wikipedia
This is exactly what academic Jon Beasley-Murray, University of British Columbia, did for his course ‘Murder, Madness, and Mayhem’ which covers Latin American literary texts.

Essentially he decided to include Wikipedia as a central part of a course he was teaching. Conscious of the often cited weakness of the encyclopaedia in terms of poor quality content, which in turn is often referred to by students in their work, the exercise centered on the belief that only through engaging in active contribution to Wikipedia will students would learn about its weaknesses, as well as its strengths. Accordingly the assignment brief was that, in groups, the students should edit and where necessary create Wikipedia articles on texts associated with the course. Not only that but the students were required to bring up the articles to "featured article" status. And this is not a walk in the park since Wikipedia defines a "featured article" as an article that "exemplifies [its] very best work and features professional standards of writing and presentation." The standards are very high so much so that fewer than 0.1% of Wikipedia's articles are featured.

Edupunk = Teaching –Blackboard + DIY + The Clash
Digressing slightly, this exercise has been cited as example of ‘Edupunk’ – a term depicting an educational movement which received some degree of notoriety last year. ‘Edupunk’ was initially coined by Jim Groom in his blog (Murder, Madness, Mayhem is so EDUPUNK) and later expanded by The New York Times who defines it as "an approach to teaching that avoids mainstream tools like PowerPoint and Blackboard, and instead aims to bring the rebellious attitude and D.I.Y. ethos of ’70s bands like The Clash to the classroom.", (BTW – apt definition but I always regard the Clash as fake punks). Stephen Downes conveniently refines the definition into 3 aspects: reaction against commercialization of learning; do-it-yourself attitude and thinking and learning for yourself, (as reported in "Edupunk" Rocks the (Virtual) House - some good comments here BTW recognizing that despite all the hype many commentators are still referring to Edupunk as taking place within the classroom context and in doing so ignore the universal fact that a great deal of learning takes place outside of the class). Anyway back to the exercise

What’s wrong with Wikipedia.
Not a question but a statement. Murray actually recorded and journalised with, great openness and honesty, the exercise as it progressed here. So we can have a look at a few choice details, insights and reasonings behind the project and of its consequences.

Firstly he outlines the ongoing issue. Basically in terms of it’s core mission of collecting and transmitting knowledge Wikipedia is a huge success. It’s currently ranked as the 7th most visited site on the web, with 2,918,778 content pages generated through 314,194,836 edits (since the site began). However students use the site without knowing how it works (try this – ask your students if they have heard of Wikipedia and then if they have heard of ‘wikis’ – you’ll be surprised). Furthermore they are often told not to reference the site but not told why in terms of the reliability of the content, background of the authors, lack of accredited peer review etc.

Assignment Mission Statement
Murray’s assignment attempts to communicate these issues to the students by requiring them to directly engage in developing articles on the system such that they can experience these issues. Primarily this is achieved through the students developing an article worthy of featured article status. However there are a number of ancillary objectives:

• First off it would serve to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of the course content.
• But of more significance it involves the students in a ‘real world’ project in which their efforts are publicly viewable possibly on a permanent basis (unlike most course essays).
• “Revision is (almost) everything” as the students are encouraged to constantly review and reflect the work becoming aware of the importance of revisions to good writing. Contrast this with the finality of receiving a graded essay wherein there is no further incentive to revise the content after the grade has been given.
• It’s public and so the collaboration will occur not only between the students but might extend to involve contributors from outside of the class.
• Finally, and I really like this, the assignment grade will not be determined by the tutor’s professional judgement but rather from outside the class through the articles’ external impact. On the outset the tutor declared that a group that turned its article into a "featured article" would receive an A+, (no questions asked!!!) and a group that achieved "good article" would receive an A. According to Murray therefore the grade would be determined by collective, public, peer review.

It’s worth mentioning that the assignment was not the sole assessment taking place for the course. The students were required to blog on a weekly basis with a mid and end semester exam. Nonetheless there were a number of pitfalls to consider. For example the students might not engage with the project or on the other extreme end up in edit wars (where competing authors argue over the content). And of course there are the attendant risks with allowing the students to develop their work under public scrutiny.

What’s astonishing is that Murray was not overly concerned if the final article was not all of the students’ own work. Primarily because an integral part of the project is for the students to work with other users. The thought did occur that someone could be paid to generate the article as a whole but Murray cites Wikipedia’s system which tracks each users contribution – most wikis do this, you can see in detail each students contribution – how much they added (or removed) and when.

What happened next…
Anyway along the way the project attracted the attention of Wikipedia’s FA-Team – a group of experienced Wikipedia editors whose aim is to increase the number of featured articles. They became involved providing advice on
the meticulous process of editing Wikipedia articles to a high standard.

Interestingly, although the assignment was concerned with teaching students the drawbacks of using Wikipedia as a source, they still made the same mistakes when creating their article. Namely they still added information which was unsourced, poorly referenced and from other websites. But Murray cites this as a benefit since, as the Wikipedia editors insisted that every item in the article had to be referenced, the students were forced to reveal their sources. So the students had to go back and re-evaluate their sources, finding better ones, and trying again.

So the assignment is a very powerful mechanism for bringing out the weaknesses in students' research skills and then teaching that research is a lengthy process involving critical thinking critical thinking the information they come across and about their own writing.

And the results are…
Are pretty spectacular. In all the class developed 3 ‘featured’ articles, 8 ‘good’ articles and 1 ‘B’ article. Here’s one of the featured articles - El SeƱor Presidente. The other articles are listed at WikiProject Murder Madness and Mayhem, together with a brief outline of the project.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

E-Learning Roundup (weekly)

  • tags: elearning

    • The report contains actions and recommendations to ensure first rate digital and communications infrastructure to promote and protect talent and innovation in our creative industries, to modernize TV and radio frameworks, and support local news, and it introduces policies to maximize the social and economic benefits from digital technologies.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

E-Learning Roundup (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

What is Next Generation Learning?

Becta have initiated the 'Next Generation Learning' campaign which aims to raise the profile of effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning and education.

They've created a range of very interesting videos, involving primary and middle education schools, covering a variety of topics:

Breaking down the Barriers (1 of 4): students and teachers at the Parkside Pupil Referral Unit in Ipswich, Suffolk, explain how the use of gaming technology can re-engage learners (Nintendo DS, Wii Fit):

Breaking down the Barriers (2 of 4): Twynham secondary and 6th form school demonstrates how students learn to use online content responsibly. Parents are encouraged to learn about e safety and be involved in their child's use of technology at home.

Breaking down the Barriers (3 of 4): plagiarism! - Twynham secondary and 6th form school explores how students can make the best use of the internet for research, whilst taking responsibility for sourcing and writing their own homework.

Breaking down the Barriers (4 of 4): "Is technology for learning good value for money?". Through use of a learning platform alongside traditional teaching methods, learners are more engaged and motivated, learning is enhanced and the general standard of achievement is raised.

It's worth saying that the videos don't really delve into the benefits of elearning it shows a lot of technology in use within and outisde of the classroom, and it's all very exciting but it's down to you as the viewer to extrapolate what's being shown to your own teaching context - particularly in terms of judging as to whether alternative forms of teaching and learning might be just as good. But again it's another example as to how schools are leading the way in terms of exploring and integrating learning technology into mainstream course delivery.

Finally the video below explains their concept of 'What is Next Generation Learning?' . Well shot with plenty of learning opportunities shown but I cant help feeling that the makers dropped the ball on this one - the family in focus can hardly be described as mainstream and so you wonder who the expected audience is.

Blogging with students: How and Why

Short but useful overview of blogging by Lindsay Jordan (full post here).

Blogs are essentially online diaries and as such are very powerful tools for reflection. Lindsay points out that if you intend to use blogs for reflection then the subject needs be of 'value' in terms of offering the students discrepancies, uncertainties and dissatisfactions, i.e. the subject needs to be something that the students can explore.

Valuable advice on assessing students' reflective blogs is also given. Rather than assess the content of the blog you should focus on their level of reflective thinking in terms of critical analysis (presentation of arguements, evidence, etc.).

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Wiki as an E-portfolio – but it’s so much more than that…

Thanks to Vicki A Davis (@coolcatteacher) for twittering this (student Hope B’s efolio).

I was initially attracted to this as it shows a great example of an e-portfolio developed by a 9th grader. On further viewing I was delighted to see that the e-portfolio was created through simple use of a wiki page. The student had gradually built up the resource through repeatedly adding content to the page. And this is great since wikis, when used in the educational context, are often associated with collaboration. In other words students get together and create a single resource by re editing the wiki page. And obviously this is great.

However what is often overlooked is that a wiki can be used for other purposes, specifically to support independent learning where students are provided with their own space to create a resource.

And that’s what’s happened here. In similar cases I’ve seen students use a wiki as a log of their own activity and as a reflective journal (similar to blogging) but rarely as an e-portfolio. And this is good example.

So the e-portfolio is a single wiki page to which the student has to record particular achievements, citing specific artefacts from their learning journey, (each student is provided with the same template).

Naturally it’s worth visiting an example (here) but let’s have a look at some particular points of interest.

For instance the student has to provide evidence of ‘Applications Proficiency’. In other words they have to produce artefacts which, in their view, represent the best of their efforts in this area. This is split into 3 sections: word processing; presentations and spreadsheets. For word processing they have to relate to their use of Microsoft Word but also Google Docs (the later is increasingly making it’s mark in education). Student ‘Hope B’s’ Word artefact is interesting, revealing their use of other technologies for instance: “We provide lessons for our parents, teachers, and other students on how to be digitally connected... I write about photography, creating a YouTube Channel, and screencasting with Jing.” Similarly the Google Doc artefact records “We used Google Lively (a virtual world – no longer available, AO) to teach children how to act on the internet”.

For presentations they had to create a PowerPoint including the 7 most important things that they had achieved this year. They then had to upload it to Slideshare (it’s like YouTube but for sharing PowerPoint’s) and then embed it on the e-portfolio. For bonus marks they were encouraged to turn the PowerPoint into a slidecast (a PowerPoint with audio).

For ‘Online Proficiency’ the student has to present artefacts relating to blogging (independent learning) and wikis (collaborative working). For the blogs they have to link to their 2 best posts and justify as to why each particular post exemplifies their best work. For the wiki they have to provide evidence of good achievement in using a wiki for two contexts: first for using the wiki to teach a lesson to others and second using a wiki to collaborate internationally on a current trend and event, (called Digiteen).

Finally there’s a video piece for which each student has to summarize a different technology. The video has to include: a brief description of this technology; a sample of how it is used in the classroom and real life and an interview with 1-2 people about how they use the technology. The finished video has to be uploaded to a YouTube channel associated with the project (you can create group based YouTube channels) and then embedded within the e-portfolio.

It’s worth noting that this work is being produced by 9th and 10th grade students (US system - I think equivalent to UK year 11 and year 12). Basically 14 through to 16 years of age. Granted the use of wikis and related technologies and associated teaching strategies are not widespread throughout the secondary school sector but they are gaining a foothold. And, as in this case, are being used in an increasingly sophisticated context in which the technology itself is not the focus but rather the process and outcome of the learning experience it promotes. In this case we have a range of learning experience from personal journey through to community based learning while the use of wiki technology in this context is almost incidental.