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Monday, November 27, 2006

Hey Wiki! Your so fine you blow my mind. Hey Wiki

After setting up a very basic wiki, I have just started to take a look at the use of wiki's in education. My findings are summarized below and are based on reading the following 4 web documents and listening to a skypecast (link below).

1. Naomi Augar, Ruth Raitman and Wanlei (Nov 2004) Zhou “Teaching and learning online with wikis”
2 Joe Grohens and Norma Scagnoli (Spring 2006) . “Uses of Wikis in Teaching”
3. Chien-min Wang Turner, D. (April 2004) “Extending the wiki paradigm for use in the classroom”
4. Steve Hargadon blogspot (Aug 2006)
“Exploring Wikis in Education with Vicki Davis and Adam Frey” including recording of “The uses of wiki’s in education” skypecast

After reading educators feedback on these various websites, seeing how wiki's are currently being employed on the web and listening to an interesting skypecast led by Steve Haregedon it does seem that a wiki in education does indeed have the capability to metaphorically blow your mind. It would appear to be a very powerful tool to engage the students and produce good quality, useful content much more quickly than a student working alone.

Through my reading and skypecast listening I know have a basic understanding of the point of a wiki. With a little more knowledge about the features, functionality and role of wiki’s in education I intend to setup new wikis and collaborate on existing wiki’s to further improve my understanding of the educational uses of a wiki.

Differences between Wikis and Blogs
Before I summarize my findings I’d like to pick up on a couple of interesting points made by Vicki Davis (2006) on the difference between wiki’s and blogs. According to Vicki she explains that the way she looks at it:

1. A wiki is more concerned with facts and a blog is more about opinions and
2. It's easier to contribute to a wiki rather than a blog.

Although I don’t think this will or can be strictly applied, these are two interesting points which may be a nice neat starting point in distinguishing between the uses of the two types of technology.

The Wiki
A wiki is basically a very simple and easy to edit web page. It is designed for group collaboration. Users can either read the content of or add content to a wiki document page.

Vicki Davies (2006) a teacher at Westwood Schools in America and a strong advocator of wikis predicts that wiki’s will become the hub of education in the future. Vicky sees wiki’s as the toolbelt that holds all her technology learning tools together, the central focus of what she teaches. Joe Grohens (2006) supports this view in that he uses wikis as a complete course management system.

Augar, Raitman and Zhou (2004) describe wikis has having 2 different writing modes, or styles of usage:

1. Document mode, where writers create collaborative documents written in the third person and
2. Thread mode, where contributors carry out discussions in the wiki environment by posting signed messages. Others respond leaving the original message in tact and eventually a group of threaded messages evolve.

Pages of wiki can also be described as having two states a ‘read’ state and an ‘edit’ state. To edit a page users click an edit button. Editing a page on most wiki websites is made easy by providers who provide editing toolbars. If no editing toolbar is available then users need to understand wiki language syntax to edit a page (although not too difficult, the edit toolbar makes it a lot simpler for users)

Wiki Features and Functions
The main features and functions that you will find in a wiki include:

1. Authentication – By participants logging into a wiki any addition’s to content can be authenticated providing accountability in terms of who said what and when. [with authentication participants may also have use of a signature tool to move into edit mode automatically inserts the participants wiki username. The signature tool is often hyperlinked to a personal user page which helps students to build an online identity in the wiki environment.
2. Backup and Retrieval of earlier wiki entries.
3. Tracking – Usually in the form of a recent changes page where student participation can be assessed.
4. Notifications by email of any recent updates so that users can check on any new material that is of interest to them and change information if incorrect.
5. Uploading of images and other media

Strengths of Wikis
The basic strengths of a wiki are:

1. Simple and easy to use
2. Easy to learn how to use.
3. Excellent for collaboration and collaboration over time
4. Easy to share.
5. Simple technology – only need internet access and a web browser.
6. Ability to compare two different versions of a wiki

Student Benefits
For students the benefits of a wiki include:

1. It is a student centered environment, students can be involved in the structure and the content.
2. Everyone in a class can access the same version of the work.
3. Previous versions of the work can be recovered
4. Easy to correct mistakes
5. Because it is simple and easy to use, barriers to contributing are removed.
6. Accessible from any computer allowing students to work on assignments at any time.
7. Group work skills can be improved.
8. Steady incremental improvement in both the organization and the content of a document.
9. Social interaction is enhanced. A sense of community can be built up.
10. Information easily disseminated.
11. Information easily stored.
12. Collaborative production of documents. This can build a body of knowledge wider and quicker than an individual. The social and technological interaction can enhance learning. Steve Haragedon (2006) believes that “collaborative efforts are generally better than individual”.

Teacher Benefits
For teachers benefits include:

1. Easy place to post assignment instructions.
2. Easy place organize course material.
3. Wiki’s can be password protected
4. Better than discussion boards, easier to administer according to Joe Grohens
5. Easy for students to submit there work
6. Keeps a log of revisions of student work

Educational Uses
The educational uses of a wiki will be wide and varied some uses that have come to light during my reading include:

1. Summary of Lessons
2. Collaboration of notes i.e. sets of documents that reflect shared knowledge.
3. Dissemination of important information
4. Build up core content and Topic base e.g. creating a book
5. Pre Class planning e.g. Ask students ahead of time what they want to study and shape the content around that.
6. Students can supply feedback to each other
7. frequent revisions and drafts due to the inherent simplicity of wiki technology.
8. Exchange of ideas.
9. Facilitates group interaction. E.g see Auger, Raitman and Zhou’s example idea of an introductory icebreaker.
10. Individual Assessment projects?

Usage Guidelines
An important aspect not to be overlooked is a clear set of usage guidelines, Augar, Raitman and Zhou (2004) advise from their study that these should be short, simple and written in a positive tone. There guidelines “encouraged users to be considerate of others and be active and friendly in their wiki posts”.

Despite all the positive sounding noises, Scagnoli points out a number of challenges and issues that need addressing. These include plagiarism/ copyright issues, monitoring can be difficult and problems of outside editors should a public wiki site be used.

Hopefully this blog although not capturing everything relevant, touches upon the main aspects of a wiki from an educational point of view. My focus now will be to work and participate in wikis and to identify specific, practical exercises that enhance student learning.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Externalize!! Externalize!!

In recent weeks I have been grappling with learning theories and models and trying to create my own mental model of how all the theories relate to each other and how they fit into the timeline of mankind’s understanding of how we learn.

My understanding thus far is that we do learn different things in different ways. There are three well established, recognized and what I’d describe as top level theories of learning that can explain the way that we learn – behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism

Steve's mental map of the development of learning theory
Steve's mental map of the development of learning theory

Although not strictly true, mankind has developed its understanding in more or less a linear fashion starting with the stimuli-response approach of behaviorism capturing the essence of lower mental order learning skills, moving through to cognitive and constructivist approaches which attempt to explain the high order mental learning that goes on in the brain.

I have read a number of articles in recent months on models and theories of learning and although I said in an earlier blog that Brenda Mergel (in praise of Brenda Mergel) had quickly and easily explained the difference away, which she did, I still find the use of the terms interchangeable in a lot of texts and I have not fully clarified the difference in my own mind. That said I feel clear that the three main learning theories that have evolved over the previous centuries are as I have stated above behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism.

Currently I am reading an excellent book, “Models
of adult learning: a literature review
” published by Niace which summarizes neatly and concisely many models/ theories of learning. I have started on models of psychology and building on our three top level theories, I have briefly looked into developmental theories, activity theory, social constructivism and situated cognition.

I see the developmental theories as a more detailed explanation of how people learn cognitively and through constructivism. The other theories are ways of learning that sit within a particular developmental theory and seem to me to follow a linear progression of mankind’s understanding of learning.

What this means to me is that it has been recognized that people go through stages of individual cognitive development, but have social and cultural influences that impact their learning. Significantly these same learning processes can happen in a classroom (decontextualised) setting and in real life settings which can alter how and what is learnt.

From initial stimuli-response behavior, learning theory has developed to the current mainstream position that learning in people happens internally inside one’s brain. Recent theories seem to be leaning towards the importance of the social aspects of learning, both in socio-cultural influences and in the social interaction and collaboration that people do. Brain Science Research also suggests that social interaction is important part of Brain development.

This leads me nicely into the possibility that a fourth top level learning theory is perhaps starting to emerge. Bang on cue as I am working my way through this material up pops good old George Siemens in his weekly elearnspace email newsletter justifying his theory that 'connectivism' is the new learning theory for the digital age.

I confess two things, one I was immediately impressed with George’s elearnspace newsletter when i first came across it. Quite simply George brings to our attention very current topical issues related to web technology and the whole area of learning. Secondly his theory of connectivism was all a bit too much for me to take in, as I was just about getting my head around the concept of learning being an internal process inside a person as outlined in cognitive and constructivist approaches to learning, when George’s theory is attempting to say that the key focus of learning is not what happens internally, but what happens externally and that the key component of learning is connecting externally with other people and technology to crystallize your learning to the outside world.
As George puts it

"We are social beings. Through language, symbols, video, images, and other means, we seek to express our thoughts. Essentially, our need to derive and express meaning, gain and share knowledge requires externalization.

We externalize ourselves in order to know and be known. As we externalize, we distribute our knowledge across a network perhaps with individuals seated around a conference, readers at a distance, or listeners to podcasts or viewers of a video clip. Most existing theories of learning assume the opposite, stating that internalization is the key function of learning (cognitivism assumes we process information internally, constructivism asserts that we assign meaning internally though the process of deriving meaning may be a function of a social network, i.e. the social dimension assists in learning, rather than the social dimension being the aim of learning).

The externalization of our knowledge is increasingly utilized as a means of coping with information overload. The growth and complexity of knowledge requires that our capacity for learning resides in the connections we form with people and information, often mediated or facilitated with technology." George Siemens (2006) elearnspace blog

Is connectivism and the idea of externalization the next significant development in mankind’s understanding of learning theory. Is it the learning theory of the digital age, of this I am not quite sure as I am not fluent in the language of learners and need to read more on the subject. What does strike me is that it fits nicely into how theories of learning have developed with the fact that socialization has grown to be an important element of recent theories of learning and that connectivism would seem a neat logical next step to describe how learning is occurring now in this modern digital world.

Being a novice in the learning theory arena, I felt that I had insufficient knowledge to think about challenging George’s views in the first place, so I just let it lie. I was delighted to hear of a critical retort to George’s connectivism theory by Bijdrage van Pl√łn Verhagen (University of Twente) 11/11/2006). I was equally delighted that George responded to the criticism.
( November 12, 2006)

I still have not fully digested the debate, only to say George’s response helped me with my understanding of learning theories and made me think, hey he may have a point here. The other thing to come across is the passion George has in defending his position. I look forward to reading more pro’s and cons of the connectivism theory.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Trouble with Blogging

So it has been about 5 weeks since my last blog. It annoys me that i have not managed to get a blog in over this period, but what does one do when one is working full time 9-5, going about regular business and looking into various aspects of interactive and collaborative technology in the evenings and at weekends. After all one has to have something to blog about.

Plenty has been going on:
* I have had the joys of faciltating in an interactive and collaborative synchronous classroom.
* I've started designing interactive and collaborative activities for synchronous classrooms.
* I've looked deeper into an important aspect of blogging, which is the syndication of a blog using RSS ot ATOM feeds.
*I've discovered the usefuleness of having feedreader software to make viewing your favourite blogs easier to manage.
* I've created my first wiki and have started to look more deeply into this type of collaborative technology.
* As well as fitting further reading in mainly relating to the connectivism theories of George Siemens at elearnspace.
* All this whilst trying to make sense of all the different models and theories of learning and the relationships if any between them.

So you see for me the trouble with blogging is that it is hard to keep up the pace of getting into a subject quite deeply for every blog, so it is quite obvious to me i need blogs like this one that keep you informed of what i am doing and give you an insight of things to come instead of a big monty blog all the time.

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