Friday, October 8, 2010

Another exciting week in wiki-world and some concerns about blog-content theft

All you blog folks out there, not that I want to sway you over, but I do. Here's what I love about wikis, especially Wetpaint. (If you're not sure of the difference, as many of my students are not when the semester begins, this awesome video on YouTube called "Wikis in Plain English" is a must see.)I can put all the course documents up just like I could on blackboard. I can put all the assignments up just like you can on blogspot, but they are linear, so it's a great way to organize the actual course. They have stackable headers, so I can embed pages inside other pages inside other pages, which creates a nice neat system of pull down items. But the really cool part is giving them a project and having them create a page that is fully their own, and is editable (which is really important for larger projects). But I have each student assigned a literary term, and their project requires that they write their own definition of the term and find and comment on a variety of both literary and popular examples. And in they end, they are the producers and purveyors of knowledge. And they can always go back and add more. In fact a student from my Summer class was watching a movie apparently and recognized another good example of his term monthes after the thing was graded, and he went back to his page and added another example. That was super cool. And then, because it is a wiki, other students are asked to add or augment the page with additional explanations and examples.

Here are some of the pages students have created in the past (the current class is just getting started, so their work is not quite ready for viewing):

It's always rocky at first, as so many of our students are really virgins when it comes to the world of internet participation--sure they all have email, but how many of them are participate in activities like blogging, or fansites, or wiki-writing?--and there are some compatability issues. Safari is not really compatible with wetpaint, so you have limited functionality, and I have to help walk students through how to download and install Firefox, but, at the end of the day, they have this thing they've created, and it is new, and all their own. And it lives in the great big cyber-world. When the most viginy or the internet virgins sees her page up there, all full of color and pictures and videos and fancy text boxes, there is a pride of ownership and authorship that I just don't see when I have them blog.

Wetpaint also has discussion forum features, so one of the other ways I use it is to help them prethink about the literature (ENG102) we are reading and contribute a 200 word minimum blog just to help me see where our class discussions need to go and to help me know they are prepared to discuss a poem or story, and to help it so that their learning during that discussion is not static. I post a bunch of discussion questions below each text, and they are asked to respond to as many of the questions as they are comfortable with. But one MAJOR problem is the amount of simple copying I'm seeing and the amount of repetition I'm seeing. I can tell that rather than doing any actual thinking about the text, many of them simply read what others have written and spin a version of exactly the same thing but in their own slightly altered words. Or they answer one question and then just rewrite the same sentence over and over and over to fill up the 200 words. True, this is not the majority of the class (though, still, only slightly more than HALF of the class bothers to do this work despite, as I keep reminding them, it being both a full 20% of their grade). But i don't know how to get around the copying and the reluctance to respond to more complex or difficult discussion questions. Can I require that they make some new and interesting contribution to the discussion? In a classroom discussion we have no problem with people making new and different and interesting fresh points, but for some reason the blogging seems to result in so much repetition that it begins to feel like an exercise in futility. And it isn't that they acknowledge eachothers points or observations that much. It seems that each student is writing in a vacuum without reading what others are saying, except for the students that just copy what others are saying. So the Online Discussion Forum is not functioning as a discussion forum at all.

So, the wiki is sticky, but the blog is just blah. Which is as good as any place to end.


  1. Hey Corbett--

    I hope you don't mind that I added some tags to your post. Please feel free to add/delete tags of your own.

    One other advantage of the wiki is, as you mentioned before, that you can see the changes students make, you and students can revert changes and etc. So, I agree with both you and Rich, wikis are excellent for those big projects (and even better for collaborative projects) and they provide an excellent mix of teacher-controlled space and student-controlled space (well, depending on the permissions you give them).

    As I mention elsewhere, I believe that different courses may require different tools, depending on what its objectives are, the prof.'s personality, etc. And many of the tools are rapidly acquiring the characteristics of one another, so that now wikis can be like blogs, etc. I think this trend is a good thing--more options for us to work with.

  2. Interesting post. While many students can comment on Facebook, thinking and writing a bit more is different, less natural skill set. I had a lot of very short comments on our wiki with 'thumbs up' praise, some with textspeak. How do we get them to write more substantially? I think it might be good to show them comments on sites where it is just e-graffiti or name calling and those sites where people seem to be able to write. (The New York Times online is a good example, actually.)

  3. I am going to try assigning specific responders to specific writers next week. Will let you know how it went.

  4. Corbett--I went through the student example on hyperbole and found your idea for this inspiring--a perfect activity for 102--definitely plan to steal it--love the way he used visuals as well (the arctic melt hyperbole cartoon)--so am wondering if this is best as an individual or group project--and how much work to begin learning wetpaint (shout out to Dr X and Jason--yes maybe a tutorial on a number of things would be helpful at some point--just not too soon as I am still bug-eyed with work overload)--what I am impressed with and agree with you about is that it is developed, uses multiple examples and is all their own living in cyberspace--definitely motivating for them as you show by ex of student adding even after class was over! Thanks for sharing this!

  5. I agree with you about wikis vs blogs. I like the organization the wiki allows and also the level of privacy available. Students caught on quickly and mine was created in a hybrid class. The students came together the last night to present it after completing everything outside of class. My online section this semester will add to the one created last winter. All participants in this seminar were added as readers.