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.