Wiki – a modern digital tool for social learning

The students in EDTEC 700 Adding Social Media to the ID Toolbox in the Educational Technology MA program at San Diego State University are currently building an elaborate Wiki about social media for learning.

Within just several days the Wiki exploded into nearly 40 unique pages each designated to one social media tool. Students can add a pasnapshot of wikige or contribute elements to already created page. For example, the page “Facebook for Learning” has the following subsections:

  • What is Facebook?
  • How to use Facebook?
  • What to avoid?
  • Facebook for Educators
  • Facebook pages
  • Facebook groups
  • Resources

Wikis are an excellent collaborative tool for educators and trainers. The Wiki tool enables participants to contribute entries, edit others’ contributions, and learn from all participants in the process. Contributors need to be mindful of the formatting, writing style, and organization of each page and the Wiki as a whole.

In her book Social media for trainers, Jane Bozarth discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages of Wikis.

Advantages

  • Easy learning curve
  • Record of every change made
  • Record of the time and author of each edit
  • Collaborative in nature
  • Connecting people across large distances
  • Fostering a culture of “shared responsibility”
  • Customization
  • Free to use (in most cases)

Disadvantages

  • Size can become a problem
  • Inconsistency of design and writing style
  • Hesitation of some to edit other people’s work

References:

Bozarth, J. (2010). Social media for trainers: Techniques for enhancing and extending learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

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Notes from Gardner Cambell’s “The Arts of Freedom in a Digital Age” speech

The following notes come from Gardner Cambell’s presentation on the arts of freedom in a digital age.

The Arts of freedom in a digital age

  • Acknowledge complexity
  • Think at scale (think exponentially)
  • Stimulate curiosity and prize interest
  • Build constantly (not just to report but to build constantly, make/create things)
  • Search for the implicit human (search for the human who made something)
  • Go meta (the era of big data)
  • Aim at wisdom
  • The Berlin Wisdom paradigm
    • Rich factual knowledge
    • Rich procedural knowledge
    • Life-span contextualism
    • Value relativism
    • Uncertainty: knowledge about the relative indeterminacy and unpredictability of life and ways to manage it.

Gems from Neil Postman’s “The End of Education”

As I was preparing to grade students’ discussions, I came upon an old notebook with quotations. #edcmooc

notebook

Notebook with quotations

The following gems come from Neil Postman’s book The End of Education. (I do not even remember its edition and publisher. Perhaps, it is this one.)

“…the preeminent reason for schooling. It may properly go by the name of the god of Economic Utility. If you pay attention in school, …you will be rewarded with a well-paying job.” (p. 27)

On “the god of consumerism:” “…whoever dies with the most toys, wins”(p. 33)

“a student who is “bored with the real world”… can a journey into virtual reality cure such a problem,?” (p. 41)

Overwhelmed by information….”What can schools do for little Eva besides making still more information available?” (p. 43)

“Human beings make mistakes…, we are capable of correcting our mistakes, providing we proceed without hubris, pride, or dogmatism, providing that we accept our cosmic status as the error prone species.” (p. 67)

“We must cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge. How to do this is the question.” (p. 60)

“…great reason for schooling: to provide our youth with the knowledge and will to participate in the great experiment; to teach them how to argue, and to help them discover what questions are worth arguing about.” (p.73-74)

“We use language to create the world…we go where it leads. We see the world as it permits us to see it.” (p. 83)

“our engagement with language almost always has a moral dimension; language has a social dimension” (p. 85)

Get rid of textbooks….Why? “Knowledge is presented as a commodity to be acquired, never as a human struggle to understand, to overcome falsity, to stumble toward the truth.” (p. 116)

“All subjects are forms of language education. Knowledge of the subject mostly means knowledge of the language of that subject.” (p. 123)

Suggestion for a final exam question: “Describe five of the most significant errors scholars have made in history. Indicate why they were errors, who made them, and what persons are mainly responsible for correcting them.” (p. 128)

“Whereas ethnic pride wants one to turn inward, toward the talents and accomplishments of one’s own group, diversity wants one to turn outwards, towards the talents and accomplishments of all groups.” (p. 144)

“The purpose of public education is to help the young transcend individual identity by finding inspiration in a story of humanity. “ (p. 171)

“definitions, questions, metaphors – these are the three of the most potent elements with which human language constructs a worldview.” (p. 175)

“Although we know we cannot step in the “Same” river twice, abstracting allows us to act as if we can.” (p. 180)

“Humans live in two worlds – the world of events and things, and the world of words about events and things.” (p. 181)

“The terminology of a question determines the terminology of its answer.” (p. 186)

The role of economics and culture in students’ motivation for learning

In my blog “Why do we need structure in higher education?,”  I talked about how students sometimes choose to pursue a major because of cultural and economic factors rather than an intrinsic motivation for learning and shared a story to illustrate that point:

“I recently met a wonderful Chinese graduate student who said that she has a passion for nature and animals, but she is currently studying finances because her family expects her to get a degree that would help her have a successful career. So how do we motivate this young woman to pursue her passion?” #edcmooc

In a response to my blog and this story, Laurie Niestrath  wrote:

“Students who live in families with conservative ideas about education place can certainly place constraints upon a learner’s ability to have a fulfilling career.”

I would like to elaborate on the ideas in these comments.

In some cultures with strong Confucian roots, respect and pursuit for education have a long tradition. In China, Japan, and South Korea, for example, students are motivated from a very young age to study and learn, often for many long hours. Studies involve rote memorization and mastering a complex material. Parents instill a desire for social mobility in their children and often influence them to choose a profession that is considered “prestigious” or materially beneficial. It is cultural and economic factors that drive the decision of what a young adult should study, and sometimes the student may find herself pursuing a degree in a subject she does not like.

My impression is that the majority of international students come to the United States to pursue degrees in finances, business, computer science, and the hard sciences. (I do not have statistics to prove this, but my assumption is based on observations and interactions with foreign students). I will seldom see international students pursuing degrees in humanities. Why? Perhaps, they want to get a job that pays well, provides them with security, gives them a chance to rise in the social hierarchy, allows them to take care of their parents (they cannot expect their states to do so), increases their chances of getting married and getting married to a socially well-positioned person, and perhaps it makes them feel better about themselves.

It is the students from the middle class in the developed world who pursue degrees for “self-fulfillment” because they already have the feeling of security provided by their comfortable upbringing and general lack of hardship. Unfortunately, skills rendered redundant or obsolete by technological innovations, outsourcing, and recession have shattered the middle class’ feeling of economic and social security, and the students growing up with an unemployed parent or sinking in student loan debt feel less and less security and less optimistic about the future. In such an environment, a student with a degree in humanities, for example, may end up on food stamps and, in general, be worse off materially than without one.

I agree that we need to pursue learning for learning’s sake and for the personal growth of each individual, but we also need to recognize the harsh reality that for many such endeavor is a privilege rather than a given right. Each individual, and the society as a whole, needs to fight for this privilege becoming a right for all. We also need to provide each individual with the basic material necessities and securities, and then that individual can focus all her energy on learning.

Why do we need structure in higher education?

This blog started as a response to Felicia M. Sullivan’s blog “The Story We Tell Ourselves” #edcmooc

In her blog, Felicia states that “we can rethink and recreate the processes by which we engage learning — both with and without technology enhancements.  We can find ways to increase individual motivation and passion for learning while building the confidence and agency for the learner. It’s just that we have for too long been conditioned to expect that learning happens in prescribed ways.”

Felicia proceeds to describe traditional way of learning and traditional institutions of learning:

“A class has a set format, defined goals and roles, activities set forth with a set duration. The learning is contained within the class with some structured amount of outside work which is structured and tied back to the class. Admittedly there is a certain amount of variety within this format. Yet, we are often motivated by external demands such as grades, tests, and degrees that we forget or ignore our own curiosity and passion for learning.”

I would like to explore the idea of structure in higher education.

While, agreeably, traditional universities are an archaic model of where and how learning happens, I would argue that there is some value to the structure that institutions and teachers provide to their students. (Please note that I am usually an ardent critic of traditional education but still find some positive aspects in it.) Learning is a life-long process that requires intellectual curiosity, motivation, and discipline – and none of these are necessarily natural or innate characteristics to the human being.

Curiosity is often sparked by sharing an exciting discovery with another human being: a parent shows her child the stars and explains to the kid the mystery behind them; a parent or a teacher reads a book to a child and tells a wonderful story about a princess in a far land; a group of kids roam the streets and discover hidden treasures. Universities usually provide a sense of shared community of individuals with similar interests, which, ideally, stimulates one’s curiosity and desire to explore and learn.

While tests, grades, and degrees are artificial motivators, we have not really come up with a much better way to motivate students, especially, because education is driven by the demands of the market, and what students want to learn often has nothing to do with the many drab jobs that the market offers. So how do we motivate students to want to study or work something that otherwise they would not pursue? I recently met a wonderful Chinese graduate student who said that she had a passion for nature and animals, but she is currently studying finances because her family expects her to get a degree, which would help her have a successful career. So how do we motivate this young woman to pursue her passion?

Discipline – I do not like this word and it reminds me of the military, but anyone who has been a student or a teacher knows that one cannot achieve virtually anything without discipline and that not all learning is fun; instead, it involves painstaking work and perseverance – and here lies the role of a boring teacher who imposes an artificial structure on the otherwise chaotic lives of most students. Unfortunately, students also learn the hard way that life is not only about entertainment, but it is about responsibilities, meeting deadlines, taking orders from bosses and giving orders to those below (driven by the hierarchical structure of most workplaces), and often working with people one may not like.

This leads me to an interesting idea: perhaps, our educational system is a reflection of the society at large and, perhaps, while changing our educational institutions we also need to change ourselves. Simply “liberating” learning from the chains of traditional education would not do much without similar changes in the society at large.

We live in an information age and the pool of knowledge expands exponentially each year. Knowledge is also so specialized that it would take one person a life-time to master all the knowledge in a particular field, and it would take the ability to cooperate with others in order to advance scientific discoveries. Within this environment, I would argue, students would need guidance, structure, and focus.

Students also need someone to help them sort through the avalanche of information out there. What would graduate students, for example, take away from the old-fashioned way of learning? They may appreciate being exposed to the most current and best literature in their field, having the ability to discuss ideas with other graduate students, and having a professor-mentor who guides them through the whole process. Studying in educational institutions is not only about learning but also about acculturation of the student, about getting the student ready to function within the larger society.

Coursera, MOOCs and Higher Education

This blog started as a comment to Felicia M. Sullivan’s  comments to my blog, “Coursera and the Homogenization of Knowledge”, but it became long enough to merit being posted as a separate blog.

I took the liberty here to copy and address each question separately.

Question:

“I wonder if a MOOC might be a supplement for the undergraduate student to course learning they are doing elsewhere.”

Answer:

Yes, MOOCs can definitely be a supplement to undergraduate courses and used in the so-called “flipped classroom” model, in which students watch videos at home and then engage in discussions in the classroom. The problem here is: are videos really an effective method of teaching and learning? I used to love videos, but now I prefer reading – it so much faster and less reductionist to read a text than watch somebody talk. This is of course a personal opinion and I cannot say that it applies to other people. The other problem is that we will face the same issues that we have now with making students read the assigned material. Yes, the videos are out there, but will the students watch them?

As for being a teacher in a flipped classroom, I think that it takes away some of her authority, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and some of her autonomy and fun, which may not be an exciting prospect for the teacher. In this situation, it seems that knowledge flows from the experts and the teacher is reduced to the role of a facilitator.

Perhaps, this model works. I do not have an experience with it; however, I believe it would be less satisfying for the instructor to relinquish her authority over the content to another, and this method would definitely lead to more homogenization of knowledge (thousands of students watching and reading the same content). I know that critics would say that we need to focus on students’ learning not on teacher’s satisfaction, to which I would reply- but who would want to become a teacher if her job is not intellectually stimulating?!

Why do we also think that a famous professor from an elite university would do a better job at presenting material than a regular instructor? The professor earned her name based on her research, not necessarily on her teaching skills, and I know many professors who are great researchers and intellectuals but not good at teaching. Why don’t we just put cameras in all our classrooms and create our own local video stars? Ah, yes, state universities and community colleges do not have the resources to do that, but Coursera and others have them, and putting their content in our classrooms comes at a price. My point here is not to confuse “marketing” content  and “cost-saving” with effective teaching. They are not necessarily interchangeable.

Question:

“I also wonder how you build the kind of independent learning skills referenced by Amy Bruvall in this blog post.”

Answer:

I ask a similar question: how will we create the next generation of thinkers and great professors if there won’t be appreciation for their work and if they would be asked to work as moderators, relying on knowledge distributed top-down from prestigious universities? Why would anyone want to get a PhD if the only work that waits her is the work of a tutor and facilitator (with the few exceptions of those lucky ones to get a job at a research university)? I do not want to diminish the work of a tutor here, which perhaps is more important for learners than the work of a teacher, but my point is that one does not need to have a PhD to become a tutor. I rebel against the idea of making teachers redundant and against subjecting them to the mechanization of labor, which has already happened in manufacturing and the service industry.

Question:

“Also, I wonder what makes you think that the humanities don’t conform well to MOOCs. I would have thought the topic of the recent class would have been difficult, but am seeing that discussions are happening and new insights are being gained.”

Answer:
I think that one of the most important factors for students’ success in humanities is constant and individualized feedback from the teacher since they rely heavily on reading and writing. Yes, the Coursera forums allow for engaging discussions, but they do not provide the necessary feedback for a student to make an individual progress. It is possible now to automate quizzes and feedback for computer science problems, but we still do not have the technology to grade essays and provide meaningful feedback to students’s writing and thinking. I have not tried the peer review system that some Coursera classes use, but I would be cautious to rely too much on feedback from random people.

The level of discussions also depends on the level of preparedness of the students involved in the discussion. In the “e-learning and digital cultures” course, we have many educators with background in teaching, learning, and technology use; in a regular college class, students will not come with this kind of background, hence, the level of discussions will be different, and, of course, we have to deal with the challenge of making them read a highly-theoretical material with jargon and references to previous studies and theories that they would not understand unless they have a teacher who patiently explains the material and provides the necessary context.