Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Student Blogs, Ownership & Social Ratings in the Marketplace of Ideas

Cole Camplese and company at ETS are doing fabulous things at (and for) Penn State. Beside hard work, I gotta chalk up a lot of their success to a willingness and openness to experimentation (with apparent administrative support)--not with wild abandon, but in a measured and calculated way.

Student Blogs: In my last post, I shared how I was challenged with trying to find a meaningful way to integrate blogs into my course. Well, I think I'm on to the solution...courtesy of Cole Camplese and Scott McDonald . Cole recently posted some details on how he and Scott McDonald are using blogs and social ratings in the "disruptive technologies" class they co-teach...and I steal, edit and present large swaths of his original post here:

A while back we completed another Hot Team white paper related to social rating sites — think of as the big example. Essentially a space where content is either aggregated in or submitted by users and then voted on by the community. Lots of people find these types of spaces very important for helping them filter and discover the things that are interesting to them. Scott McDonald and I made the decision to put a pligg (open source) site at the middle of our course. At the start it confused students a bit, but I am starting to see content coming in from student blogs, with comments, and votes. It is really cool to see a community developing before my eyes.

Students [respond] to the course readings in their own blogs (so they “own” the content) and they are aggregated automatically into the Pligg site. They are then given three votes to give to the top posts (and they must comment on the post as to why they voted for it). The top vote getters rise to the top and these then form the basis for the face to face discussion for the week. It feels like it is a solid way to bring lots of pieces of content together and give students a real voice in the organization of emerging conversation.

Ownership: I think I'm finally getting what they're up to and once again feel like I'm a day late and a dollar short (I might be slow, but I catch up fairly quickly). I love the idea that by using individual student blogs, students "own" their comments, ideas and thinking. It stays with them in their own blog. Currently, we generate good discussions in the discussion forums embedded in our LMSs, but this--sometimes very rich--conversation all dies (or gets archived) once the 3 month course is over. By having students post to their blogs, there's a level of public accountability for what they are posting, and their thinking remains with them throughout their studies and potentially beyond.

Social Ratings in the Marketplace of ideas: I think I like the social rating aspect of pligg too. I saw a very cool form of social ratings built into a beta discussion board tool at Indiana U a couple years back, and have long sought for such a marketplace-based approach to sharing/selling ideas. I think social rating systems can help stimulate individual accountability within learning environments, where collectively we can help separate the wheat (insightful comments) from the chaff (chatter). The comments of value generally rise to the surface. There is perhaps a danger of margnalizing less mainstream voices in this process, and faclitating "bandwagon ratings", but I imagine this can probably be mitigated with simple some course policies.

While a somewhat minor issue, the look-n-feel of pligg needs to be significantly decluttered in my opinion to avoid distracting from the posts. As it stands, he default pligg interface appears to present more "clickable" items in each post than raw text which all vie for attention and I find confusing when you want the focus to be on the conversation. I prefer the cleaner look of posts in this pligg platform website, which has decluttered the interface somewhat.

So, some very intriguing ideas that will likely need refinement through the process of my own experimentation, and by closely tracking the experiments of other innovators like Cole and Scott.

-Joel G.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ramblings (to self) on purposeful technology use...

Some reading tonight on the folly of teachers building websites spawned some thoughts about the importance of having a purpose for using any given technology or assigning any learning activity. The post talks about how teachers are so often sent to professional development workshops to learn web development or how to build web pages. Too often, however, teachers fail to have a solid purpose for using websites, and their web pages go unused or are never updated remaining eternally "under construction". David Jakes writes :

Teacher Web pages are the HyperCard stacks of 2008.
I agree, but I would edit this to read:
Teacher blogs of today are the teacher Web pages of the turn of the century, which were the HyperCard stacks of the 1990s.
The notion of using technology for a purpose is not new, but was brought up again for me tonight as I read Jakes's post and by questions yesterday from a couple of my students who asked me what we 'd be doing in class with the blogs. I had real no answer and proceeded to remove some vestiges of the "blog" language I had initially tried to shoehorn into my syllabus.

I had been trying to find a way to use blogs in my online course--I'd been trying really hard! It just didn't make sense yet for my course. I believe there are great ways to use blogs (and wikis and podcasts too)...but not for my class this semester. This has frustrated me because as an learning technologist, I really want to use blogs in a class to gain some first-hand experience and best practice knowledge with using blogs in a social/group learning environment. But it is not to be this semester, and I'm glad I didn't take the bait and put the proverbial cart before the horse.

With regard to building websites, my students (who are largely teachers) used to create websites in my class too. I don't address that anymore, but have not yet found the ideal substitute for posting small instructional, media-rich nuggets. Wikis are likely the solution, as they provide a more customizable environment than a blog, but wikis are built for collaboration, and to use them just as modern-day-WYSIWYG web page builders seems less than ideal.

I've not yet found the optimal solution. I think I ideally need an "Bliki" or a "Wlog"--an easy-to-use web publishing environment that has elements of both blogs and wikis. Maybe this is a job for Drupal or Movable Type 4....better yet, our focus in general should first be in helping teachers/instructors understand why, where, and for what purpose to use a given technology, and only then on providing them with knowledge on how to use them and mini successfful experiences in using them.
Well, I'm rambling at this point, but wanted to capture these thoughts as I continue to mull this dilemma over.
-Joel G.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year...and more Social Bookmarking that is more...well, Social

First off, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and happy whatever other holidays you may celebrate.

2008 is going to be a big year with lots of change in store for me: I'm teaching a largely new online course and trying out a bunch of new things which is usually exciting, but is also a bit scary this time since its lots of new all at once; I'm anticipating new employment and many new projects; I'll likely be moving and purchasing a new home; and on the personal-improvement level--and this is not yet well-thought-out--I want to get into more social social bookmarking!

Most of my bookmarking is simply for myself (I primarily use, but there's little social about it. I intend to do more with my class this spring, so we'll see how it goes. In the mean time I came across this article "Five Ways You Can Fall in Love With Tagging Again" that is already bemoaning what I haven't yet even started in earnest--social bookmarking. I've considered and struggled myself with the notion of tagging. I am not yet comfortable navigating my own tags and have not settled on consistent enough terms for myself, but I'm still not convinced the established taxonomies are all that much more useful.

In any event, I look forward to teaching my online class this semester, and experimenting with ways in which to effectively use bookmarks in a more social way.
How do you use, or how have you used social bookmarking for yourself or in your teaching? Let me know.

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