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.

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