About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lessons learned about Wiki use

A post by Michael Hanley reminded me that blogging takes discipline and like going to the gym, if you give up on posting regularly because of other commitments, it is easy just to get out of the habit. (I have been remiss in both instances: the posting and the exercise!)

In my case, I have been trying to keep up with some great blog posts, including one from Ken Allen on support in learning, and the e-course on work literacy, along with my own research for my dissertation on organizational learning and research for my class on visuals and electronic aids in teaching speech composition and presentation.

However, this week is wiki week on the work literacy, and while I think the personal learning information is good on wikis, there is so much more to the use of wikis than the tool itself when used collaboratively in the classroom.

A Multiclass Wiki Project

One problem with using a wiki in formal training is that it is difficult to measure the actual learning that takes place in using the wiki, especially if the final product is a "mess". However, I found the more my students experimented and communicated through the wiki, more learning took place
outside of the classroom and wiki.

I used the same wiki for an ongoing project between classes, to plan and execute an online conference. At the university level, this means that students could take part in a long term project outside of the semester. The first semester, a group of global communication students planned an online conference, including the title of the conference and audiences (international), along with some background material. Students in two different classes the next semester then performed different tasks that were laid out from a document from the previous class and my own format to help structure the work they would need to do outside of class.

Findings from Multiclass Project

Set up is important.
I made the assumption when I initially set up the wiki that each group would be able to develop their own way of using the wiki. However, I soon found that unless they were granted ownership, and encouraged to use the wiki as "group" property, that they would not take ownership of the wiki.

I found that a front page that is used for logistics and acts like an aggregator or organizational tool (table of contents) for the group helped groups to develop their own group pages without feeling as if they were stepping on toes.

The wiki should have instructions on how it should be used for that specific wiki. I found that by establishing protacols such as color coding changes or adding icons to areas that had been changed or tasks that had been completed, helped establish the boundaries for the use of the wiki. Even though the changes would show up in a separate post, my students wanted to find the changes within the context of the page and quickly (i.e. seeing the icons).

Halfway through the second semester, a group of students and myself sat down to establish instructions that fit the groups' purposes. This might be necessary as groups change and/or the project requires a new structure.

The wiki should be perceived as a tool for collaboration, not a piece of collaboration. Once my students started using the wiki as a means of collaboration, the wiki itself became a mess. This meant that students would then need to go back in, edit and restructure the information so that it was accessible for readers outside of the group. This editing process was much more of a learning tool than the final product. When I asked students to give a presentation on what they had learned, the wiki was a vital center piece to their learning process. However, the learning they presented to me was not obvious in the wiki view.

belive one reason for this might be the tacit learning that wikis promote through the collaborative writing process. There are also group processes that happen outside of the wiki space, such as leadership, conflict resolution, group organization, the development of group norms, inter and intragroup relations, the development of trust (cognitive and affective), group assumptions, and shared cognition. Of course, this will make the use of wikis less than desirable for organizations that want proof of learning.

It's the process, not the product.
All of these points leads to the conclusion that the process of creating the wiki is where the learning is. As such, work on the wiki should include assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they have learned, not just the final product that they come up with. For example, I had my students blog about what they were learning as they used the wiki. I also had them give a presentation on the project they worked on. Often the wiki was a record they could go back to which gave some evidence of what they had done. However, they admitted that the work on the wiki (e.g. mistakes made that needed to be corrected, misunderstandings that were resolved, identification of resources from multiple sources) was much more important to their learning than other activities they did in class or the final outcome.

In addition, the wiki was a document that only those that went through the process could really understand. Therefore, something that looked like a mess to me, was understood by the group members as it fit their communication and group norms.

Wiki products/documents may need to be "translated" or interpreted for the outside reader. My students found that they also learned through the comments and questions features (although not as much as I feel they could have) and through class discussions with others outside of the class. They were often surprised when others outside of their group had difficulty following the way their document read. It is important, therefore, when a wiki is used for learning or even within an organizational environment, that feedback be actively solicited. It is not enough to ask readers to "post their comments". The feedback should be targeted. This is one reason why we established an icon protacol to help monitor tasks.

The wiki should be easy to read and follow. One complaint I had from my students was that the document was boring and hard to read based the set up. They wanted pictures and better design (e.g. text boxes with additional information). They also would have appreciated more audio visuals such as podcasts or embedded videos. Many of the wiki software now includes templates for those with limited programming and software design skills.

The uses of Wikis in formal learning

Finally, there are three main uses of wikis in formal learning: sharing and communication of information, collaboration, and developing a permenant record of information.

My students used the wiki as part of their conference to keep track of the logistics of the conference. The conference went on for 12 hours. Each group had a designated "trouble shooter" for 4 hours at a time. The students chose times for check in during the day to identify any problems. For example, the group taking care of registration, needed to "dump" the names into an excel file on a regular basis so that the limited file space of the free registration software they used would free up (they were only allowed 50 names at a time). At the beginning of the conference, the registration closed out. The group keeping track of the promotion were contacted by various people trying to register for the conference indicating that the registration would not work. They posted this problem on the wiki so those in charge of registration and technology were appraised of the problem within the first check in period. By the next check in period the issue was resolved, so other members of the trouble-shooting team knew what was going on.

In another of my classes, students put together a wikipage for an online class presentation that drew resources from a number of places. Students used the wiki first as a collaborative space, in which they learned about the choice of technology in instructional design through colloborating on the presentation.

The wiki then became an information tool as they used the document to present how a specific technology worked ( a wiki in one case, and a podcast in another).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Contextualizing tools

I have been participating in the Work Literacy Learning Project. This week they are looking at RSS and aggregators. This has been a challenge to me as I had a totally different idea as to what RSS aggregators were. In fact, I had been using one for a while (iGoogle) but did not know it.

Michele Martin gave a very good explanation of RSS and aggregators, much better than I had read in the past. Most just give you as literal definition of RSS (Real Simple Syndication) and don't really explain how it is used or examples of how and RSS is used by readers or bloggers/podcasters.

Michele explained it this way
First, we're talking about two different things here--subscribing to feeds from
other sources and creating feeds for your own blog. Let's start with subscribing
to and reading feeds.When you click on the RSS ("squiggly") icon on a blog's
page, that's going to give you the feed for that particular blog. You're right
that there's often more than one option, like "Atom" or "RSS 1.0." These are
just different feed formats and most readers can support all of them, so it
doesn't really matter which you choose. To be able to read the feed you find on
a blog, you would paste it into your feed reader--Google Reader, Netvibes,
Bloglines, etc. In Netvibes, you can create individual tabs to organize your
feeds, so in my case, I have Learning, Technology, etc. as individual tabs and
then the associated blogs I read are contained in those tabs.Now Feedburner is
what you use to set up a feed for your own blog and to do things like provide
people with an option to get an email subscription, etc. It's also how you can
tell how many people have subscribed to your feed. For the most part, you want
to encourage people to sign up for your feed, as it's more likely that they will
read it if they are getting the content pushed to them every day.As for
tags/labels--Google reader lets you use tags to organize and share--the concept
is similar to Delicious tagging where you can use any words you want as tags. I
don't use Google Reader, so wonder how others might use the tagging feature.
Also not sure if Bloglines has that or not.
As part of the course on new learning tools, I have participated in the French Speaking Forum, which has also given me new insight into the use of aggregators. Stephane Wattier made the distinction between the aggregators and "annuaires", which is just a directory of links. I am not sure that we make the same distinction on the anglo web or if there is a difference in the French and Anglo system.

Learning in Context

This experience has reinforced my belief that some people (like myself) just learn better when they are in the context than in a more traditional training room or classroom. Interestingly enough, I was never able to do well in languages within the classroom, but speaking and communicating in a foreign language came easy when I was in the context.

I find for example, that my French (which had gotten a bit rusty) has improved. I thought perhaps that the terms used for technology would make it difficult for me to participate in this forum. However, learning the terms in context not only gives me an understanding of the language, it also has given me an understanding of the tools themselves and how they are used in the culture.

We can extend this to using tools in the context of this course. A very well designed course, the work literacy learning project is set up in such a way that we learn within context, but also are encouraged to use the tools in our own contexts, to understand the bounderies and possibilities of the tools. I think this allows us to expand the possibilities as to how the tools can be used and the outcomes. Just like playing around with the language (which many think is set and static) can give us a new understanding of a situation or concept depending on the the context, playing around with a tool in different contexts can give us new affordances for that technology,
dependent upon the context.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

People who inspire me

I have been thinking recently that the biggest role of the instructor is to motivate and inspire students to learn, to take risks, and to try new things that may flop initially, but can lead to even greater knowledge. However, a benefit is to learn from students as they go through their journey.

With this in mind, I have a few students that stick out in my mind as inspiring to any teacher.

One of my students was the child of an immigrant. The eldest of 6, he came to me three weeks before the end of the semester to explain that he had to drop out of my class, but that he had enjoyed the class. His mother had breast cancer and he had to be home for his siblings, as his father was barred from the house under order of protection, and my student was afraid his father would return to cause problems. I explained to him that he could work out a study plan with his professors, and I am glad to say that he not only stayed in school, but managed to graduate (only 2 semesters late) and receive his citizenship.

Another one of my students was a single mother, semi-retired from the air force. She gave me one of the best tips on reconciling a checkbook (if the difference is a derivative of 9, you have a number reversed). She was one of the best teachers I have ever seen in action, and she motivated me to learn how to do web pages.

Three of my students have been from inner city New York. Two of them in my public speaking class had me riveted as they gave an insight into the issues of living in inner city New York. Their passion and conviction made me encourage them to present the speech in a more public forum (although I don't think they ever did). The third was a teacher who taught technology at a grade school in Harlem. She told about the most up to date technology they had at their finger tips in a school that was falling apart around them and which needed to have the circuit breaker tripped at least once a day due to the power surges caused by the use of the technology. She worked in the worst conditions and would not trade her job for anything. Rather, she wanted to find resources so the school could be upgraded and create opportunities for her students to make change within the system.

Finally, I have had many students who approach learning with a great deal of enthusiasm. I currently have a student who's enthusiasm is contagious. Others in the class seem to feed off his energy to learn. The first day of class, he looked through notes from a previous class (the semester before) to answer the question. He asks questions (sometimes hard to answer) and wants to understand when he doesn't get something right. I had similar students last year who were never content with just going through the motions. They would disagree with what I said, ask for clarification, or give examples of exceptions to what I presented. These students push me to change my classes every semester, to learn new things, and research their questions when I don't know the answer.

Who inspires you?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Why can't learning be fun?

I just ran across a new book/game series by Rick Riordan called "39 Clues." Riordan is a middle school teacher who has designed a series of books that has been tied to an interactive on line game that builds on the interest middle school students have for both gaming and social networks. It appears to be a good way to get the next generation interested in reading, critical thinking, and problem solving in a fun way.

Now, I am actually surprised that I have not heard of this series: neither negative or positive. I would have thought it would be an instant hit from all the Webkins fans or seen as the next threat to the educational system by educators who still choose Ethan Frome as required reading.

Bringing Fun into Education (regardless of age)

I have seen my own kids become interested in history, math, and even engineering through playing computer games. I know it is rarely used in their schools, but I see the role games can play in helping students learn to problem solve, think critically, and even learn content and skills. Both Karyn Romeis and Ken Allen have written good posts in the past about its potential.

However, as I begin to think about the possibilities of learning from games and social networks, I can't get past the barrier of convincing company executives of allowing their workers some periods of fun as they learn. I can hear the complaints now: How do we justify investments in games to our stakeholders? It's play, not learning. How will that help their productivity? Can you give us the numbers on that? This is work, not recreational time.

If we look at the track, though, of some of the more successful students in a school, we will see that many have extra-curricular activities that give them the skills they need in the workplace (group work, critical thinking, strategies, interpersonal communication, task management). So why aren't we creating more "fun" elearning activities such as those used in second life? Because it is an uphill battle to convince society that "fun" and "playing" have a role in learning.

Not a New Debate

You need only read Dewey's and Taylor's works to see that this debate has been around for decades. For some reason, I will never understand, Taylor's theories that basically equate humans to automatons, seems to win out when investment decisions are made. Perhaps that is because it is easier to measure quantitatively than qualitatively. I also wonder if management is afraid to make workers too content and/or lacking in discipline. Related to this is what to do about the parts of a job that are not fun or exciting? Such as report writing, weekly meetings, resolving personal conflicts, and taking care of daily routine tasks that can become tedious.

I think there is definitely new possibilities into make learning more enjoyable. But first we must achieve the Mount Everest task of convincing management and workers that learning can be fun.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ways of Assessing Organizational Learning

A comment Ewa left on my blog and my response, has left me wondering how we can assess worker learning over a period of time, both through formal learning and informal learning.

I keep coming up with a portfolio of work over a year's time. I think that an electronic portfolio with the worker's self-selected best work will give trainers and management an idea of what workers feel are important in their work, the skills they have developed, and perhaps how individual assessment match up to management and organizational assessments/goals.

With that in mind, I began to consider what my portfolio would look like. I might include some of my blog postings I have done as a result of my analysis of my teaching, such as "What are we doing as teachers to make ourselves literate in the workplace?" or "Lessons learned in New Communication Technologies in Organizational Life". The first is an example of how I am learning (a structure of what I think is important) and the second is an example of how I have learned from my work.

I would also include some of my students' work which is a by-product of my own work: teaching, such as the Pageflake for my students' conference on nano-technology or the technology blog they put together. I also thought that a list of the resources I have collected for classes on delicious would be a good example of the types of resources I have found concerning a certain topic such as those for my ACOM 203 class (speech writing and presentation) or work literacy (professional resources). Finally, I have web pages (which actually need to be updated) for each of the courses I have taught over the last 3 years: Global Communication, New Communication Technologies in Organizational Life, Introduction to Distance Learning, Computer Supported Writing Across the Curriculum, Speech Composition and Presentation.

There are two areas in which I am stuck, however. How do I show "learning" or evidence of my work that is either 1) in a non-electronic format or 2) protected because of privacy? In the second case, I would need those evaluating my work portfolio access to my work (such as blackboard). However, in my case, blackboard and university wikis are erased at the end of the semester because of FERPA (student privacy laws). This might be the problem in areas such as healthcare, financial services, or insurance. I am not sure how to be able to document work that by law is limited access.

The second area has to do with tacit learning. For example, I share an office with another communication professor and we often discuss problems and solutions for similiar problems we are having with our students. While I might not use her ideas verbatum, the discussion gives me a different insight into the situation which might result in more effective teaching on my part.

Likewise, my sister, a speech pathologist, will often consult with me on cases of bilingual students. Both of us leave the discussion with new insight into language development (sometimes with the aid of outside sources, other times just through the discussions/question and answers). How can this type of activity be documented and counted? One possible way would be to blog about it.

I would be interested in hearing about any other suggestions you might have for assessing learning in more non-traditional ways.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Blogging and culture

On the Work Literacy Ning, the group is looking at blogs this week. Because I am so busy, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and do a blog post and the "assignment" for the course this week.

I have been participating in the French speaking section of the course as well as the "mainstream". The issue that I brought up was seconded by the participants. In many cases, the Web 2.o tools might have a cultural bias in which some societies and cultures might not readily accept these tools for anything but "pleasure". However, I feel blogging is an exception to this. Blogging, I look at, as a just in time learning tool.

Blogging allows the student to write out their thoughts, in a public place, as it forms. The expectation for blogging is NOT that it be perfect, but rather that it communicates ideas and reflections. EduBlogs are spaces for students to work out their learning and receive feedback (sometimes instantly, sometimes months later). This record of learning allows both the student and the teacher to revisit themes and document the thought and learning process.

The problem with web 2.0 tools is that they might be too "informal" for societies in which learning is expected to take place in a formal structure. Written French, for example, is expected to conform to the rules set out by the Acadamie Francaise. Blogs tend to have a more formal written structure (and those who use it educationally often require a formal tone to the writing) and is much less socially bound (such as a social network like Facebook). On the other hand, it allows for person reflection and opinions which social bookmarking limits.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Social Networks and Personal Learning: Fiinding the Time

I have not posted for a while because I am taking the course on Web 2.0 for learning professionals. As I have limited time as it is, something had to suffer (and it was my blogging).

Reading Tony Karrer's summary on Monday, I was struck by the freedom that the course gives students. More importantly, however, was the ability this course has had to bring problems and questions from novices and experts alike for the community to work on together.

For example, this week's topic is social bookmarking. A number of us brought up the question of sharing resources (either groups working together or doing research together). I have worked with delicious for 6 months now, and while not an expert, neither am I a novice at using delicious. I have even figured out how to use it with my students so they can access clips I use in class. However, this week, just reading through the resources, having access to indepth instructions on how to set up diigo, and looking at the resources that many from different experience and backgrounds are bookmarking, I am learning more than I can really process at this time.

This got me to thinking about the instructional design of courses using social networking tools.

  1. There needs to be some structure so students aren't overwhelmed (the WLning has a nice flow to it with a definate structure)
  2. There needs to be moderators. I also joined in with the francophones' discussions (despite my ugly French which I write as I speak--it probably is driving the members crazy!). Without a moderator, the discussions are dead in the water. More importantly, the moderators have also helped us focus our learning, while still allowing us the freedom to set our own goals and level of participation.
  3. There needs to be freedom for students to set their learning goals and level of participation within the community.
  4. There needs to be a recognition of the diversity within a community and the sub-groups. Social networking tools allow for interaction within and between groups.
  5. There are multiple motivators in using social networking tools. In some cases, students are motivated by the community; in other cases, students are motivated by individual learning which social networking tools can afford; and in still other cases, students are interested in the content, which social networking tools provides by diverse means.
Although it is preliminary, I hope one of the lessons I learn from this course is how to design learning environments in which social networking tools help promote maximum learning for the each student.