Why wikis? What good are they?

Angie Hammons found a recent article in Campus Technology discussing the use of Wikis in the classroom. The article points out, in Angie’s words, that it is not enough to say to your students, “There is a wiki. Now go collaborate.” There need to be specific goals and timelines explained to the students as they begin to use the wiki.

One of the key aspects of learning is the ability to create a meaningful repository of knowledge in the students that they can draw upon at need in various situations:

Knowledge is not a distinct or quantifiable body of content; knowledge
is information that has become understood and applied in some sort of
meaningful context so that it can be “known” by the student. We often
test information recall in our courses but we do not always evaluate
knowledge development. The Wiki can help in this process of moving
information towards useable knowledge.

In other words, the wiki can serve as a way for the instructor to gauge how students are implementing the knowledge they are learning. As the wiki manager, the instructor can offer feedback and corrections to any content the students create in the wiki, without being overly intrusive or negative towards the students. Students can review the changes that are made by the instructor since wikis implement a version control mechanism that allows the users to track the history of changes made to a wiki page.

Implementing a wiki also leads to an increase in the collaboration skills of the students in a course. In recent years, there has been a very, very strong trend to include collaborative learning projects into courses. When students enter the workforce, they will need to be able to work together with other people, often from very different backgrounds, in order to accomplish a task. This often takes the form of writing projects such as reports, memos, and other interoffice communications. I know in Educational Technology, we often get together to work on various written documents to ensure that not only are we accurately capturing information in written form, but also that all parties with a vested interest are fairly represented in the final document.

A concrete example of collaborative communication is all of the announcements that are sent out from the EdTech office. At least three people have reviewed each announcement before it is released. Each person is also given the opportunity to suggest any revisions (and is encouraged to explain the revision, if necessary).

We also use a wiki in our office, as do several other functional groups in IT. The wiki allows us to produce flexible documentation that may change over time. For instance, we put our classroom technology maintenance documentation on our wiki. If we modify or upgrade our technology, then we can easily revise the documentation to reflect any changes in maintenance procedures. We also have the benefit of reviewing the history of changes in case we need to “roll back” to a previous set of documentation. In fact, all of the documentation for users of our Numerically Intensive Computing (NIC) cluster services is contained in a wiki. This is largely driven by the fact that the NIC environment is changing continuously as it grows and develops to meet our users’ needs.

One of our professors on campus even used a wiki to engage in a collaborative research project with colleagues at another institution. He needed some way that everyone involved in the research project could view and modify documents pertaining to the research grant and the wiki offered an acceptable solution. He also uses wikis in his courses to that his students can collaboratively create knowledge with students at another institution engaged in similar learning processes.

Second Annual Teaching and Learning Technology Conference April 9-10, 2009

Educational Technology will be hosting its second annual Missouri S&T Teaching and Learning Technology Conference in the Havener Center on April 9-10, 2009.  All campus faculty and staff are welcome to attend.  

We believe it is important to our campus community to showcase the many ways in which faculty and staff use technology to enhance the learning experience for our students.

If you are interested in attending this conference, please visit the EdTech web site for the registration information.  Registered attendees will be eligible to win a number of door prizes (including a SMART Board!).  

Dr. Stephen Ehrmann and Dr. Bryan Carter will be the opening and closing keynote speakers, respectively.

  • Dr. Ehrmann is the director of the Flashlight Program on assessment and evaluation for the Teaching, Learning, and Technology Group (tltgroup.org).
  • Dr. Carter is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Central Missouri and has a great deal of experience in using virtual worlds to enhance his instruction (e.g. Second Life).

Other presenters include a diverse array faculty and staff from Missouri S&T and around the world:

  Dr. Matt Insall – Mathematics and Statistics, Missouri S&T
  Dr. Irina Ivliyeva – Arts, Language, and Philosophy, Missouri S&T
  Dr. Margaret Gunderson – University of Missouri-Columbia
  Dr. Suzanna Long – Engineering Management & Systems Engineering, Missouri S&T
  Dr. Laurie Novy – Kaplan University
  Dr. Jeff Thomas – Interdisciplinary Engineering, Missouri S&T
  Dr. Judith Sebesta – University of Missouri-Columbia
  Dr. Eli Collins-Brown – Methodist College of Nursing
  Dr. Anne Bartel-Radic – Universite de Savoie, France
  Mark Bookout – Director of Technology Support Services, Missouri S&T
  Lauren Oswald – Learning Space Designer, Missouri S&T
  Chris Moos – Missouri Southern State University
  Jill Pegg – Methodist College of Nursing
  James West – Missouri Baptist University

Vendors will be on hand to display their technologies and answer questions about the technologies we have employed here on campus.

Several groups on campus associated with teaching and learning technologies will have poster presentations about their projects and activities.

FoTT — Plenary Session: Ray Schroeder

FoTT-Schroeder-01.jpgRay Schroeder presented at the first of two plenary sessions we attended at the Focus on Teaching and Technology Conference in St. Louis. Dr. Schroeder is currently the Director of Technology Enhanced Learning and an Emeritus professor at University of Illinois at Springfield.

The focus of Dr. Schroeder’s presentation was using “transparent” technologies to transform teaching. Dr. Schroeder defines “transparent technology” as those technologies that “do not get in the way of teaching.”

Unlike most of the presenters, Dr. Schroeder used one of his many blogs as his presentation platform: Transparent Technology Transforming Teaching (this was also the title of his presentation). His unique approach has some key advantages over the more “traditional” PowerPoint presentation.

First, all of the content for his presentation is immediately accessible simply by scrolling down the page. You don’t need to scroll through innumerable slides–each of which might have its own unique animation or other content that interferes with your navigation. This makes it very easy to “browse” his presentation, like any other blog out there.

Second, the use of a blog for the presentation allows for a certain degree of feedback from visitors. If a blog is to be used as part of a course (instead of a presentation), the instructor can set up rules for commenting on their blog that allow only registered individuals the ability to comment–this is determined by the blog engine used and by the instructor’s own policies. He (or she) will need to require students to register for the blog so they can post comments. Again, this feature allows visitors to the blog to browse the different entries and provide feedback on particularly interesting ones.

Third, blogs allow for easier hyperlinking than PowerPoint. Because the blog is delivered through a browser, clicking on a link will take you to a new web page without having to open a separate application to do so. “Tabbed” browsing in Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari or another web browser also allows you to navigate to hyperlinks contained in the blog without ever having to close the blog or navigate away from it. This is definitely superior to PowerPoint navigation of hyperlinks.

Finally, presenting content in a blog means you can arrange your content in sequence chronologically or by category. This means that visitors can access content of a particular interest (e.g. the blog you are reading has a “Blackboard” category because we support a number of Blackboard issues). They can also see content unfolded over time, which may be extremely relevant in time-sensitive courses (e.g. political science, technology development).

Oh, one more thing. Because of the way blogs are built, they can easily contain other Web 2.0 technologies such as YouTube flash videos, quick online surveys, “liveblogging” applications, and much, much more. PowerPoint has none of these features.

One of the downsides to creating a blog for presentations is the fact that as an instructor, you will need to take the time to sit down and figure out how your presentation of content will be structured to take into account the many new ways in which a blog can be used to deliver content. Blogs are extremely flexible, however, and very easy to set up. Dr. Schroeder’s blog for his presentation was created using Blogspot (powered by Blogger). It is a very simple blog, but still contains a wide variety of different content. If Dr. Schroeder was so inclined, he could add some customized features to his blog to make it more his own or he could move his blog to a different blog engine (e.g. Movable Type).

Dr. Schroeder’s presentation was a very different experience than most presentations I’ve sat through and gave me quite a bit to think about with regard to developing my own pedagogical style of instruction.

MITC 2008 — Challenges of Creating Online Content

MITC-2008-logo.jpgChallenges of Creating Online Content (PPT 2007)

On October 6-7, 2008, I attended the Morenet Instructional Technology Conference 2008 (MITC). It was an interesting conference focusing on the ways technology is used to enhance learning outcomes in the classrooms. The primary focus seemed to be on K-12 instruction, but there were a number of higher ed folks there as well.

How did we find out about this conference? Well, back in the spring, EdTech attended the Morenet HELIX/CONNECTIONS Conference, which is basically the spring version of what we attended earlier this week. However, HELIX has a broader focus on other areas related to Information Technology such as security, servers, networking, and so forth. MITC was only focused on instructional/educational technology. Morenet began advertising MITC shortly after we attended HELIX, and Meg, our director of EdTech, suggested that I submit a proposal to present at MITC.

After giving it some thought, I decided that I am reasonably knowledgeable about web content (it’s my job to create it, after all), so I figured that I could provide other folks who are curious–or intimidated–by the challenges inherent in creating web-based content. My goal was to guide newer web-developers to think about creating web content in a different way than they may have been exposed to already. I sent my submission into Morenet for review, and–to my surprise, terror, and Meg’s delight–they actually accepted. Furthermore, they decided that my chosen topic, “Challenges of Creating Online Content”, was expansive enough to devote over 2 full hours to. That’s right, they gave me a 2-hour block of time to discuss these challenges. As it turned out, that was just enough time to get through the presentation, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

[Read more…]

Teaching Journal: Using Wimba


I helped Angie Hammons teach Dr. Bih-Ru Lea’s class enter the Wimba
Live Classroom
virtual environment on Blackboard. Dr. Lea teaches a
course about strategic enterprise management configurations. As part of
the course, students are required to use a variety of different remote
conferencing tools that allow them to collaborate in real time with
people half-way around the world. Dr. Lea herself uses WebEx to include
distance students in her on-campus course. WebEx is officially
supported by the VCC here on campus, but EdTech has some exposure to it
as well.

As it turns out, WebEx and
Wimba don’t play nicely with each other. Apparently they compete for
Java Runtime Environment (JRE) resources if they are both being used. However, it is possible to
get them to cooperate once Wimba is finally opened.

Now that I have seen how Dr.
Lea uses Wimba for her class, I hope I can get it to work properly for
Dr. Jacqueline Bechsel of the Psychology department. She will be using
Wimba for the first time on Wednesday of this week. I have agreed to be
on hand to facilitate the use of Wimba in her classroom. She will be
using Wimba in UC 105 (now Centennial Hall 105), also known as the
Technology Classroom. I will have to find a time to go in there
(perhaps early in the morning since I am usually on campus a little
after 7 a.m.) and make sure Wimba works properly. 

I think I will also take the
opportunity to ask Dr. Bichsel if I can observe one of her courses. She
teaches Psych 140 (Experimental Psychology) and Psych 50 (General
Psychology). She probably wouldn’t want me to observe the class on
Wednesday, but maybe a later class.

What, exactly, is Web 2.0 all about?

Web 2.0, according to Wikipedia (which is itself a Web 2.0 technology), is "a term describing the trend in the use of World Wide Web technology [i.e. the Internet–mhays] and web design that aims to enhance creativity, information sharing, and most notably, collaboration among users." Unlike typical product releases (Blackboard 8.0, for example), Web 2.0 does not refer to a new and improved version of the web. Instead, the term reflects a change in how people and industries are using the web together.
There is considerable disagreement about what, exactly, Web 2.0 encompasses. It is a very ambiguous (perhaps deliberately so) term, so I suppose individuals can interpret Web 2.0 as they see fit. Let’s see if we can come up with our own definition based on some of the primary characteristics of Web 2.0 technology.
First of all, there is one common thread that seems to connect most definitions — using Web 2.0 to enhance the ability for people to communicate with each other. In a previous post on this blog about conversations online, a commenter posted the following:

Not only do conversations matter in Web 2.0, conversations are what define Web 2.0.
Gone are the days when messages get blasted out and picked up by unassuming recipients. We have too many competing messages and we’ve adapted by doing some serious communication filtering.

This idea that Web 2.0 is all about conversation is crucial to understanding the transformation of the web from a relatively passive activity to an extraordinarily vibrant activity. In the olden days of "Web 1.0" technology, people navigated from web page to web page, quietly absorbing information from the web site. If you wanted to comment on a web page, you had to email the web site’s author. Now, almost all Web 2.0 web sites that people visit (blogs, wikis, social networking, social bookmarking, discussion forums, and more) have immediate feedback mechanisms. Furthermore, Web 2.0 tends to focus on the production of "microcontent" instead of "macrocontent".
According to Bryan Alexander, who wrote an article for the March/April 2006 issue of Educause Review, microcontent describes snippets of information such as blog posts, or the streams of conversation/revision involved in creating a wiki page. Content should be reusable and should not be limited to only one form of technology. This idea of reusable content makes it easy to post content in multiple places on the web in different forms in different locations. For instance, we in Educational Technology take pains to make sure that our help files on Blackboard and Respondus are available in both a web-based version and a printer-friendly PDF version. This way, folks can download the PDF files for easy retrieval later or they can access our web site on demand if they need a refresher on parts of the technology in question. We also go the extra step to break down the content into the easily digestible chunks of relevant information (a task-based approach instead of a features-based approach).
So far we have established that Web 2.0 involves conversation and the creation of microcontent.
Conversation, by necessity, requires the participation of two or more people engaged in meaningful (hopefully) dialog. In other words, all parties involved in the conversation participate. It is possible to be an observer simply by browsing and reading, but in order to participate, you have to engage the other parties by responding to what they say or by allowing them to respond to what you have to say. Web 2.0 technologies encourage this participation in the conversation to a remarkable degree.
Another key quality of Web 2.0 technology is that it is always available through a web browser. There are a wide variety of web browsers, each with different capabilities (on campus we support Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox, and Apple’s Safari). In other words, the web becomes a platform (much like Windows and Macintosh are both platforms for running applications as well as operating systems) for running web-based applications. We are all familiar with web applications in one form or another (if you have done any online shopping, participated in an online survey, or used Joe’SS/PeopleSoft here on campus you have used a web-based application). A web-based application is a way of offering a particular service through a near-universal mechanism available to all users of the web. There are some instances where a specific browser might be required (I’m looking at you, Microsoft!) and other instances where a specific technology might be required (e.g. Flash plugin), but these technologies are readily available for download from the web if you know where to go. If you don’t know where to go, use a Web 2.0 technology such as Google to find it.
At this point, we have established:

Web 2.0 allows users to engage in conversation, post microcontent, very much encourages active participation of all users, and provides a host of services to users and communities through near-universal web-based applications available to all interested participants.

I think this definition is as good as any. If we get too much more involved in our definition, then we run the risk of turning a simple blog post (Web 2.0) into a book (Web circa 1439 A.D.).
If you want a much more detailed look at the evolution and definition of Web 2.0, Tim O’Reilly (yes, thatTim O’Reilly) has an online article about Web 2.0 (more in terms of business and software engineering than academics).

Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video

It is common today for people, students, to make and share videos to tell stories, complete projects or start debates. The internet and websites like YouTube have helped to make it so much easier to share these video creations. This digital platform allows "old" culture to be transformed into new and for a generation to express themselves on a medium they are very comfortable with. To deny the right of these individuals to be creative, would stifle the emerging culture. The number one question that gets asked is "Can I use this video content in my class?". Up until recently, that questions was met with discussion of copyright and fair use. But what does "fair use" mean? Fair use is the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances. This definition still left lots of room for interpretation.
A distinguished panel of experts, from cultural scholarship, legal scholarship and legal practice, came together to develop a Code of Best Practices. This code was based on research, current personal and nonprofessional video practices and on fair use. This code of best practices was not designed to be restrictive but to give some guidance and framework as individuals are creating their stories, mashups and debates.
Code of Best Practices
1. COMMENTING ON OR CRITIQUING OF COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL – Individuals have the right to evaluate, scrutinize and comment on copyrighted material. This is a safeguard for freedom of expression.
2. USING COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL FOR ILLUSTRATION OR EXAMPLE – When using copyrighted material for example, individuals simply need to give proper credit just as someone does who is writing a paper.
3. CAPTURING COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL INCIDENTALLY OR ACCIDENTALLY – If it was captured by accident and not staged, it is OK for limited use.
4. REPRODUCING, REPOSTING, OR QUOTING IN ORDER TO MEMORIALIZE, PRESERVE, OR RESCUE AN EXPERIENCE, AN EVENT, OR A CULTURAL PHENOMENON – If an individual takes video of themselves at a concert to remember the experience and they capture some of a song, that is fair use.
6. QUOTING IN ORDER TO RECOMBINE ELEMENTS TO MAKE A NEW WORK THAT DEPENDS FOR ITS MEANING ON (OFTEN UNLIKELY) RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN ELEMENTS – It is the same as creating a collage of pictures. Individuals will put together completely unrelated video segments to create something brand new.
These are simply guiding principles that can be used in a variety of hybrid situations. As video making, mashups continue to evolve so with the fair use practices.
To read the full paper go to Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Online Video
Update (Malcolm Hays): To help underscore the point the authors of this paper are making about Fair Use, they have added a still image of the "Dramatic Chipmunk" video that made its way around the Internet some time ago. The video linked here is simply a short snippet of a longer video wherein a prairie dog turns to face the camera suddenly. Someone put this short snippet to dramatic music and an Internet sensation was born! This could loosely be construed to fit within guideline number 5 above, as it certainly sparked some notoriety and discussion on the Internet (along with spawning a dozen different variations on this theme).

Campus License Agreement for Respondus Software Application

Missouri S&T now has a campus licensing agreement for Respondus. Respondus is a software application that allows instructors to create tests, quizzes, and other assessments for use in their course. Respondus is compatible with Blackboard and other learning management systems.
Instructors who have already purchased a license for Respondus will not need to renew their license. They will need to contact IT to have the campus-licensed version installed instead.
Instructors who do not have Respondus and would like to have Respondus installed should submit an online Help Request or contact the IT Help Desk at 341-HELP for assistance.

Physics Simulations Available from Unversity of Colorado at Boulder

I found a suite of physics simulations (one of the simulations is a chemistry simulation) at the University of Colorado at Boulder. These are Java-based simulations so if you want to view them you will need to have the proper Java Runtime Environment installed on your system. Standard desktop systems at Missouri S&T should already have it and if you don’t, you should be prompted to install the right JRE when you try to view one of the simulations.
By themselves, the simulations can be difficult to work with, but if used within the context of a class where the instructor can provide the guidance needed to interact with the simulation, I could see where these could be very useful to illustrate particularly difficult concepts in physics and chemistry. For instance, the Quantum Tunneling and Wave Packet simulator definitely requires some guidance from an instructor who can explain the concept of quantum tunneling and what the various factors involved the process are (one of the options available allows you to configure the energy of the wave in the simulation, which has a significant impact on the probability that a wave will have sufficient energy to be measurable on both sides of the energy barrier–there is always some probability to find the wave on both sides of the barrier, but higher wave energy and lower barrier energy means the probability increases).
Anyway, I encourage instructors who teach physics or chemistry to at least take a look at these simulations. Other simulations include projectile motion (by firing various objects out of a cannon), http://phet.colorado.edu/new/simulations/sims.php?sim=Balloons_and_Static_Electricity, conservation of energy (by creating your own skate park), and salts & solubility.

Morphing web sites

Network World has an article in their latest online issue that discusses the use of "morphing web sites" for increasing sales revenue for advertisers. The basic idea is that a web site "shapes" itself to a user’s preferences as the user navigates through the web site. The advertisements that are delivered to the web site are designed to appeal to the user’s preferences based on their navigation, eventually leading to a sale.
Now, what does this have to do with education? As I was reading through the article, I came across the following:

The BT experiment assessed subjects’ cognitive styles based on four different cognitive-style characteristics, each having two options. The cognitive styles defined whether individuals were readers or listeners, impulsive or deliberative, visual or verbal and leaders or followers.

These cognitive styles are the same styles used by students in the classroom to absorb the information presented. Some students are visual learners, others are aural learners, some are verbal learners and others rely more on pictures and images to help retain the information.
An educational web page or web site that could adjust itself to present information in a manner that was in tune with a particular student’s individual learning style (learned by the system as the student navigates through the web site) could significantly increase the amount of information retained by the student. In the particular example described in the article, researchers thought a morphing web site could lead to a 20% increase in sales (or more). I don’t know if this same increase would apply directly to an educational application of this technology, but it would definitely be worth finding out.
Another application for this technology pointed out in the article is to use it to identify a user’s cultural preference as well, once again providing the user with content suitable for their culture as well as their cognitive style.