License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: What is a Blogby Edublogs
Instructional designers should be aware of theoretical and practical issues relating to tools for engagement in online courses and or blended courses. When designing courses and recommending tools for engagement, always keep the learner’s perspective in mind…
- Engage learners with course content and with their peers.
- Develop online learner communities.
- Vary modes of participation.
The Learner’s Perspective
In Zen Buddhism, there is a notion of beginner’s mind (shoshin in Japanese), in which a person seeking enlightenment is asked to look at things as they are, without preconceived notions. A goal of looking at things from learners’ perspectives is to see things the way new students do, and to anticipate problems and bottlenecks that they might face, a task that takes on added significance in light of the relative newness of online education. Online education acts as a universal solvent, dissolving many of the notions and axioms that we have taken for granted. Lynn Kirkland Harvey’s observations about online identities are important to keep in mind because the theme of online identity is one to which we often refer.
Engagement with Blogs
The blogging boom shows little sign of abating, and it is not surprising that more and more educators are showing an interest in using blogs for educational purposes. In this section, we give a brief overview of blogs and what makes them work. We will assume in the bulk of the section that you will be helping your students set up individual blogs, which we would recommend in most cases.
We feel that blogs are very flexible and can be adapted to a wide range of contexts and users. We recommend that educators wishing to take things further also take a look at the section following this one on wikis, which shows how a class with a solid foundation in blogging might profit from using this more collaborative tool.
What Are Blogs?
For the purposes of this section, we will use the following definition of a blog, (which appeared in a 1999 Salon.com column) “Weblogs, typically, are personal Web sites operated by individuals who compile chronological lists of links to stuff that interests them, interspersed with information, editorializing and personal asides. A good weblog is updated often, in a kind of real-time improvisation, with pointers to interesting events, pages, stories and happenings elsewhere on the Web. New stuff piles on top of the page; older stuff sinks to the bottom.” (Rosenberg, 1999, para. 6).
The name weblog, now generally shortened to blog, is a portmanteau suggesting a logbook that is available through the Web. It is an outgrowth of programmers’ logs in which actions are recorded in chronological order to help with troubleshooting and debugging. A variation of this practice involves programmers, often working in teams whose members are located in different time zones, themselves recording their own observations as web-accessible ‘diaries’. Because this was all taking place on the Web, it was a logical step to add links to web pages, which conform to previous conceptual framings of footnotes as well as leveraging the power of social networks, in that following links from a person’s weblog can introduce readers to material they would never find on their own.
As this process became a social phenomenon, software developers began creating blog software with features to improve ease of use, and entrepreneurs entered into the field of providing free blogs. Modifications to the software allow more advanced features like group blogging (where a group of people assume authorship), tags or categories (where posts are classified according to theme and for which custom views are available), and comments (where people reading a blog can comment on a particular post or simply communicate with the author or other readers), and these features have by now become all but standard.
Why did blogging become such a social phenomenon? We suggest that the main reason is that a blog conforms to a certain mental model of writing (the individual diary) that was built upon and extended. This may explain why wikis, the development of which predates blogs, have not caught on so quickly or widely. Blogs also benefited from a cycle of popularity, innovation, and commercial potential. Initial popularity triggered interest from developers, which led to rapid innovation and further popularity, in turn increasing the attraction of blogs to advertisers. This led to commercial blog services, which in turn created a critical mass of blogs as well as a host of other services and capabilities (photo-sharing, RSS feeds, trackback, tagging), which continues to feed the development of blogs. The result is a rich ecosystem of tools and services, ready to be exploited by educators.
The situation is good and getting better, though there is one proviso: There is not one ready-made and proven solution for every situation, so educators need to be willing to experiment with various tools and services to exploit blogs to their full potential.
There are many blogging services, ranging from the free and very large Blogger. It is beyond the scope of this section to cover all of the possible alternatives for starting a blog. A key advantage in using a service like Blogger is that it relieves you of the responsibility for installing and maintaining software. It also allows for a wide range of student computer connections and setups and links to a range of computer services. These days, most students have camera-equipped mobile phones. Blogger permits the uploading of photos to a blog from a camera, and has connections with photo sharing services like flickr.com. This increases the options for students and eliminates the need for computer storage. This model may be the best one for educators who have access to Internet-connected computers but do not have extensive tech support resources.
It is convenient to view the signing up/creating process of a blog as having three separate stages:
- encouraging student choice in naming their blog
- encouraging students to choose a template for themselves, rather than insisting on a standard template
- using and creating an avatars, a representation of the blog author
- encouraging students to post pictures through services like flickr.com and photobucket.com
- suggesting niches where a student might situate their blog within their peer group, perhaps writing about a specific set of topics or even just one topic.
- meme tag—In this activity, the teacher asks the students to ‘pass’ a task to other students, linking to the previous students to perform the task. This may be as simple as the Alphabet Shopping Game, where the teacher posts ‘I bought Apples and Bananas’ and asks the next student to link to that post and add an item beginning with C, and then pass the task on to another student. A more complex example might be to ask students to list their favourite three meals, again passing on the task to another student.
- pininthemap.com—Ask students to identify a place using pininthemap.com, and then write a blog post about the location;
- topic of the day, week, month;
- specific assignments or writing topics to be posted on the blog; and
- introduction of specific websites for topics related to the class. A class dealing with movies might be introduced to the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) or a class dealing with public health issues might be introduced to the flu wiki (fluwikie.com).
Note that the last site is a wiki, which is a form of collaborative software which will be discussed later in this section.
Many of these exercises may simply be mechanical, but they allow students who lack specific computer/ Internet skills to acquire them, while doing something that, though perhaps trivial, is also fun. They also provide the teacher with a metric to assess students’ comfort level with the technology. It is useful to distinguish clearly between the technical requirements (hypertext linking, copying, or editing) and the content aspects of such exercises. Having students hone their technical skills in this way allows them to gain a measure of automaticity (Hasher & Zacks, 1979) and allows the class focus to shift gradually from technical to content aspects. It also serves to give students a measure of computer literacy that will continue to be of use in other classes and after graduation. These tasks can often promote a sense of social community within the class, and, if linked to the course material in some way, can prepare students for more demanding tasks later.
- Providing an added dimension to the physical classroom.
- Housing the majority of the material and provide a focal point for occasional face-to-face classes.
- Allowing teaching and learning to take place in a totally online environment.
It is useful to consider the different strategies required for each. In a class where blogs or wikis are supplementing the class material, the teacher can easily draw upon relationships and organization developed in the classroom as a framework for using the technology. A teacher may simply be providing supplemental materials (a blog where he or she writes all the posts, a wiki which has supplementary class material) and the blog would simply provide an asynchronous channel for comments.
In a class where the online component is the greater part of the class, the teacher should consider using the classroom relationships and organization as an initial structure in order to develop the online component. An analogy is to a seed crystal, which, when added to a supersaturated solution, has the effect of creating a crystal structure from this initial seed. This may not be possible if the first face-to-face meeting occurs after the start of the class, which would make the class conform more to the third scenario.
In the third case, the teacher must find ways to create relationships and organization from scratch. Thus the teacher may be doing some things that appear overly simplistic. However, assuming that students will be able to organize themselves with ease online in the absence of the familiar framework of face-to-face interaction is usually overly optimistic, and we may at first do well to err on the side of excessive hand holding.
Issues With Blogging
We have given a rather optimistic view of using blogs, so it is useful to introduce a note of skepticism here and discuss some problems associated with their introduction. Here is a useful list of problems that were faced by one educator with blogs (Chirnside, 2006), interlaced with our own comments. He writes:
We have run several f2f [face-to-face] events here in our town to raise the issue of blogs. Has not worked really. It’s just been too much. Our own blogging ventures have to a large extent been focused on the long term: we tend to think in terms of introducing blogging into the system, as much as or more than introducing blogging to students. It is very tempting to expect students to create fully formed blogs with long posts, substantive comments, and a vibrant network of linked blogs, but thinking in terms of introducing blogging into the system (i.e., to fellow educators and into the curriculum) rather than to your current students encourages smaller and more realistic steps. Having the first set of students simply use a blog as a cyberlocation for a set of assignments that can then be perused at the teacher’s leisure establishes blogs without overly high expectations.
The writer goes on to draw some conclusions about blogging:
- Introducing blogs into an educational setting seems to work best if there are some experienced bloggers around. Most courses do not afford enough time for too much trial-and-error learning. There are psycho-emotional barriers and tech things as well.Thinking of blogs as curricular innovation rather than individual achievements helps create an upward spiral of improvement. While we expect (and hope) that students will graduate from our class and not have to return to be taught the same material, the products those students have produced in the previous term or year can be highlighted, even if those students have moved on. Choosing examples that constitute best practices from the previous term also helps to overcome psycho-emotional barriers as well as tech problems. Think of the introduction of blogs as a learning process for the teacher as well as the students.
- Some of the important issues involved personal questions of identity, voice and security, confidence and audience. For some students it takes time to build the confidence needed to actually post, and to come to grips with what blogging is about—it is quite different from forum posting and traditional academic writing. As we noted earlier, helping students make the blog their own is of crucial importance. In this context, getting students to think about how they present themselves to others is key. What personal information would the student like the teacher to know? What to write is another problem, and one way to address this is to give specific assignments.
- Unsure … whether clear [targets] …work against blogging. [Students get too caught up with] “How many posts do I have to make?” “Does this count?” In a traditional class, a student is expected to show control (or ideally mastery) over the content presented. However, this notion that there is discrete content, separable from other facts and skills, is one from which education has been moving away, towards a goal that the student be able to use the content presented in real-world situations. There is no way to prevent some students from aiming to fulfill only the minimum requirements, but blogging, in common with many other online activities, does provide a more-or-less automated way for the teacher to as certain if the student is working throughout the term, rather than rapidly writing the requisite number of blog posts in the evening before the final evaluation.
- Private online forums seem to have a different dynamic than blogs (ownership, identity, group, etc.). This is very true, and such forums can prevent weaker students from getting a foothold. Blogs, because they constitute individual spaces, help overcome some of the problems that can be seen in online forums.
- Unsure about community blogs. I think (tentatively) they can help bridge to genuine personal blogs. But I do know they can assist in achieving learning outcomes … And I think they are different to forums. While community blogs are a possibility, as noted above, we view them as something best done subsequent to personal blogging.
- Blogs are sometimes a huge bonus in informal professional learning settings. Sometimes they are not. While we have presented an optimistic view of blogs, preparing the groundwork for using blogs is time consuming, just like introducing any new technology or technique into the classroom. Providing opportunities for peer review, self-evaluation, group work, or other techniques can be described in the same way, so this is not something that is a characteristic solely of weblogs in particular or software in general.
This point cannot be emphasized enough. Setting aside time within the context of the classroom (in a mixed class) or specifically requiring students to identify good posts and link to them, adding their own thoughts, is one of the things that has helped fuel the growth of blogging in our classes.
Be Aware of Online Dangers
In addition to the specific issues with blogs dealt with above, any type of online interaction presents certain dangers in two directions. Teachers must not only consider the social responsibility aspect but must protect themselves from possible legal action. The first source of danger is outsiders viewing what your class has done. Strongly urge your students to avoid using their full names or any data that could be misused. You may also want to suggest that students avoid posting pictures of themselves. This presents a conundrum, in that we have recommended that students establish a personal identity with their blog, but one that cannot be easily traceable. As we noted in the section on signing up for blogs, commercial blogs often separate real identities from online identities by permitting the use of nicknames or handles. The use of avatars in place of actual pictures also supports personal identities without risking sensitive personal information.
Also, because the walls of the classroom are now, in a sense, transparent, the teacher has to consider activities and exercises where the teacher may take a controversial position in order to stimulate participation. Consider a discussion on free speech where the teacher, in trying to get the students to consider the limits, takes on the persona of a white supremacist or asks students to take that role. This would ideally be understood as a classroom exercise in the context of the classroom, but it is possible that someone could stumble upon it while surfing the Internet and, short of context, believe that it represents the actual views of the teacher or students.
Below are a number of situations that could arise:
- A student writes a sarcastic review of a local eatery that suggests the owner uses non-standard ingredients.
- A student notes that, along with another student, they engaged in some embarrassing and potentially illegal behavior.
- A student discusses one of your colleague’s classes in unflattering terms.
- A student makes a post or comment directed at another student using inappropriate language.
Situations like these are generally avoidable if the teacher sets clear guidelines, but it is important that the teacher consider the possibilities before they arise.
Further Readings About Blogs
For educators wishing to read more about blogs, a good starting point would be Rebecca Blood’s The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog, which has excellent advice that continues to be timely despite technological changes in the years since its publication. In addition, the tutorial pages on blogging service sites (the Blogger™ Help Centre, for example) are well worth a look.
Moving from Blogs to Wikis
We have discussed blogs from a classroom standpoint, with the assumption that educators want to have students create blogs and ideally link those blogs to a network to create a social environment that expands the horizons of the classroom. This expansion is both in the sense of time (in that students can participate asynchronously), space (in that students can bring in their own experiences and situations), and cyberspace (in that students can, through linking, bring in other websites and information). This is all easily achievable through what is available now on the Internet.
The next section, about wikis, in contrast to our discussion of blogs, tends towards the theoretical. However, we feel that blogs provide a foundation that may be necessary for students to take full advantage of the possibilities of wikis.
Wiki Technology in Online Education
License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: On wikis, avoiding boredom, and not lecturing by Memorial University of Newfoundland
Wikis are collaboratively editable websites that can be used for various purposes. They are particularly well suited to taking students who are already competent bloggers to the next level. There are cases, however, where blogs alone may be limiting. There may be a need to bring older blog posts to the forefront, to build on earlier discussions or knowledge. Of course, this is always possible, through an archive search, followed by copying and pasting into a new post or linking to the old post, but blogs, because of their temporal organization, are not ideally suited to such use. It will sometimes be desirable to have a more-or-less complete snapshot of the state of knowledge built up over a course, possibly several iterations thereof. Again, the teacher could conceivably write a summary linking to key posts that contribute to such an understanding, but this would be an inefficient use of a blog, and that summary post would again be pushed down the stack as new content was added.
It is their collaborative editability, however, that makes wikis such powerful tools, potentially enriching students’ interactions and fostering cooperation and collaboration inside and outside the classroom.
What Are Wikis?
“Instantly updateable” means that there is no need to edit a local copy of a website, upload the new version, and then reload the new version in a browser. Though such a process is not difficult, it is just enough trouble that countless small-scale websites remain untouched for long periods of time. (Teachers reading this may be familiar with the leave-it-till-the-end-of-term syndrome.) With wikis, it is enough to click the Edit button, correct a typo or change a deadline, for example, and then press Save to implement the change.
“Collaboratively editable” means that there can be multiple authors of a website, possibly at multiple locations, or people other than the authors who are able to make changes. This is the feature that is of most interest to us in this chapter, though it is best to keep the other features in mind.
When Tim Berners-Lee devised the original specifications for the World Wide Web (Berners-Lee, 2000), he envisaged that everyone would publish and edit information, rather than just read pages and click to follow links. Instead, for a time the Web became something like a “glorified television channel” (Berners-Lee, 1999). Wikis started the move towards a web more in line with Berners-Lee’s vision.
Wikipedia is now the best-known wiki in existence, it may be useful to take a closer look at wikis through the lens provided by Wikipedia, noting features that are in common with other wikis and those that differ. Most readers will probably have heard of Wikipedia. It is a large (more than 1,800,000 articles as of June, 2007), multi-lingual (fourteen languages with more than 100,000 articles, and more than 60 languages with smaller numbers), freely accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, and, more radically, freely editable, in principle, to anyone in the world.
Thus, anyone who finds an article with factual or typographical mistakes can rapidly correct the mistakes. Similarly, if an article exists but is incomplete (many of these articles are marked as “stubs”) anyone with knowledge of the topic can add details or links to further resources. As long as this is done with a sense of responsibility, students who contribute in this way can justifiably feel they have made a real contribution to human knowledge, if only in the sense of making knowledge already available in one place simultaneously available in another, more central, location. Wikipedia can be said to be typical of wikis in the sense that there are generally no specific software controls over who can change the wiki (except that certain IP addresses that have been identified as the source of malicious changes are excluded, but only after a process of consideration by members of the community). It is atypical in the scope of its subject matter and in the size of its target community. In fact, since most communities are partially defined by whom they exclude, the Wikipedia community is very unusual since potentially it includes all humankind (though in practice, of course, some may never hear of Wikipedia, some may not be interested, and many, for economic or geographical reasons, may never have access).
Introducing Wikis to Students
We will not delve into the specifics of installing a wiki engine oneself. There are wiki hosting services that make the installation unnecessary. We should emphasize first, though such warnings may be unnecessary, that simply creating a wiki site and telling students to “interact” (or “collaborate”, or “play around”) on the site is unlikely to work satisfactorily, unless students are very mature and self-motivated and they have a lot in common, or a ready-made purpose in the nature of the course. Whereas it is fairly easy to start students blogging by describing a blog as an online diary and asking students to introduce themselves or write about what they did at the weekend, such an obvious entry point to wikis does not exist. Since processes are best explained in terms of steps, and problems are best solved by breaking them down into sub-problems, we shall take a closer look at possible difficulties with wikis in the next section.
Wikis Are Not Easy
For inexperienced learners, wikis may be a difficult tool, and therefore it may be difficult to create the conditions where they lead to real engagement. In addition to general computing skills such as typing, copying, and pasting, the major characteristics of wikis given above point to possible areas of difficulty.
Initially, it may take some students a long time to get used to the simple but radical idea of instant updateability. They may not notice the Edit button, for instance, until it has been pointed out to them several times. Since they are not accustomed to web pages being editable, their eyes may at first gloss over the editable window in the centre of the page as they search for something recognizable as a database field to fill in.
Collaborative editability represents a complex melange of technical and social issues. Students may resist the very idea of touching someone else’s work without specific permission or conversely be offended when someone touches theirs. Even when they have become accustomed to the Edit button, it may not occur to them that it is possible and permissible to actually edit existing pages, or even sentences and paragraphs, and they may restrict themselves to making new silos with their own personal content. Thus, it is advisable to be ready to give extensive instruction to students in these possibilities, along with guidance on any restrictions you wish to impose.
Finally, the radical hypertextuality of wikis can cause severe disorientation. It may take students some time and considerable guidance to master the mechanics of making links. Even then, it may not be possible for all students to grasp the structure of the wiki as a whole, resulting in difficulties fitting in new content and linking it to other relevant pages.
Weblogs can act as an entryway into using wikis by establishing a firm foundation for learners. Some of the skills necessary for wiki use that can be established by regular use of weblogs are as follows:
- manipulating computer text (copying, cutting, pasting),
- using tags and understanding how they work,
- writing short coherent paragraphs of content,
- commenting on others’ work,
- linking to external sources, and
- linking to internal sources (within the weblog)
These skills may seem so basic as to need no introduction, but we have found that even groups of sophisticated learners, when placed in a new environment, often transfer only some of these skills, and then only fitfully.
Using Wikipedia and Other Global Wikis
Since most students will probably have heard of Wikipedia, and many may have experience using it for reference, this may be the easiest entry point. The teacher could find a page on a topic of interest to the class and show the present version and selected older versions for comparison. If there is a live Internet connection, the teacher could find a page with typographical or minor factual errors and correct them in real time, explaining that anyone throughout the world can now benefit from the new version. If students are deemed ready, and of course with appropriate supervision, they can be guided to pages that they can improve, and be invited to make minor edits. This should be sufficient to demonstrate that wikis are valuable tools.
If Wikipedia is considered somewhat forbidding, there are other global wikis that allow students to improve the world in some small way by correcting faulty information or, more commonly, providing missing information. We shall introduce three of these here: Wiki Travel (wikitravel.org), Wikia (wikia.com), and Wikibooks (wikibooks.org).
The fact that wikis have great potential as collaborative writing tools does not necessarily mean that they must always be used in this way from the outset. One way to get started is for the teacher to use a wiki as, at least initially, a conventional website. This could include the syllabus, assignment deadlines, and useful resources. An opportunity to show students that the site is not quite like the ones they are used to is presented when an error (strategically inserted beforehand if necessary) is discovered during a class meeting, or if a deadline is renegotiated, for example. Far more powerful than a promise to update the site later is to instantly correct the error and show students the new version on the spot. Taking this a little further, when during a class a new concept is introduced, the teacher could create a link to a new page introducing the topic and create a two- or threesentence page stub on the spot.
Once students have had a chance to see a wiki in action, its collaborative editability may not come as such a shock. Even if students do not take to the wiki, the teacher has discovered an approach that may revolutionize his approach to lesson preparation and course re-tailoring. Because the wiki is instantly editable, any lesson plan that is overly optimistic about the amount of material to be covered can be changed immediately for the following iteration of the course. If the teacher is worried about unauthorized edits, she can write-protect the wiki. If she wants to keep the content secret, she can read protect it. If she wants to have certain sections such as quizzes protected, and others editable, this is also possible, depending on the wiki engine. Although it is possible to use a wiki without any specific problems, it is useful to have a grasp of some of the already existing conceptual work. This can also help you get more out of wikis.
Wikis Imply Engagement With Ideas
Typically, where a team of people is working on creating a knowledge base of some kind, a wiki implies engagement with information and ideas more than with people, though of course it was ultimately people who produced those ideas. Interaction will generally need to be focused on creating a product, however tentative, and this implies a degree of sophistication on the part of the learners.
It is interesting to compare wikis with discussion forums. A discussion forum emphasizes engagement with others, making it easy to engage in friendly communication that may or may not be related to the main topic of concern. Substantive debate is also possible, but, crucially, the debate is a kind of meta-dialogue, that is, talking about something, but often not creating anything new in a systematic way.
Hewitt (2001) found that it can be very difficult with discussion boards to pull disparate threads together, as one message may simultaneously address multiple issues. Without extra synthesizing steps, for which discussion forums fail to provide specific mechanisms, valuable contributions can be lost before they have been understood for what they are. Reinforcing what we said in the previous paragraph, since a wiki is focused on product (an actual collaboratively generated version of a text), engagement is with ideas, even though those ideas may have been produced by others. As Jennifer Claro suggests, wikis are a cognitive constructivist tool in the Piagetian sense, in that they create knowledge from within the learner rather than imposed from outside by the educator (2005, personal communication).
Any activities requiring use of a wiki will typically have to be carefully tailored to learners, and possibly the wiki should be seeded with templates to provide some kind of structure to make exercises easier. Mind mapping or flowcharting can often help students develop a structure.
Thread Mode for Communication
People now are accustomed to seeing Wikipedia as representative of wikis in general. Since Wikipedia is designed to present a friendly face to people visiting briefly to get specific information, it tends to obscure the writing processes that produced the apparently finished article on view. To see what goes on behind the scenes, you can click on the tab labelled discussion. What you will find may be enlightening, and perhaps a bit frightening, especially in the case of contentious topics. However, the earliest wikis were commonly used in thread mode, where a signed contribution at the top of the page is followed by another signed contribution responding to the first, and so on. When a wiki is used in this way, the point about ideas and information being favored over people may become invalid. At first sight, this threaded mode may appear to be no more than a discussion forum without many of the functions we have become accustomed to. Yet it has the trivially easy hyperlinking features of wikis, which allow one to refer to other discussions easily. Most importantly, it has the potential to be transformed from thread to document mode. Where discussions need to take place, but the wiki proper needs to serve simultaneously as a resource for others, users would typically make use of the discussion feature mentioned above, which is now a fairly common feature across wiki engines. Sometimes, this appears in the guise of a comments feature. Wikis are sometimes seen as less desirable for discussion than discussion forums. This may well be the case when discussion is the sole or main purpose of instruction. As we have mentioned, the standard mode of use is to attempt to create a page that is a product of some kind, however tentative its status and however many more iterations may appear in the future.
When users are able to see the creation of a wiki page as a social process, in the sense that they are able to imagine the intentions of their co-authors, wikis can become a social constructivist tool. Of course when co-authors disagree, they may choose to make a phone call or launch a discussion by email, for example; however, in general it seems to us that a large part of wiki interaction consists of a kind of tacit debate, where the debate is in a sense encapsulated in the version changes of the wiki pages. It further seems to us that this is a very efficient way of working and that it would be wrong to conclude that the lack of meta dialogue is necessarily a deficiency, although it may mean that much wiki work falls outside the scope of strict definitions of collaboration.
While co-authoring a wiki page can be a highly collaborative and ongoing process, each time a page is saved it becomes a product. Although this product has the potential for future development, it is nevertheless very much a product in the eye of the casual visitor, and there is an unseen pressure on the authors to make it a “real” product on each page. Although much depends on the purpose of the wiki and the context surrounding its creation, in general the product aspect can be considered as being foregrounded, and this has a subtle effect on the dynamics of the process and the interaction between users. It is up to teachers to decide whether or not this is a positive thing. In general, we consider it overwhelmingly positive, as it focuses attention on incompletions and imperfections. Note that this does not mean that all problems have to be solved definitively. However, they do have to be acknowledged and defined as far as is practical, and this opens the way for future attempts at completion.
It is with relatively sophisticated users that wikis may come into their own, when teachers encourage the use of thread mode initially, but also encourage a process leading to a product in document mode (Bruns & Humphries, 2005; Morgan, 2004). In other words, at first learners respond to each other’s ideas on the page as if the page were a thread in a discussion forum, but gradually begin to take ideas from other contributors, from various parts of the page, and merge them into a partial summary or reconciliation of different viewpoints. These summaries serve in turn as raw material for others to summarize or exploit in other ways to achieve a higher synthesis. “Wiki goes meta—almost naturally.” (Morgan, 2004)
In this process, even signed comments lose any clear authorship and become material for the co-authored text that emerges. Though this process can be difficult to achieve, it is arguably the highest form of collaboration, and serves to demonstrate advantages of wikis over more fully featured threaded discussion forums.
As mentioned above, wikis are not easy to use to their full potential in many educational settings. A large part of the difficulty is a conceptual and attitudinal one. If students do not wish to work together, it will be difficult to use a wiki effectively (Rick & Guzdial, 2006). There may be resistance to the idea of editing another’s text. The number of cases where a satisfying transformation from thread to document mode takes place may be quite limited, except where students are mature and there is a pre-existing culture of collaboration.
In addition, there a number of difficulties associated with classic wiki engines that may be overcome by enhancements to the software, and we deal with some of these here. We use the term extended wiki to refer to software that is in general functionality and look-andfeel a wiki engine, yet sports enhancements that take it clearly beyond most wiki engines in certain areas. We do not offer a hard-and-fast definition because, as wikis in general evolve, the functionality that qualifies an engine to be classified as an extended wiki is something of a moving target.
Wikis are asynchronous tools in the sense that there is no requirement to be logged in at the same time as other users. This is on the whole a strength, but classic wiki engines can be inconvenient for in-class use because two users may edit the same page at the same time, potentially causing one user’s changes to be lost, depending on the relative timing of the respective users’ saves. Most wiki engines these days implement some measures to alleviate this problem. A key one is a simple mechanism to handle concurrent edits: when one student is editing a page and another attempts to edit the same page, a timer appears on the first student’s screen. She is expected to save her changes on the page before the timer ticks down to zero, after which her work will be saved automatically, she will be locked out, and the second student gets priority.
There are a number of features that can aid in course management. Typically, a teacher will want to keep some pages un-editable by students (for example, syllabus details), and perhaps some un-viewable by students (for example, future quizzes). With a classic wiki, the standard solution would be to keep such material off the wiki, finding some other medium to archive or display it. More modern wiki engines provide functions to make alternative media unnecessary.
The collaborative editability of wikis brings them to the fore, and teachers deploying wikis may wish to reflect on their goals as well as the extent to which they are willing to embrace new technology and work practices.
License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: Digital Storytelling in 60 Seconds by Ellen Cordeiro
Digital stories (stories told via the use of technology) are a natural in any classroom, whether filled with young children or adult learners. The concept is very easy to understand. Students and adults love to tell stories. Stories can be about family, friends, or favorite things; anything that relates personally to the teller can be grounds for a powerful story. Once students have the idea, they can plan a story, create it electronically, and share it with their class or the world. This section on digital storytelling provides implementation tips, educational uses, and examples, while guiding the reader through the steps to creating digital stories with students: drafting a proposal, creating a story outline, and producing a digital story. Since stories find their most natural home with children, we will begin with that audience in mind, and follow on with ideas for adaptations for other groups of learners.
What is Digital Storytelling?
Add the use of technology, and storytelling goes digital! There are many forms of digital storytelling that may combine any of the following elements: text, image, sound, voice, and moving images in a coherent story. It is the interplay of these unique elements that gives this medium its power. However, no amount of digital magic will turn a poor story into a good one.
By examining how to introduce digital storytelling to students in Grades 7 and 8, we can see the differences and similarities between modern multimedia methods and oral traditions of sitting around an open fire passing on valuable family stories from one generation to the next. This section will underscore the connection between the two. Today, we can turn the classroom into an environment where students relate what is important to them using the digital tools that are available. It might be holidays, friends, family, an activity, an idea, sports, or something else they choose. When I work with students, I mention to them that each digital story is unique and that each student brings something special to their own stories. It is gratifying to watch their faces and their eyes light up as they then think about an idea. It is this power, the primal power of storytelling, that makes this useful and appropriate for the classroom.
Digital Storytelling in the Classroom
Digital storytelling can contribute to the development of many of the competencies we want our students to acquire. it is important to realize that digital storytelling for younger students offers an initial jumping off point for these principles, because it is an ideal environment in which students can work in teams and learn to collaborate on decision-making and task accomplishment throughout the planning, production, and post production phases of their digital stories. These interactions are crucial to acquiring knowledge as well as developing multiple learning styles. A further strength of digital storytelling is that it can be used to integrate subject area knowledge in many areas of the curriculum because those who can tell a story understand the subject: their knowledge is not merely a recitation of facts or events, but knit together by an underlying narrative.
Benefits To Learners
There are two kinds of benefits that learners realize when engaging in digital storytelling. The first is the kind that accrues from the use of stories. When younger students realize that their stories are valued, and of interest to their instructor and peers, they experience an increase in self-esteem and confidence. Another perspective on this kind of benefit that may be more salient to older learners is learning that the information they incorporate within their stories is embedded with a framework of their own experiences, which leads to deeper learning and greater retention. The second kind of benefit is technological: students tell their stories while developing a familiarity with computer software and protocol. This serves to anchor this knowledge into a framework that is useful for students and will be for years to come.
Benefits to Instructors
There are multiple benefits to instructors. Stories help instructors learn more about the students, which allows instructors to fine-tune teaching and intervention. In addition, instructors may learn as much as, or more than, the students with regards to the various uses for multimedia. Moreover, because instructors will be able to promote learning through peer relationships, everyone becomes a teacher and a learner simultaneously.
For younger students, the idea behind a digital story is that it should be about something that is important to the student. So asking them to choose a suitable topic should be the first step in a digital story. After students have been introduced (if need be) to the basics of using computers, you should ask them to begin to collect materials, using a digital video camera or a scanner for visual materials, and a recorder and their favorite music for the audio materials.
At this point, it is a good idea to introduce existing digital stories to the students. Obviously, when you first try digital storytelling in the classroom, you will not necessarily have examples to hand, so accessing examples at sites like Seven Elements of Digital Story Telling (http://t3.k12.hi.us/t302-03/tutorials/digstory/elements.htm) and DigiTales—The Art of Telling Digital Stories (http://www.digitales.us/resources/seven_steps.php) can provide starting points. These sites provide a series of steps that you can adapt to your own teaching situation, as well as a wealth of other information about digital storytelling.
After showing examples, I ask students to plan their digital story around a story they want to tell and ask them to write out their script to be combined with the visual and audio materials they have collected. A progress chart to allow students to document their progress is a useful device. It is also useful to give students a concrete idea of how their projects will be evaluated.
An example for using in evaluating a digital storytelling assignment might be as follows:
Create Your Digital Story, to include:
Script, written and shown to Mr. Brear (30 points)
and any 5 of the following:
Voice (10 points)
Digital Imagery (photos) (10 points)
Text (titles) (10 points)
Music (10 points)
Video (10 points)
Sound (10 points)
Animation (includes transitions and effects) (10 points)
Spelling, Originality, Attitude, Cooperation (10 points)
Finished Product (10 points)
Total 100 points. Your Grade ________
Having students write down their ideas on paper in a brainstorming session is an important activity. Yet I also have had success developing brainstorms with a software program called Inspiration (http://www.inspiration.com/). For more information about using concept mapping software in general, and Inspiration in particular, see Inspiration and Concept Mapping (http://members.shaw.ca/dbrear/inspiration.html). At this stage, it is important not to censor student ideas, and it is equally important that the students don’t censor themselves. Remind them that it is much easier to delete things at a later stage, but difficult to create a story if there is insufficient material. Once the students have decided on a topic and gathered some ideas, it’s time to put those ideas into linear form. They do so in a process called storyboarding.
Storyboarding Your Ideas
A storyboard is a visual script of the story and is an important part of the planning process. Creating one provides an organizational tool to make the production process flow more easily. Depending on the elements the students have at their disposal (image, text, soundtrack(s), motion) the storyboard will be more or less complex. In determining the appropriate level of detail, consider whether the final product will be a printed page, a multimedia project on computer, or a video. The output will also determine what your storyboard needs to include. It may include any or all of the following:
- sketches for a page, screen, or scene
- text that will appear on the screen or page
- scripts (for live actors)
- appearance of text (colour, size, font)
- sound effects
- descriptions of movement
- interactive elements (for onscreen buttons)
- notes on props, location
Make sure you have a storyboard for each page, scene, or screen of your project. Number yourscenes and pages.
Writing Your Script
A script is simply the words used to accompany the digital images of the story, and creating it at this point will help students plan the development process. Students should have an idea of who the audience for their stories will be, as well as some idea of the dramatic question, a notion from dramatic theory. Some examples drawn from A Dramatic Question (http://www.storycenter.org/memvoice/pages/tutorial_1b.html) include “Does the guy get the girl?” or “Does the hero win?” When the question is answered, the story is over. A blank template for a simple script can be found at Script Template for Digital Story: Grade 8 Explorations (http://members.shaw.ca/dbrear/dsvvscript_template.pdf).
At all points, encourage students to test their stories as they develop them, sharing ideas and products with their peers. Also encourage them to be open to suggestions for improvement from everyone, because the process of giving and accepting feedback is as important as the final product.
If this discussion has whetted your appetite for digital storytelling, then it is time to take stock. It is obviously not possible to review all of the possible configurations of computers, so making a list of your hardware and software is the first step in determining what is possible.
Another useful tool is a scanner to scan photos of family, friends, and scenes for use in the digital story. Powerful and evocative projects can be created with a simple combination of individual still photos, background music, and voice overs, as was demonstrated by Ken Burns’ Civil War series. In a pinch, a digital still camera or a video camera can serve as a scanner. Digital music can be used, but even if you don’t have the equipment to access and transfer digital recordings, a microphone can record music or voice overs.
Digital Storytelling for Older Learners
We find that younger learners often have fewer inhibitions about creating digital stories, while older learners may encounter affective barriers in creating digital stories, thinking them childish. There are several reasons for this. Older learners already have an identity in which they have invested. Older learners are more cognizant of the separation between one’s private life and what one shares within the classroom. Finally, the general pattern of modern institutionalized education has been to discount more creative, individual ways of learning in favour of mass education. None of these barriers is insurmountable, and there are a number of tactics for getting older learners over the hurdles, but only if you are willing to reexamine your role within the classroom. Furthermore, many of the points discussed previously can be recast for use with older students, often through the use of a Socratic dialogue to get students to develop these notions independently.
- The Play is a long a staple of literature classes, the class play can easily be updated to be a digital effort. Have students understand that by creating a digital version of the play, or even a part of the play, they will better understand the underlying narrative. Even these shorter versions can contain the power to impress and awe.
- The Digital Recitation – Imagine asking a class of students to recite a poem that was assigned by you. Now imagine that you ask each student to create a digital version of the recitation by simply creating a PowerPoint presentation of images that they move through as they recite the poem. allows them to record their recitation in sync with the PowerPoint presentation. This enables a radical change in workflow, allowing you to screen student assignments before class, choosing the best three, for example, and have students discuss which of these is the best. This concentration of effort and attention provides a focal point for both teachers and students.
- The Story Behind the Story – Digital stories are not simply for language arts. For students studying science, a digital story describing how a discovery or invention came about allows students to not only gain a better understanding of the process, but allows them to restore human elements to technical subject matter.
- Digital Stories as Timelines – A digital story represents a narrative that must necessarily be told over a stretch of time, and as such it represents a wonderful opportunity for students to present actual historical timelines as narratives that they construct, illustrated with appropriate images.
- Digital Stories as Group Projects – We can often depend on younger learners to develop their own stories individually; with older learners, permitting them to produce their story as a group project allows them to draw on their collective resources and promotes class cohesiveness, while increasing opportunities for peer-to-peer learning to take place. A fortunate byproduct of this is that it reduces the evaluation burden on the classroom teacher. Rather than a load of 32 individual projects to review and grade, groups of four reduce that to a manageable eight projects.
- Digital Stories as an Upward Spiral – Conducting digital story productions over a longer period of time with consecutive classes permits teachers to select the best work from previous classes and present them as exemplars for subsequent classes. In this way, the bar is constantly raised, challenging students to match and surpass the productions of the previous year’s students.
- Blog or “Weblogs, typically, are personal Web sites operated by individuals who compile chronological lists of links to stuff that interests them, interspersed with information, editorializing and personal asides. A good weblog is updated often, in a kind of real-time improvisation, with pointers to interesting events, pages, stories and happenings elsewhere on the Web. New stuff piles on top of the page; older stuff sinks to the bottom.” (Rosenberg, 1999, para. 6).
- Wikis are collaboratively editable websites that can be used for various purposes. They are particularly well suited to taking students who are already competent bloggers to the next level.
- Wikipedia is now the best-known wiki in existence.
- Digital Stories are stories told via the use of technology.
- A Script is simply the words used to accompany the digital images of the story, and creating it at this point will help students plan the development process.
- Blogs are very flexible and can be adapted to a wide range of contexts and users.
- An essential step in creating a successful blog is that the blog must reflect a personal identity of the blogger.
- A recommended goal is to have students expand the horizons of their blogs. There are two ways to do this. The first is through comments, which students usually pick up with no, or very little, guidance. The second is through linking, which can be to external pages, bringing in new material.
- Know the dangers associated with the use of blogs in the classroom and situations that may arise. Keep student privacy as your number one priority and make sure your students understand and are given clear guidelines regarding such an assignment.
- Three scenarios for using blogs and wikis in education: 1) Providing an added dimension to the physical classroom, 2) Housing the majority of the material and provide a focal point for occasional face-to-face classes, and, 3) Allowing teaching and learning to take place in a totally online environment.
- How Wikis can be utlized in a classroom setting and how they imply student engagement.
- The differences between digital storytelling in a K-12 setting vs older learners.
- The benefits to learners and those for the instructor when utilizing digital storytelling in a classroom.
- You are an instructional designer working with the College of Education as they prepare pre-service teachers to instruct in the K-12 setting. A faculty member teaching a “technology in the classroom” course has contacted you requesting that you assist her in designing a tutorial on integrating tools for engagement in the K-12 classroom. Describe the tutorial, how would you approach this task and what engagement tools would you include in your tutorial? Are the tools you would recommend different from those mentioned in this section? If so, please explain.
OER Derivative Licenses and Attributions
CC LICENSED CONTENT, ORIGINAL
Experiential Learning in Instructional Design and Technology, Chapter 6.3 Tools for Engagement in Online Courses. Provided by: the authors under an Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.
This chapter also contains an adaptation of Education for a Digital World: Advice, Guidelines and Effective Practice from Around the Globe by BCcampus and the Commonwealth of Learning, and is used under a CC-BY-SA 3.0 International license.
CC LICENSED CONTENT INCLUDED
License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: What is a Blog? by Edublogs
License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: On wikis, avoiding boredom, and not lecturing by Memorial University of Newfoundland
License: Creative Commons Attribution license (reuse allowed) Attribution: Digital Storytelling in 60 Seconds by Ellen Cordeiro