By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries from May 2011
Posts 1 - 4 of 4

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Do students need to learn about collaborative work?

Wikipedia does not identify team members, assign responsibilities and so on. Instead, goals or needs are identified by whoever happens to identify them. Individuals who can satisfy the needs do so. Individuals assign their own responsibilities, determine what’s missing and decide what needs to be improved.

The same sort of networked, non-hierarchical organization is often used in software development. Called “open-source software development,” this type of software development is done by volunteers, needs are identified by those who notice them and solutions are constructed by volunteers who decide to take on the tasks. Some of the most widely used software in the world was developed and is maintained through the open-source model. The open-source model is also being applied in other domains such as biotechnology, security, political campaigns, website directory making and textbook writing. In other words, non-hierarchical voluntary collaborative organization is becoming commonplace now that it is possible through collaborative online technologies. Today’s students will increasingly find themselves working on collaborative projects in the future, so they are well served to develop the skills.

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Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning


Thursday, May 5, 2011

How classroom wiki projects may change your course

Creating a wiki as classroom activity may change the nature of the course. It is no longer the case that all the information flows from the teacher to the students. Rather, the students teach one another. It is peer-to-peer learning. In addition, the students discover knowledge through the exercise and, of course, under the guidance of the teacher. The teacher may become more of a manager of collaborative knowledge acquisition rather than the source of all classroom knowledge.

Diverse groups are best for most types of learning.  Students guide each other, which is the main benefit of collaborative learning.  Information flow among students is a student-centered approach to learning which de-emphasizes teachers presenting information and tends to increase learning.

Collaborative learning increases "interdependence".  Students soon recognize that the group succeeds or fails as a unit which causes group members to help others and to feel a responsibility to other group members. This feeling often results in better effort and performance by group members.

It also teaches that the content of the course, any course, is not fixed. It is open-ended. It demonstrates the methods and necessity of lifelong learning. And one of the responsibilities of the teacher is to emphasize the relative importance of different elements of the learning.

Another lesson that can be taught with wikis is the processes for working in collaborative teams. In hierarchical teams students can be given the responsibility for the familiar steps of collaborative work:

  • Identify team members
  • Define project scope
  • Assign individual and shared responsibilities
  • Work together to refine the final product.

Posted at 12:00 AM (permalink) 5 Comments View/Leave Comment Share this post with email Share this post on Facebook Share this post on Twitter Share this post on LinkedIn
Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The disgrace of education funding in Texas

Yet it ranks very near the bottom in per student spending on K12 education: around #44 to #48 (depending on the year) out of 50!

But maybe we can't afford it? Texas ranks a little above average in the U.S. in per capita income. It changes a bit from year to year, but it's around #21 out of 50.

But then, we understand that spending does not necessarily equate to quality. What shall we use for a measure of the quality of Texas education? Test scores or SAT scores are problematic because different states use different tests. But we know we want our students to graduate. Texas ranks around #41 in graduation rates.

As it that weren't bad enough, education funds in Texas are on track to be significantly cut.


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Keywords: funding


Monday, May 2, 2011

Providing guidance on classroom wiki projects

Just as Wikipedia started from a small number of articles and has branched into millions, collaborative work on one article may result in students branching off related articles (if the teacher’s guidance allows that).

A project like a wiki must come with some guidance from the teacher as to what is expected. Even Wikipedia comes with guidance: the policies and guidelines for creating Wikipedia entries. Familiarizing your students with the rules of wiki use is particularly important for first exposure. Students may not be accustomed to the give and take that collaborative work implies. You can prepare them to expect their work to be challenged and to challenge that of others in a civil, thoughtful and respectful way. Some example policies from Wikipedia follow.

  • Take a neutral point of view
  • Be civil to others and assume good faith
  • Seek consensus in discussions
  • Work toward the goal of a better-written and more comprehensive encyclopedia

When a wiki is to be used as a group project, set up the environment for success. Start with groups with diverse skill sets and diverse attitudes. They will complement and teach one another. And then tell the group what it needs to do, step by step. The guidance may be the sequence of questions for the group to consider when analyzing a text. Or the guidance may be how to comment on the creative writing of other students. Or it may be the pieces required in building a business plan. But the point is that the wiki isn’t doing the teaching. It’s only enabling a certain type of learning (collaborative learning) but the teacher must still guide the students in how the learning is to be done.

Another advantage of using wikis for classroom work is, if given the password, parents can also follow along and see what their child and his classmates are doing. Putting classroom work online, with proper protections of course, opens new opportunities for parent awareness and involvement.

Posted at 12:00 AM (permalink) 2 Comments View/Leave Comment Share this post with email Share this post on Facebook Share this post on Twitter Share this post on LinkedIn
Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning

  Posts 1 - 4 of 4