A month ago, my school made the local paper for its work on WikiEducator: Taking knowledge around the globe.
Learning systems architect, Peter Rawsthorne, and I have now run three, three-hour online WikiEducator sessions with me in the room with them and peter working online, often from a cafe. We had a lot of fun together while working through the business of making wiki pages and pondering some far-ranging discussions about ownership of content and Creative Commons licensing. In January, we’ll start building content for WikiEducator.
Along the way, we’ve gathered some data about how 13- and 14-year olds interact with technology and about what they think of socially constructed knowledge.
Our immediate observations:
- the students are quick to get any new technology to work and they are old hands at IM; but using IM for something other than idle chat was a novel idea for them.
- the students focus on the last one or two things said in an online conversation so the threads easily unravel
- the students can’t resist being funny in IM, especially in group chats, although they do settle down: by the third session, they were focused and kibbitzing no more than you’d find in a good round table meeting
- that said, the students generally gave more good quality comments than they usually do in the classroom (this, however, may be because they were working in a small group)
- the level of participation by each student parallelled their level of participation in class: some were prolific, some hardly typed a word
- the students were impatient when instructions for the mechanical tasks they handle so easily, such as set up their profiles in WikiEducator, come via IM; it would have been faster to have the instructor in the room
- making students work through complex ideas and instructions without a teacher over their shoulder had them working to help each other: once one student figured out how to upload a picture to a wiki page, he or she was happy to spread the wisdom
- the students liked the idea that the conversation was recorded and that they could review it later at their leisure
- the students are excited by the project and by the prospect of working with international students
- they are really excited and motivated by the idea of collaborative constructing knowledge
Our lessons learned:
- the students see IM as a toy, not a tool
- they need to work more using IM so they begin to see it as a useful tool
- so, teachers need to work more with IM
- all this points to the need to develop the art of online conversation, or online critical discourse, which flows differently than face to face or phone conversations
- IM in even modest-sized groups seems to be good for brainstorming ideas, not least of all because the students have a searchable transcript of their conversation to mine for ideas long after the discussion is over
- completing mechanical tasks using IM is frustrating because the students work faster than an instructor can type; it helps to have a reference page with detailed instructions/video explaining what to do
- big screens are good as you need to keep a chat window open while working on whatever project is at hand; otherwise you’re flipping back and forth between windows too much