Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Any art/graphic design teachers out there?

OK, I admit it  - I was looking at shoes on the web, which I almost never do.  Really.  I swear... I mean, not that much, it's not like I need an intervention or anything, not yet....  Anyway, I was looking at shoes for like, one second, and I clicked my way to Polyvore, where users can put together "sets" of clothes, shoes, and accessories from all over the web.  Remember playing with paper dolls? What, you haven't? Never mind.  Go straight to Polyvore and discover what kept Victorian children busy for hours and hours.  Only this is web-based, scissors-free, interactive, and probably not too messy, provided you submerge your credit card in a bowl of water and put that into the freezer about an hour beforehand.

Oh, yes, the instructional part, yes, I was just getting to that - well, students can analyze sets or create sets themselves to learn color theory, design principles, texture - all kinds of aesthetic lessons are possible.  (What? Oh, those gray suede pumps are very distracting - sorry.) Not to mention graphic design principles like composition, font choice and so on.  Users hail from all over the world, so maybe a geography lesson there, or economics, or political science (globalization, anyone?) Here's another example, from a user in the USA:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Edupunks, Latin American Literature, and a Wikipedia Confession

In a month of Instructional Technology excitement here's something that got me pretty excited: Wikipedia's WikiProject_Murder_Madness_and_Mayhem. I was googling "edupunks" and came across this article about a University of British Columbia class in which the student's "products" were high-quality Wikipedia articles on Latin American literature. Now, this is probably old news - the class took place in spring of 2008 - but it addresses a moral-pedagogical issue I've been wrestling with over the last few years: Where do I get off forbidding my students to use Wikipedia in their research papers when I (and at least a few brave colleagues who've admitted it to me) use it all the time and even contribute to it? Now, before you throw my job application into the trash can, look deep into your soul, admit you *love* Wikipedia, and keep reading.

Wikipedia is a great way to orient yourself to a new topic quickly, or to refresh your memory, even though some of what's written on it is crap. In fact, for teaching, the fact that some of what's written on it is crap and some of it is excellent is precisely what makes Wikipedia so valuable: it's a way to introduce students to concepts of scholarship, peer-review, and why citations matter, and to open a discussion on all that good stuff that's part of a proper education. Plus, forbidding students to cite it in research papers is pointless, because everyone always looks at it anyway.

So at a certain point, I found myself singing "How do you keep a wave upon the sand?" so often that I made a virtue of necessity and tried to turn my students' reliance on Wikipedia to pedagogical advantage. That's why for the past few years, as part of the orientation to a research paper assignment, I've given a little lecture on how Wikipedia works (there are still lots of people who don't realize anyone can edit the articles). I show students the Wikipedia page where, every year, I add the race dates for the Atlantic City Race Course (a public service I've taken it upon myself to provide), and I explain the right way to use Wikipedia, as well as its pitfalls for serious research. I tell my students to go ahead and use Wikipedia to see what is basically the received wisdom on their topic, but that they *must* confirm anything they find using trusted sources. I tell them that they can sign up and write Wikipedia articles, and that if they know a lot about something, they ought to. This leads to a discussion of peer review and the entire framework of serious scholarship. Just to underscore the point, I even require my college students to provide, along with their research paper draft, a printout of the relevant Wikipedia page. (This also prevents about 90% of the most inept plagiarism I used to encounter.)

But the Murder, Mayhem and Madness- Latin American literature class project takes it way, way, beyond that: the students actually produced and published the scholarship themselves. The idea was that, instead of research papers, the class would improve Wikipedia articles on their subject. As they put it, "Our collective goals were to bring a selection of [Wikipedia] articles on Latin American literature to featured article status (or as near as possible)." (In case you don't know about "good" and "featured article" status, one of Wikipedia's responses to early criticisms of the quality of articles was to devise these categories, a form of peer review that awards a special status to articles that Wikipedia's editors - or knowledgeable reviewers - determine meet certain quality criteria.) And the students did it: "By project's end, we had contributed three featured articles and eight good articles. None of these articles was a good article at the outset; two did not even exist."
I'm faint thinking about the possibilities - instead of pecking out a research paper so meaningless that even its author doesn't bother to pick it up at the end of the semester (just the grade, ma'am), students in this class published their work and entered the stream of living scholarship that stretches back to at least the middle ages. Their work is out there now, part of the mix, to be argued over, cited, refuted, praised, corrected. They've engaged. And the thing is, this kind of meaningful contribution - this producing rather than just receiving - would not have been possible for humanities undergraduates without the collaborative, Web 2.0 technology Wikipedia exemplifies. So yeh, I'm pretty excited.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


We had our second class tonight.  Have to catch up on most of it via Wimba but I'm entranced with what we did.  I especially like Poll Everywhere, which, in a nutshell, is like a clicker system to get answers to a question from multiple people (polling) only there are no clickers - you just create a poll on the web and have your respondents text their answers to a unique number that polleverywhere generates.  The responses appear on the web in real time.  Classmates explained that you can do this with a large audience -  have the audience answer, and project the results on to a screen in realtime and let them watch it change.  Awesome! How much would parents like that on parents' night?

I also had a look at Wordle and Tagxedo, two sites that create clouds of words with text you provide.  Mostly people talked about using it for the younger grades, but I wonder if I could get my high school history students to dump their notes into it to generate vocabulary terms or an unusual study guide.  Wait, how about a project - dump notes into Tagxedo and use its shape function to form them into a history-related shape (like a flintlock rifle or a covered wagon or a guillotine.  OK, maybe not a guillotine).  Maybe make a Ben-Franklin-shaped word cloud out of text from Poor Richard's Almanac.  Hmmm.  Have to think about this.  Can we get it on the school's lab computers, or will it crash and burn having to download silverline or whatever that was that delayed us tonight?  Test in lab first, I think.

OK, here's my Poor Richard's Almanac word cloud, above.  I chose a snake because I haven't figured out how to make it look like Ben Franklin yet.  This reminds me of the flag Ben published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, "Join or Die"(1754)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Avaunt! It's the Chalkboard Pirate!

Welcome aboard my pirate blog, in which I'll sail the high-tech seas in search of booty to bring back to my classroom.  As a guide I'll have Amy Ackerman and my shipmates in the Instructional Technology course.  I'm hoping to supercharge my teaching, transform it through technology, conquer the techno-seas, or at least stop being quite so boring. 

We cast off last Tuesday learning WIMBA live classroom and creating our own avatar using Voki.  Next order of business is this blog, a profile, and a contract.
I'm also mulling over ways IT can help me maximize classroom time by allowing me to shift some face-time tasks like checking homework and providing notes onto the web.