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Using wiki with students as a notebook for ICT learning

Executive summary

In this report I will explain what is a wiki and how I use it in my ICT course with my students as a participative notebook. I will point out the different outcomes and drawbacks I have noticed after two years of practice. Finally I will provide some recommendations for using wikis with students and give some further readings.

Background

Although the web service Wikipedia is well known by most Internet users, the concept behind wiki remain obscure for most of them. A wiki is a piece of software usually accessible on the web in which users can create, edit and improve text as in a word processor.
Text authors embed links, multi-media such as images, sound or video. Wikis are called social tool because they let other users to interact with published media and edit in the same time or at different time. Documents can then be created within a group of users. Authors or wiki managers can attribute roles to each actor and limit the right to edit or create to certain or all readers/users.
An history is preserved and shows all the editing together with the name of those who made them. From this, it is always possible to rollback and return to a previous version of the wiki documents or to decide to purge the history and then freeze the document in its latest stage.

Current practice

With my first year Gymnasium students (secondary school, students in age 16-17) I give an IT course. This course is given half class (about 16 students) every two weeks. One of the most problems is students’ memorisation of taught concepts between two session. Sometimes, taking account of the holiday and imponderables more than one month can separate two lessons.
Until 2007, I requested students to take notes of what we studied during a lesson. Especially when working on Excel with some complex formula or concepts. More than
once, notes were lost and not taken by students and then assessment always shows poor results.
Since 2008, after each didactic sequence, students are asked to write a small report on a wiki for memory. They also have to write step-by-step instructions to show they have understood how to proceed with tasks and to remember the process in the future. These notes are shared among the groups and each member can come on one other’s wiki and edit it if he finds that corrections have to be done.
The result of this is already a better rate of pass at the final assessment. I have observed that students go by themselves to find information in their wiki’s notes whenever they need to recall some procedure in Excel or in Word. They are more critics on the notes they take and on the notes others have taken.
In the future I would like to observe whether the reflexive task requested after each learning sequences gives students more confidence or doesn’t change long term retention.

Recommendation

To extend or adapt use of wikis in teaching, we must be aware that a wiki is not a tool our students have already use. A phase of learning a about the tools is essential, and exercises using wikipedia, for example, could be positive.
Installation of wiki is relatively complicated. But a simple wiki with basic functions is available in Moodle as activity. This activity module supports groups and grouping to crate group, private, or class wikis.
Without tasks that demand collaboration a wiki is useless. And wikis are to develop interactive and dynamic, multimedia, hyperlinked documents. For any other use of text processing, wikis have to be replaced by fora or blogs which are more common to practitioners.

Issues

The main issue is in the nature of wikis which is not very well understood by users. Wiki is a tools belonging to the Web 2.0 family. It encompasses collaborative, multimedia and hypertext facilities. It resembles to a word processor but has to be use differently.
Page layout editing is most of the time less straightforward than in a word processor, in a blog or in a forum. Editing wikis has some limitations that are minors if other functionalities (group, link, multimedia) are used. .

Further reading

Duffy, Peter D. and Bruns, Axel (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities. In: Online Learning and Teaching Conference 2006, 26 Sep. 2006, Brisbane. Available from http://eprints.qut.edu.au/5398/1/5398.pdf (accessed on 11 January (2010)
Educause (2005), 7 things you should know about… wikis, Educause, Available online http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7004.pdf (accessed on 10 January 20010)
Mader (2006), Using Wiki in Education, Steward Mader ed.
Richardson, W. (2009) Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for
Classrooms Corwin Press; Wikipedia (2010), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki (accessed 11 January 2010)

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Reading notes on ‘Reflection in higher education learning’

October 29, 2009 7 comments

In his paper, Moon (2001) draws a picture of the conception of reflection in higher education as a tool to a better learning. The main points are also summarised in another article written four years later (Moon, 2005).

Moon begins by searching for a definition of the concept of reflection, suggesting that it is a form of mental processing to achieve some anticipated outcomes, and is applied to relatively complicated or unstructured ideas for which there is no obvious solution. Moon believes that emotions are also part of the process of reflection and may influence the way it is carried on. For Moon the process of reflection can occur only on something when you already have some knowledge about it, therefore reflection from scratch has no sense. I find this point interesting regarding what I notice in my course or in the courses I mentor as referee, when students are asked to think and reflect about a case study at the early beginning of learning about a subject where they have only a few ideas about it. What can we really expect from such a demand?

The article then explores different authors’ approaches to reflection, encompassing Jurgen Habemas, David Kolb, Donald Shon. From this quick browsing I was struck by the description of Kolb’s cycle which was visualised as a spiral later by Cowan (1998)

Moon1

Adapted from Kolb (1984) and Cowan (1998)

The important point I keep from this schematic vision is the principle of ‘cognitive housekeeping’ given to the reflection process explained by Moon which permits integration of old and new raw cognitive material into a new form of knowledge. We can then consider actual knowledge as a big jigsaw puzzle image where each piece has its importance but reveals a higher level of understanding by putting it all together in an way that makes sense.

From his summary of Habermas (1971) I note the three kinds of knowledge he described:

  1. instrumental knowledge – how we understand and control our human environment;
  2. knowledge as the interpretation of human action and behaviour – to better understand the society in which we are living and behaving;
  3. knowledge as a way of acting on the two first forms of knowledge (reflexive knowledge?) – which transforms personal, social and other situations and gives the bases ‘on which we make judgements’.

The most interesting point about Schon (1983) is the separation of reflection into a dichotomy, reflection-on-action and reflection-in-action. If I can clearly see how we can reflect on and what we have done as a process ex-post, I agree with Moon that reflecting during the action helped my thought process.

Mo0n concludes this theoretical presentation claiming that none of the previous authors study the importance of emotion in the the reflection action and he raises the question of whether emotional content is always present in reflection and if so, how it influences its result. He concludes that this important point for him is not answered in the literature so far.

For Moon, we can only see the result of learning but it is difficult to perceive the process. Nevertheless, Moon suggests that learning passes through different stages: Noticing and Making sense which belong to a surface learning approach (Marton (1997)) and Making meaning, Working with meaning and finally Transformative learning which all belong to the deep approach of learning.

Moon and assessment of students reflective work

I agree with Moon that ‘assessment tends to drive student learning’ and that we can force them to follow a deep approach of learning if they see in this a way of succeeding in the learning task. For this to be true, we, practitioners, must believe in the method we use and show the way to students instead of asking them to adhere to our proposition of methodology. For reflection as a learning tool, practitioners must believe in its potential outcomes to foster such behaviour. Moon suggests that positive outcomes of reflexive work are apparent during the period of revision before examination.

As long as reflection is an ‘encouragement for learners to follow their own thinking, to work without a curriculum’, Moon is not in favour of a formal assessment of this material. But on the other hand, he claims as I already pointed out in a previous post, with Crème that whenever we see value in students’ work it has to be assessed.

Moons then suggests that assessment must follow very clear, and maybe new, criteria enabling fair marking. He also suggest that such artefacts could be marked as ‘adequate and passed’ or ‘not yet adequate and not yet passed’, privileging qualitative rather than quantitative marking. I note that Moon’s marking suggestion gives students a chance to improve even after a final marking. I personally agree with this approach which fosters lifelong learning and the fact that learning from a course continues long after the course’s end.

Positive outcomes of reflection in learning

  • Reflection slows down activities
  • Reflection enables learners to develop greater ‘ownership’ of the material of learning and enhances the student’s ‘voice’
  • Foster ‘metacognition’
  • Challenging learners with ill-structured material of learning improves students’ cognitive ability

Comparing these claims with H808, I agree that reflection slows down the process of learning, fostering a deeper approach and a time left to analyse and incorporate new information to create a bigger picture. This is maybe why the course syllabus is short in H808 but the tasks themselves take a long time to be processed by students. I personally already complained in another post about my feeling of a lack of structure in this course, but in the light of Moon’s claims, this is maybe not a lack but a pedagogical way to push students to find their own way toward professionalism and improvement of our  cognitive ability.

Reflexive tools

Comparing Moon’s suggestions of tools to reflect on, most are offered for engagement during H808: learning journal, portfolio, reflection on work experience, reflective exercises. The following proposed tools are, not yet, part of H808: reflection on work-based training, reflection on placement learning, peer and self assessment.

Issues relating to the introduction of reflective activity

Moon points out different issues as follows:

  • students’ ability to reflect is sometimes weak – ‘not all students find reflection easy’;
  • some staff will not understand reflection either
  • cultural issues – ‘some languages do not have a word for reflection’
  • disciplinary issue – ‘the discourse of some subjects are, by nature, more likely to require reflective activity’

References:

Cowan, J. (1998) ‘On Becoming an Innovative University Teacher’, SRHE / OUP, Buckingham.

Habermas, J. (1971) ‘Knowledge and Human Interests’, Heineman, London.

Kolb, D. (1994) ‘Experiential Learning as the Science of Learning and Development’, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

Marton, F., Hounsell, D., Entwistel (1997) ‘The Experience of Learning’, SCottish Academic Press, Edinburgh.

Moon, J. (2001) ‘PDP working paper 4: reflection in higher education learning’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id72_Reflection_in_Higher_Education_Learning.rtf (accessed 29 June 2007).

Moon, J. (2005) ‘Guide for busy academics no. 4: learning through reflection’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/York/documents/resources/resourcedatabase/id69_guide_for_busy_academics_no4.doc (accessed 2 July 2008).

Schon, D. (1983) ‘The Reflexive Practitioner’, Jossey-Bass, San-Francisco.

H808 Core Activity 2-3: Case studies

After the reading of the different suggested documents, I have chosen to focus on the second case study from the Becta’s Impact study of e-portfolios on learning (2007), called Early e-portfolio activity across a local authority – West Berkshire Council.

West Berkshire Council is a local authority where a diverse range of learners (teachers and students) are encouraged to collaborate and cross many types of boundaries.

What were the anticipated outcomes of using an e-portfolio?

Some teachers believed that using e-portfolios will help students to identify their needs and express themselves however they want. Other outcomes were also targets such as being able to follow students across the board from primary all the way through. From the beginning it was clear that the institution wanted e-portfolios to encompass every bit of the students’ learning.

What were the limitations to its implementation?

Because Schools in West Berkshire do not have policies regarding e-portfolios, each has taken different approaches to implementation. This has certainly limited the adoption rate by the lack of good practice, moreover, the project started with the children only, and in certain cases only with gifted students, without teachers showing the path. The result was that at the time of the survey, no school has achieved complete implementation of e-portfolio use.

The tool was primarily used as a show case e-portfolio allowing parents to watch the work of their children; for communication and feedback between students, teachers and experts.

A strong policy fostering standardisation and extensive use of e-portfolios would maybe have helped the development and a quicker adoption rate through the different schools. The lack of harmonisation will certainly create problems of interoperability and data exchange between the different schools.

According to the survey it seems that the curriculum has not been adapted to e-portfolio use and support which would have created a better engagement with e-portfolios from the students (some surveyed students claim they don’t know what an e-portfolio is, even after having used the tool).

How is the e-portfolio supposed to help the user to identify and manage their learning?

Teachers report they have changed their practice through using ICT resources, which doesn’t imply they have changed their practice against e-portfolio and student-centred pedagogy. One school’s Head teacher claims that now ‘people see the reason behind things, they are introduced reflectively. We are good at reflecting and evaluating, creating a learning culture’.

In this case, there are not many contributions from students and comments are generally made by adults. They believe that such a tool permits students to ‘access [the learning platform] at any time and […] work on things in the way they want to , rather than just what the teacher is telling them to do’.

Surveys in that case study suggest that teachers were confident enough with the ICT facilities and had allowed students to take a lead in learning.

In primary classes, pupils’ parents have the possibility to connect on the system together with their children and be involved in their apprenticeship. This symbiotic relation of school-pupil-parent seems to be a good thing according to all the stakeholders.

H808 Core Activity 2-2: Reflection

This activity was twofold: finding information about the ‘drivers’ behind use and development of e-portfolios in UK, Europe and other countries; working in groups to divide the workload and complete together the table proposed as template in the course’s wiki.

Being behind for technical reasons (lack of Internet connection since the beginning of the course after my return to Switzerland) I am trying to catch up but also I am working on the different activities after the other students, who are further ahead and have deserted the place.

After an attentive reading of the different forum posts and a comparison of the already completed jobs in the wiki with the content of all the bibliographies I read, I decided to complete the table with other countries not covered by my peers.

From experience and from having participated in different conferences (e.g. MoodleMoot, Mahara) I know that Austria already has a strong implementation of e-portfolios in education. I then began to search for information about the ‘drivers’ that underpin the adoption of such a tool and methodology. I also wanted to compare this development in Austria with other Germanic and culturally related countries (i.e Germany and Switzerland).

Where Google and Bing were very useful for finding information about Austria, search engines were not useful for gathering information about countries, such as Switzerland and Germany, which lag behind with e-porfolio adoption.

First observation: it is easy to find information whenever the subject has been highly developed and is fully published on by many authors, but finding details on the lack of something with Google is more difficult. The quality and pertinence of the search string is then more important. The subject has then to be approached laterally and not frontally: it is not productive to search with, for example, ‘e-portfolio drivers switzerland’ but instead it is better to find other related keywords that may find relevant side articles about different pedagogy experiences, linking, perhaps, to  e-portfolio use.

Second observation: where the lamba user will just stop after having searched (and found little information for Switzerland and Germany) the e-learning professional can provide more by using their alternative sources of information: their social network on Twitter, LinkedIn, Plaxo; their personal contacts encompassing other experts; forums and specialised web sites where he/she knows specific information can be found.

After having contacted two people in Germany and Switzerland, whom I consider as experts on e-porfolios, and having browsed on different academic and institutional web sites from my Delicious bookmarking system, I had sufficient information to complete the wiki with relevant information about Switzerland and Germany.

This shows the importance, for an e-learning professional, to not only develop their skills and knowledge but also to cultivate their networks and relations with peers and other specialist, locally and globally, and to manage all such gathered information in an efficient system for finding, managing, and sharing information quickly, such as Diigo or Delicious.

Week 1

This are my first feelings about H808 after one hectic week. I spent time reading all the material and printing everything to create my working files. Lot of documentation, articles to read and web sites to visit. The information seems less well presented than in H800, which I prefer for the more clear course presentation I had in MAODE.

This time I was on schedule despite all the work I had to tackle with the return to school and associated problems, such as lesson preparation, irritated colleagues discovering that some part of the VLE/IT system was not working.

The more I work the less I am feeling concerned by end user problems and I try not to take it upon myself to solve all THEIR problems.  Instead, I stay focussed on the wider agenda and the global issues. Most of the time, PICNIC is true: Problem In Chair, Not In Computer.

After having studied in H807 – Innovations in e-learning and H800 – Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates I have the feeling of returning to school in H808 – The elearning professional.

  • whereas material there was highly structured with course-lecture-task and clear outcomes, H808 seems to be the contrary;
  • whereas all the units were available in other courses, only a small part of H808 is actually visible;
  • whereas people were cool and friendly, here in H808 they seem stressed and full of doubts.

I don’t have as much time as I wish these two for coming weeks. My ECA for H800 has to be done and will take me most of my free time. Then it will be the time to draw up a small balance of what and how things are going for me in this course.

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