Breaking down classroom walls

Getting your students to write blogs is becoming increasingly popular, and the most eloquent exponent of the form is undoubtedly Konrad Glogowski. I recently challenged Konrad to lay out his ‘utopian vision’ student blogging. Here’s part of his reply:

I know that blogging is about conversations and building networks. So far, my students have been building networks within our class community and with some amazing results. It’s time to extend those network-building efforts to include the world outside of their immediate environment.

What benefit would my students get from the comments? I look at it as breaking down the classroom walls. That’s what I want to do next. I want the students to build knowledge by building networks, and I also want them to be able to take those networks with them once they leave my classroom.

I want my student to keep blogging about child soldiers and communicating with experts in this field even after she leaves my class in June so that next time one of my students says “I’m interested in child soldiers,” I can say: “Take a look at this blog. She was in my class a couple of years ago. Send her an e-mail. Subscribe to her blog. You’ll learn a lot.”

Note “communicating with experts in this field”. In classroom blogging, usually only other students from the class are permitted to comment. Konrad wants to extend that, but most schools would see it as inappropriate to allow open commenting on a student blog.

It occurs to me, though, that the ‘share my class with another teacher’ feature in Yacapaca would be perfect for this. It’s a very simple way to permit another adult whom you trust to communicate with your students.

At the moment, Yacapaca doesn’t offer blogs. But it does offer eportfolios, and the two are kissing cousins. The only differences really are that blogs are organised by date, and they traditionally permit permit peer-commenting. In fact, that’s coming for Yacapaca eportfolios anyway.

It’s quite an exciting thought that, with a little interface tweaking, Yacapaca could become the blogging platform of choice for Utopian educators.

Easy-peasy screencasts

Screencast

Sandra Lothian from the New South Wales YMCA asked a question (login req) in the Yacapaca forum yesterday:

Once you have created a quiz, short-text assessment or eportfolio. Where do you go to preview what it will look like?

 

A great chance to try out Jing, a ‘casual screencasting’ tool I’ve just started using. Here’s how it works. Once installed, Jing leaves a little menu permanently on your screen. At any time you can define an area of the screen and start recording it. When done, click the ‘share’ button and the video uploads itself to a server and send back a url that you can use as a link. In the case of the video I did for Sandra it’s http://www.screencast.com/t/W_KliBfnvW

Until now, screencasts have been quite complicated to make. You had to master a powerful program like Captivate (PC only – yuk!), organise hosting, get an FTP program to upload files, etc, etc. For the screencast-based Yacapaca Training Disk, I hired the extremely competent Mike Highfield to do it all for us, and got a great result. But that took money and time as you will know if you were one of the people we kept waiting for the new disk.

 

For on-the-fly class teaching Jing is a brilliant tool. Jing itself is free, but the screencast hoting service that makes it so compelling cost £3.50/month after the first two months. If you use it regularly (and I think I shall), that’s astonishingly good value.

Meanwhile – did my screencast do its job? Well, Sandra is blogging her experience of Yacapaca, so why not go and ask her!

Wikipedia, Yacapaca and professional publishing

image from WikipediaPublishing a book the traditional way is a team effort. The Chalkface system involves an author, an editor, an illustrator, a proof-reader and a co-ordinator as a minimum. Each of these roles requires an entirely different skill-set, and excellence in each skill is predicated on having a particular personality.

This is one reason that traditional book publishers throw up their (our?) hands in horror when they (we?) see Wikipedia allowing any Tom, Dick or Harry to wander in and actually publish content. Don’t they realise that quality cannot be consistently achieved without a team?

Well, actually, the Wikipedians do realise this. And they have their own, very effective, teamwork format. It is not obvious at first glance, because it is entirely informal. Here is an example of how it works.

  • Tom has an idea for an article about, say, recumbent bicycles. He hacks out a potted history, based on his own, largely excellent, memory. He illustrates it with a couple of drawings of his own, and something he found on the internet.
  • Dick is also interested in recumbents, but he’s less of a go-for-it character than Tom. He had always intended to write this article but kept waiting until he was sure he’d got all his sources organised. Now when he reads Tom’s article, what he notices is all the mistakes. So he corrects them, cites the sources correctly, and removes that image because it was somebody else’s copyright.
  • Harry doesn’t care about recumbents at all, but he has a passion for clear language and correct grammar. To him, the article is a splendid opportunity to boldly nail some split infinitives and clean up typos.

Thus, Tom, Dick and Harry progressively lift the quality of the article, each working from his own skill-set, and crucially each driven by his own route to personal satisfaction. Real article history here, for interest.

When I started Yacapaca, I dreamed of applying exactly this model of content creation. I knew that writing good assessment material requires a mix of personalities and skills, and I hoped that if we provided the right platform, the necessary collaborative behaviour would spontaneously emerge.

Until recently, I was getting a bit discouraged about this. The authoring section of Yacapaca still shows many teachers creating and jealously guarding their own materials, generally duplicating existing resources in the process. My faith, I admit, was wavering.

Then, along came this fantastic exchange on one of our authoring message boards. You have to be logged in to see it, so I shall precis. Basically, one teacher is expressing some guilt at modifying the work of others, and experienced members are piling in to reassure him that it is entirely appropriate and really works for them.

Folks have got the Wikipedia message, and are applying it to assessment resources. As usual, it was just my impatience getting in the way.