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Friday, February 17, 2006

Wikis at Westwood this Week (and Podcasts too!)



I'm taking a break from my fountain of youth ponderings of how to interject energy and youth into your life through teaching for a couple of updates on what we've done this week in the wiki and podcast area.

Computer Science
We created a computer crimes wiki late last week to analyze the ethics of hacking after we completed our chapter test.

I am working with students on synthesizing and summarizing information. I am concerned that some of them tend to copy information from the Internet and call that original. I do not care to know if they have learned to copy and paste!

Here was the assignment:

Step 1

First of all we are going to find some examples of hacking of all kinds that has been in the news recently.

What you are to do:

Each person in the class will list one example not posted. You will summarize in 2-3 sentences the detail of the incident and include at least 3 hyperlinks.

Step 2

Secondly, we are going to create our opinion on the following question:
Are hackers dangerous cyberterrorists, harmless pranksters, or both?

What you are to do:

Each person will summarize their opinion in 2-3 sentences with at least 5 hyperlinks. Also include your username or initials after your post to identify yourself to the other members of the class.

After we completed the project, we recorded a podcast of the class discussion entitled "The Ethics of Hacking." I was very pleased with their understanding and conclusions. I particularly like how their many examples came together the prove the point much better than I could have in a lecture style discussion. I learned a lot and I hope you'll listen to them and post encouragement here.

Computer Fundamentals - 9th grade

We've just completed Microsoft Access where I first introduced the wiki system to them. They used a Microsoft Access wiki to review the material. They posted a review for the test. One of my weaker students said:
My problem is that I don't take very good notes. I don't like to always ask for them from others. I could study from home and it was cool.
I was out last Friday with a sick child and asked that my students create a wiki about Microsoft Excel. It was done before I came to school Monday.

This class loves wikis and has created several fascinating ones. I particularly like the riddles wiki that is full of puzzles, mind benders, and even some jokes.

They have also created a study hall page complete with study notes for a science test. This is modeled after the study hall that was created by my tenth graders in December that continues to be updated.

Grading
I continue to grade and respond to comments using my bloglines account. RSS is the best if not the only way to grade wikis! Any other way is laborious, time consuming, and unfair as you inevitably miss posts of some students.

In Conclusion

I am finding that wikis are great for:
  • Free exploration of a topic that is to be discussed
  • Creating review notes
  • Creating study guides and helps
  • Discussing opinions with relevant backup
  • Class collaboration such as homework and test reviews

Wikis are difficult to use for:

  • Topics the students cannot articulate (how will they search?) - They need to know enough to figure out keywords.
  • Obscure topics.
  • Some math subjects because of the difficulty of working with the symbols.
  • Large groups using one page where they write over each other. (I told the students to write up their summaries in word and then copy and paste into the wiki to help alleviate this problem.)
Podcasts are great for:
  • Summaries of a topic.
  • Recording class discussions where the students are sharing findings and have already researched a subject.
  • Recording test reviews.
  • Review "podcasts" for things such as the SAT and major tests.

Podcasts are difficult when:

  • You have too many students involved (you need a chief).
  • The podcast is too long or complex.
  • To many teams are involved, absences make it difficult to "finish" - (We ran into this with our SAT podcast. It was OK enough for students to download into their iPods but not for me to release on the Internet.)

I'm a relative newcomer to this and still am learning a lot. This weekend I will be reading RSS ideas for educators and my bloglines to see what else I should be doing.

It is not without its frustrations. You will get some students who complain profusely about not being able to copy information off the net. There will be some who complain because they feel like they "don't know how." Most, however, quickly catch the vision and get excited.

I am most pleased because I feel like I've not only improved my computer classroom but that students are doing better in all of their classes because we are using wikis.
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