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Saturday, April 29, 2006

Wikis in Education: Stewart Mader from Brown University



On Friday, I had an enlightening discussion with Stewart Mader, an instructional technologist in math and sciences at Brown University, about the use of wikis in education. He will be posting a series from our discussions. (Read the transcript of our chat.)

Stewart and I came in contact when the Westwood Wikispace was profiled by east wikkers as their #13 wiki and his Spectroscopy Wiki was profiled as the #14 wiki. He used campfire for the chat and I loved it. It has a great transcription feature and is easy to set up. I plan on using it in some of my classes next week.

I hope you'll read the whole transcript, I have just pulled out a few highlights. Thank you, Stewart for such an enlightening discussion.

On adding the mashup to the front of the Westwood wiki:

Stewart M. What inspired the mashup on the front page of the wiki?
Vicki D. To make things relevant to the students, I like to show it in action. We’ve been talking about mashups and some got it and some didn’t. We’ve also talked about RSS with the same result. When I did this, they all 100% got it becuase I did it in a way that is meaningful to them. They see the various sources and see how it is aggregated. There is nothing like a live example that is relevant to teach.
Vicki D. I am encouraging them to mashup on their semester project using the RSS feed option added to Wikispaces recently. They can also look at my code and see how I did it to do it themselves.

On the differences between today's teachers and their students:

Stewart M. Yes - aggregating information vs. sharing answers is something I’m explaining quite often too - I think teachers need to be shown that aggregating information eliminates the useless repetition of basic facts that leaves them unengaged and the teachers with 20 identical papers to read.
Vicki D. It is so mind blowing for teachers and the first response to anything new is — “We never needed that before so why should we use it now.”
Vicki D. The only thing permanent in these kids lives is change. If we want them to be effective participators in this global community we must MODEL that behavior and change from CHANGE FIGHTERS to CHANGE MAKERS.
Stewart M. I think that reaction is the clear indication of something revolutionary - they understand just enough to see it as completely different, but then they don’t know what to make of it.
Vicki D. Absolutely revolutionary. It scared me to death. I had a humble little quiet project started with just the curriculum director involved and it literally erupted over the whole high school.
Stewart M. This generation already is less resistant to change, in my opinion, and tools like the wiki enable them to do it in a tangible way.

On moving away from the textbook model

Vicki D. This generation is a generation of intuitive learners. The generation teaching them is a generation of TEXTBOOK learners. It has created friction.
Vicki D. It has also created a missed opportunity for learning.
Stewart M. That’s exactly the impetus behind my work - building tools that shift away from the traditional textbook model and allow both intuitive and participative learning.
Vicki D. Intuitive learning combined with the power of Google and a wiki make for great socratic teaching without Socrates having to ask the questions - the students learn to ask their own questions.
Vicki D. I think that your tools are desperately needed. I like the powerpoints and test banks that come with my textbooks but I want MORE. I want integrated tools such as wikis to record my best practices and learn from others.
Vicki D. We’ve got to move from static material to dynamic material and I think most textbooks have made a poor attempt at this juncture.

How fear is holding back the classroom
Stewart M. At times, teachers are so afraid they don’t allow students to contribute their own knowledge as they learn. I’m issuing a very provocative call in my next two speaking engagements in May to have students directly contribute to the spectroscopy wiki, and to do it in a manner that simulates peer-reviewed publishing in journals.
Stewart M. There’s no reason not to have students learn in exactly the same environment and context that they will work professionally in.
Vicki D. I think the traditional view of teachers is being challenged by these tools. After all, they think, the teacher is supposed to be the expert — in this rapidly changing world, the students can access new, relevant information that was once only accessible to the experts.
Vicki D. They, therefore, should be included in the conversations that emerge.






Why wikis have a place in the classroom.
Stewart M. You’re right - and students WANT to do this. They’re already asking for it, and are willing and capable contributors.
Vicki D. This is not about proving how much we know and feeding our own egos because society has marginalized teaching as a profession. This is about using methods that really TEACH. I think that is where the fear comes in. If teachers no longer “teach” are they needed. It is a redefinition of good teaching.
Vicki D. Wikis ARE teaching! Wikis DO work! Students want to use social interaction as part of the learning process. They are more capable than we give them credit for.




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