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Collaborative Learning



Collaborative Learning news and updates by Martin Terre Blanche



 



The joy of beta

I love the new excitement and energy that's been around the web lately. Of course at some level it is just another bubble, but there's a lot that seems fresh to me and that really is changing how we do stuff online. One of the things I enjoy about the current mood on the web is that people have become so willing to think of everything as a work in progress. If you're Microsoft and you launch something that isn't quite finished people will hate you for it, but just about anybody else can (and should) get away with it. One of the people who have been willing to take the risk of "launching early and updating often" is James Farmer, whose edublogs is based on the not-yet-quite-finished multi-user version of WordPress. Like almost 2000 others, I signed up for a blog on edublogs and have been happy to go along with the occasional technological glitches and changes to the interface - simply because it is nice to be part of something new and exciting. What also makes a big difference is that the people behind so many of the new online services now communicate openly with their 'customers' about what is going on behind the scenes. If there's some big stuff-up, they'll tell you about it. And they'll try to keep you informed about where they think things are going, as in the edublogs plan for the next year. We have probably already become used to this sort of thing, and it may seem like nothing remarkable now. But when I think about what things were like a few years ago, it feels to me like maybe we now have a better, more open online environment.

By Martin Terre Blanche 9 Nov 2005



Edubloggers map

Check out the the edubloggers map at frappr. Great use of the google maps. Amongst other things it shows very nicely where the geographical gaps are. I suspect that maps of most other communities that I (sort of) identify with (e.g. critical psychologists) would show a similar pattern - i.e. most everybody clustered together in North America, Europe (especially the UK) and Australasia. Makes one think.

By Martin Terre Blanche 27 Oct 2005



Online teaching case studies

The Institute of Teaching and Learning at Deakin University (where James Farmer hangs out when he's not doing other things) has released a wonderful collection of online teaching case studies. The case studies are incredibly slick, with audio recordings, video clips etc. and the categories for browsing among case studies make a lot of sense. In browsing through half a dozen of these, the best part for me was getting a sense of the personalities involved and of the everyday bits of teaching wisdom that they have picked up from their experiences.

This is clearly in part meant as a glossy, image-building initiative, and it works extremely well as that (I'm impressed and envious). Perhaps with version 2, they could afford to give it a bit more of an inclusive feel, though. I would for example love to see a function for people to comment on case studies (and for the people involved to be able to reply). Also - while I really, really like the "teacher's voice" section of each case study, it would be great also to hear some student voices.

By Martin Terre Blanche 26 Oct 2005



Plagiarism

Will Richardson relates a story about school kids using blogs to post answers to tests in between periods so others who haven't yet written the test will know what's coming. While he of course doesn't approve of cheating, he uses the incident to highlight the pointlessness of much of what students are still being assessed on. He also argues for a re-think about plagiarism:

"The answer, I think, lies in teaching our students how to correctly and ethically borrow the ideas and work of others and in demanding that they not just use them but make those ideas their own. That they take the ideas we have tried to teach them and connect them to and show us that they can teach it to someone else with their own spin on it, their own remix."

An excellent read. Also check out the comments. Reminds me of Russel Hunt's essay Four Reasons to be Happy about Internet Plagiarism.

By Martin Terre Blanche 26 Oct 2005



A tale of two learnings

Here's an interesting news story - EDUCATION-SOUTH AFRICA: From Blackboard to SMARTboard by Bate Tabi Tabe. The first is about a project involving "Gatang High School in Mamelodi, a poor, black residential area outside the capital of Pretoria" and "St Albans - a well-to-do private school in the city". Teachers at St Albans communicate with students at Gatang via web cameras, video screens and an electronic whiteboard. This is how Tabe describes the interaction:

"The electronic board in front of the class flickers, and a periodic table is projected onto the screen. 'Do you all know what this is?' booms a voice from the loud speaker. 'Yes!' the students chorus, as any typical class would."

Now obviously there's a lot wrong with this. The problematic learning environment of a typical school classroom (students passively absorbing apparently arbitrary content being transmitted by a "sage on the stage") is emulated using high-tech. Except that the worst aspects of this style of learning is accentuated. However good the technology, inevitably there will be fewer opportunities for interaction, the students will probably be even more passive, and the teachers will learn less about life in Mamelodi than if they had rather opted for the 20 minute drive there. But not to be too cynical, I'm glad this connection between two worlds has been set up and am sure some learning will take place, even if it isn't quite what was planned for. And if whiz-bang high-tech is the catalyst that gets such connections going, then good!

Now contrast this with another South African news story - Oral history project for Western Cape by Karen Pretorius. The project, launched by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport in the Western Cape, involves museums across the province doing stuff like encouraging people to start scrapbooks to record local knowledge and history - and then exhibiting some of the material. The article quotes a government official as saying that "We are doing this so that our children can learn from it." I suspect the official has in mind that children will learn when they visit museums or get taught about local knowledge at school. But probably more significant is the learning that might happen in the process of children and adults participating in the oral history project.

Again obviously there's a lot that's right about this - people learn in the process of doing stuff, of being creative, of producing material that might be looked at by more people than just one bored teacher. There is scope here for people to take on many different roles (novice interviewer, photographer, coordinator, scrap-book maker, editor, curator, professional historian), depending on the kinds of expertise and interests they bring to the project (and gain in the process of participating).

But just as I don't want to be too cynical about SMARTboard, I don't want to be too naive about the oral history project. It is very difficult for a participatory project like this to achieve the necessary momentum - maybe even more so if it is an official government project. And it is very difficult for a local knowledge project to avoid getting stuck in shallow, overly-romantic notions of the local (rather than, say, exploring the positive and negative ways in which the local and the global interact). But even if very little comes of the project, I am again glad that new connections are being forged and am again confident that at least some interesting, unexpected learning will occur.

By Martin Terre Blanche 16 Sept 2005



South African open access academic publisher

Some months ago I published a rant about the fact that one has to pay a hefty sum to get access to the Final Report of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But there's also a lot of good stuff going on in South African publishing. I have just been reminded, for example, that HSRC Press (the publishing wing of the Human Sciences Research Council) make all of their books available as free downloads (in addition to selling printed copies in the usual commercial way). This makes sense because a) their primary purpose is to make quality academic material available, not to make money; b) their products get wider exposure, which builds their brand; c) their books remain in print (at least in the downloadable version) indefinitely. Good for them!

By Martin Terre Blanche 15 Sept 2005



Designing ecosystems

George Siemens is definitely onto something with his ideas about networked learning. His latest contribution is a piece arguing that learning design should be about designing ecosystems rather than about designing courses:

"We should be focusing on designing ecologies in which learners can forage for knowledge, information, and derive meaning. What's the difference between a course and an ecology? A course, as mentioned is static - a frozen representation of knowledge at a certain time. An ecology is dynamic, rich, and continually evolving. The entire system reacts to changes - internal or external. An ecology gives the learner control - allowing her to acquire and explore areas based on self-selected objectives. The designer of the ecology may still include learning objectives, but they will be implicit rather than explicit."

I would like to complicate this a little by suggesting that learning designers need to focus on designing transitional ecologies that ease learners' entry into the "real world" ecologies where seasoned practitioners work and learn. The challenges inherent in designing a transitional ecology are different from those inherent in designing a "hothouse" ecology (i.e. a course). But designing a transitional ecology is also not the same as simply pointing people to some "real world" ecology and telling them to get on with it. So what I would like to understand better are the design issues when operating in this kind of middle ground. How can one make it easier for students to start participating as useful elements in a "real life" ecology, without pissing off people who are already there and who may not be too welcoming towards semi-competent newcomers?

By Martin Terre Blanche 3 Sept 2005



Knowledge2Go blog

I have started a blog, Knowledge2go, with Kevin Durrheim as part of the process of writing a new (hopefully very different) textbook on research methods in the social sciences. It's hosted at James Farmer's wonderful edublogs site.

By Martin Terre Blanche 3 Aug 2005



Online learning in Southern Africa

The second issue of the International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT) has just appeared. The issue is about "ICT for
Education and Development in Southern Africa" and there are some fascinating papers, including Border crossings and multimodal composition in the arts by Andrew Morrison which tells about amazing mutimedia projects happening in Zimbabwe, such as a "hyperpottery" and "ballectro".

By Martin Terre Blanche 3 Aug 2005



Why write?

Nice quote from Deleuze (Difference and Repetition, 1968) -

How else can one write but of those things which one doesn't know, or knows badly? It is precisely there that we imagine having something to say. We write only at the frontiers of our knowledge, at the border which seperates our knowledge from our ignorance and transforms the one into the other. Only in this manner are we resolved to write. To satisfy ignorance is to put off writing until tomorrow - or rather, to make it impossible.

By Martin Terre Blanche 28 July 2005



Stephen Downes remixed

From OLDaily:

"Zach Chandler from Colby College has taken the slides and audio of the talk I gave in Utah las year and remixed it, creating a six minute video. Remix, feed forward. That's how it works."

Great stuff. The .mov file is here.

By Martin Terre Blanche 20 July 2005



Secret evaluation

There is a great article by Leonard Cassuto in The Chronicle against secrecy in evaluation:

"Accountability does not just police the malicious and curb the corrupt. It also builds character. If I'm going to slam someone, I should have the probity -- and the guts -- to do it to that person's face."

Cassuto says that for years now he has been "waging a private battle against the unexamined practice of confidentiality" - which has been my experience also. So I'm glad the battle is coming out into the open, and I for one am firmly on Cassuto's side.

By Martin Terre Blanche 20 July 2005



Love songs for Nheti

Thulacreative is great example (found via the ccSA site) of the sorts of material that is being fostered by Creative Commons in South Africa. It features short stories, plays, poems by Nokuthula Mazibuko - all available for free, non-commercial use.

By Martin Terre Blanche 1 June 2005



Building the Southern dialogue on intellectual property, media and culture

I see one of the spin-offs from the Creative Commons South Africa (ccSA) launch last week is that the LINK Centre at Wits University in South Africa and the Centre for Technology and Society of Brazil have announced a collaborative project to boost production of local content in countries of the South. LINK helped to found Research ICT Africa! and ccSA. Lots of useful goodies at all these sites, but unfortunately only ccSA offers RSS feeds and Research ICT Africa! has one of those patently illegal bully-boy terms of service notices that claim that "each time you use or cause access to this web site, you agree to be bound by these Terms of Use" (no actually I do not agree) and that "in order to use this web site, you must register". Guess what - I used the site, downloaded several interesting pdf reports and never registered. I confess. So sue me. I am very excited about the network of Creative Commons oriented initiatives that is starting to form in South Africa, but please don't try to control users' behaviour with intimidating legal jargon and do get RSS feeds.

By Martin Terre Blanche 1 June 2005



Creative Commons comes to South Africa

Well actually creative commons has been around these parts for some time, but this week Creative Commons South Africa (ccSA) was officially launched at a conference at Wits university. I unfortunately couldn't go, but from reports it looks like it has been a big success. Lawrence Lessig, one of the founders of the cc movement, is in South Africa for the occasion, as are many other international academics. Well known local figures such as Derek Keats of the University of the Western Cape (who started the African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources project) and representatives of the Shuttleworth Foundation (responsible, among many other good things, for Ubuntu linux) were there too. Other excellent news from the conference is that the South African Department of Education is apparently now releasing all its curriculum-related materials under the cc licence. Another nice surprise for me is that Coenraad Visser, who is head of Mercantile Law at my university (the University of South Africa) spoke at the conference about the dangers of "information feudalism" and the tightening of copyrights.

By Martin Terre Blanche 27 May 2005



Still setting up the new blog
I'm still in the process of setting up the new version of this blog. Changing address is a pity, but I'm hopeful that once I have the initial difficulties sorted out it will be worth having more control over the technical side of things. Some advantages: Posting is faster and more intuitive than at Blogger. An RSS feed (I can in fact specify which of any number of channels a posting should go to, although I'm currently only using one). Visible comment sections next to each post (will have to see if it works, but I have a feeling people may be more likely to comment and read comments if they don't have to click on a link and wait for a window to open). Much easier editing of the page template. By Martin Terre Blanche 3 Oct 2003