Term Paper 2.0: Reinventing The College Essay Via Wikipidia

October 26, 2007

I just got out of a great session at Educause that I thought would add another wrinkle to earlier discussions of the value of Wikipedia. The two speakers Andreas Brockhaus and Martha Groom, had students in a environmental biology class write or significaltly edit Wikipedia articles in lue of a traditional essay assignment. (The full power point from their presentation is online.) The assignment is remarkibly similar to what CHNM’s Jeremy Boggs does with students in his History 100 seminar, what can I say, great minds think alike!

The power point does a decent job and is relativly self explanitory, if you have a few minutes it might be worth your attention. But here were her findings.

The Good:

“Students gained perspective on the value of credible sources, and complete citations
Peer review became a more purposeful effort; good critiques more highly valued
Students invested more in their work, felt greater ownership, and experienced greater returns for their efforts
Products were generally better written than typical term papers”

The Less than good:

“Too much choice led to some poor postings (which were deleted)
Timing — Publishing once at the end of course
May be better to publish in stages
Posting deadline with at least one week left to course
Students needed extra guidance to create high quality articles in encyclopedia style
More instructor time required to shepherd students through entire process”

The Verdict:

I think its an amazing idea. Take for example one of the products, an article on deforestation during the Roman period. It’s a very solid piece of work, and the best benefit of all, class work has an impact: Google Deforestation Roman and its the number one hit. Just think of the possibilities!


Playing History:Hacked Screen Shot

October 7, 2007

Playing History Screen Shot

Here is a quick mock up of a individual games page for Playing History. (Click on the image to see it at its native resolution) Everything isn’t perfectly lined up but you get the picture.


Playing History For An Audiance

October 7, 2007

So far I am calling my video games resource for teachers “Playing History.” As I am imagining the resource there are four potential audiences, and each of the audiences would enter the picture at different stages, and each would have unique needs.

K-12 History Teachers
The primary audience is Teachers. As outlined in my use case the primary goal of the resource is to make it as easy as possible for teachers to find game content and associated lesson plans to use in their classrooms. The initial stages in building the tool will all focus on building a useful tool for teachers. It will be necessary to gather together and review a large amount of games to build up enough content to make it worthwhile to visit, aggregating games that crisscross the history curriculum. The site’s content and development would at this stage mirror History Matters. Once the site has enough content to get off the ground the project would start to target the early adopters, teachers in ning groups like next gen teachers groups on yahoo teachers, and Google certified teachers. Those interested would be able to join the project in a collaborative fashion, adding to the content by reviewing games. With the early adopter teachers on board the next target would be district Academic Coaches/Curiculm coordinators.

Academic Coaches/ Curriculum Coordinators
Curriculum Coordinators work with teachers to develop their districts curriculum, in larger districts there is a director for each content area and in smaller ones a single director manages content of all the disciplines, in either way their job description sets them up as a way to connect teachers with resources and develop the classroom. In the second stage of development Playing History would target Curriculum Coordinators through conferences (like ASCD), and professional development events. This phase would also role out a separate interface for coordinators, one that allows them to send resources to the teachers they support both within the site’s canvas and also through existing communication networks like email. As the site grows and gains attention and users it will become a useful place for the third audience Developers.

Educational Game Developers
There is a growing community of educational games developers, but sadly there is no easy portal for those developers to get their games to teachers. Once Playing History has acquired an audience for teachers it can function as a portal for developers to expose their games to a wide audience of educators interested in games.

Educational Researchers
Finally the resource could eventually become a interesting nexus for educational researchers to further plan and develop new projects. By providing a common ground for developers and teachers to connect and discuss each others work the site would be full of interesting information for projects. In the fourth stage of development Playing History would offer a portal for researchers to track the success of different approaches to educational games and better survey the needs of classroom teachers.


Why fix something that isn’t broken? Wikipedia vs. Citizendium

October 1, 2007

xkcd's take on WikipediaI understand that the Wikipedia has its problems, but I consistently find it to be one of the most thorough and quickest way to get information, further I love how transparent that information. You can read the arguments about the content on the given page and evaluate its credibility.

For the sake of argument, last week was the first time I had heard about the Jena 6 case. I heard a discussion of the incident on NPR on the way home from work. Once I got home I wanted to know more about the incident, but I found most of the news coverage to be thin, and it often repeated the same few details. Lucky for me the Wikipedia was right at hand. Take a look at how great this article is on the topic, spend some time considering how through the page is, and how many news pieces it links to. One of the most interesting points in the discussion for me is when various Wikipedians begin discussing the credibility of statements from NPR. All reporting, and all encyclopedia pieces represent a point of view, it is impossible for us offer a completely objective account (it is quite telling that the Wikipedia page on objectivity is in need of a expert on the subject), so isn’t it ideal to have a conversation about the decisions in a article upfront and avaliable to any readers. If you have a problem with a Wikipedia article, bring it to the discussion page. Furthermore, consider the value of this history page for historians of the future trying to unpack the meaning of such and incident. (If you have time to read through the entire discussion page on the jena 6 it is well worth it.)

So we return to my title. The Wikipedia has been unbelievably successful. It already has systems in place to limit vandalism, so why is the Citizendium trying to fix something that just does not seem to be broken?