October 21, 2003 2:34 AM   Subscribe

Now class, please turn in your (meta)homework Several classes at Stanford have started relying on multimedia-intensive collaborative websites. A quick browse through the gallery and you will find classes that either rely on blogging or run entirely "wiki style" . While it seems thrilling to see students stimulate and build ideas off one another, will this concept ever filter down to your average high school class? It seems that the whole principle of wiki comes at odds to traditional conventions of authorship. Surprisingly, in this course, students can choose the option of being assessed solely on their experimental participation on the wiki site. When classwork consists of students adding and changing each other's comments, how would you grade each student individually? (By the way, there are a lot of pretty pictures in the gallery.)
posted by alex3005 (12 comments total)
Engineering students already do their homework this way. The difference is they just don't tell the prof.

/irritated computer science TA.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:51 AM on October 21, 2003

Not especially new or groundbreaking. CSCL and CSCW was a hot topic back in '94. Wikis are ideal for this because they incorporate version management into the system allowing users to see who changed what. However, actually using these systems effectively is a problem of pedagogy and not technology. It's not simply a case of put a wiki on the web and point your students to it.

The education world has a very different concept of collaboration and copyright that places it more in the realm of open source politically than traditional content production. Teachers tend to be baffled when we ask for the copyright information when we digitize their work an put it on the web. In academic circles, back-channel trade in "in-press" papers (*) is epidemic with many people arguing that the traditional peer review process moves too slowly.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:24 AM on October 21, 2003

Kirk's right in stressing that, just as weblogs are not automatically a revolutionary, positive new form of journalism, collaborative websites are not automatically a revolutionary, positive form of education. Where's the content? If the course is not about learning to collaborate (sounds like a management seminar), then one would assume (or hope) that strong stress is still placed on producing good work at the end of the day, no matter what framework it's within.

And yes, academics are not only baffled by modern ideas on copyright, it's viewed (quite rightly so) as a barrier to expanding knowledge. The standard practice is to make a concerted effort to reference and acknowledge the work of others, so it can be built upon...but asking permission first? Hardly. I read loads of reference to "in press" works, and reference them myself often... the phrase "epidemic" makes it sound like there's something wrong with that! ;)
posted by Jimbob at 5:10 AM on October 21, 2003

"In press" just means that the document has been refereed and approved but hasnt got into the published journal yet, many journals have the papers currently available on their websites. The other thing that's fairly common is to send your mates a copy of a paper for feedback/dissemination before is has been peer-reviewed and approved for publication and where you know they will be interested. They will hopefully check back with you before they quote you in this case.
posted by biffa at 5:21 AM on October 21, 2003

It's P2P, Old Skool!
posted by mecran01 at 6:06 AM on October 21, 2003

And the other other thing that's very common is for people to cite work that's been presented at a conference but is not yet published anywhere. Normally, presentation at a conference makes something fair game.

If it's more than a year or so old, though, a good person would ask the author(s) whether there's a newer, published piece they should cite instead.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:29 AM on October 21, 2003

The whole internet/university coursework synergy thing is actually a pet project of mine.

The watered down mainstream version of this is the Blackboard course website system. Which sucks. I've taken classes at three universities over the past 4 years, and have never seen professors do more than post powerpoint presentations from class and test answer keys (after the fact, sadly). From an educational standpoints, professors, in my opinion, aren't really there to teach students; they're there to be experts in the subject that can competently evaluate what grade students deserve based on what they've taught themselves. For most (there are plenty of exceptions, I acknowledge), there's simply no real incentive to go explore untraditional didactic methods like this handful from Stanford seem to be doing.

In fact, the extensive potential of web technologies to encourage collaborative learning, and the inabilitity (unwillingness?) of private industry and private institutions to leverage it has recently fired me up to start coding a large portal system for university student bodies that, among many other things, would let students create wikis for courses themselves, and collaborate (set up study groups, discuss homework/tests/material, keep track of course deadlines, create/exchange documents, enter chat rooms, regular wiki and message board functions, blah blah blah) without the assistance or even encouragement of faculty or administrators (although there's ways for them to add their unique contributions if they choose too). The idea is to leverage the whole open collaboration/community spirit of wikis and successful online communities in general to help university students help and educate each other, and, more broadly, try to add some motivation and love of the material for its own sake to many courses where the professor and even institution are indifferent to those goals. Youthful idealism and all that.

The Stanford Metamedia project is extremely cool, and seems to be accomplishing those goals effectively. The faculty are lucky that the univerisity is willing to A) Place parts of their prized educational program on the web for all to see and B) Pay web dev people to help professors teach, instead of targeting all spare cash for research. Go Stanford.
posted by gsteff at 8:35 AM on October 21, 2003

My fiancee right now is taking an internet-only course in library science via Blackboard and it seems to be really living up to the "collaborative learning" promise. The professor does seem in tune with the idea and helps keep discussions and the class page alive. Unfortunately this is probably a lot more work than most average professors would be willing or be able to put into online collaboration.
posted by zsazsa at 8:49 AM on October 21, 2003

students create wikis for courses themselves

That's a phenomenal notion.
posted by rushmc at 9:10 AM on October 21, 2003

That's a phenomenal notion.

Is that bemused scepticism or legitimate interest? The way I'm currently building it, the web address for any of the wikis is just puts the course ID in the subdomain... course number -> department abbreviation -> section number, as in . If the wiki exists already, you see it; if not, you see a message saying that no one has created it yet, but by filling out a 4 field form right there, you can create it instantly for yourself and others to use. I'm hoping that the sheer ease of use will help overcome the, uh, phenomonality of the idea.
posted by gsteff at 10:14 AM on October 21, 2003

the inabilitity (unwillingness?) of private industry and private institutions to leverage it


The thing about distance-learning software -- I say this as someone who writes distance-learning software for a living, for several different companies over the past few years -- is that the customer is not the student. The customer is the institution, or, less frequently, the instructor. And student collaboration is rarely high on their list of priorities.

Everyone agrees in theory that collaboration and student involvement is a better teaching method -- but it requires a much higher degree of effort from the instructor than the more typical 'do the readings, answer these multiple choice questions, and write an essay for the final' type of online course. Many instructors and institutions also seem to fear that allowing students to contribute to or modify the course content equates to losing control over the course. Students know what blogs and wikis are; teachers and publishers are still generally having trouble wrapping their minds around the idea of chatrooms. And threaded messageboards are just black magic, don't even go there.

Courses designed for one-way communication are easier to administer, involve few complicated intellectual property issues, and you can reuse them next semester by just changing the due dates. Those are much better selling points, sadly, than "your students will learn more if they're active participants in the course." Which is why most mainstream distance-learning products -- BlackBoard is just one of many -- seem so watered down.

Needless to say, I'll be following this Stanford project with great interest :)
posted by ook at 10:49 AM on October 21, 2003

Is that bemused scepticism or legitimate interest?

The latter. Been a while since I've been in school, but I would have eaten something like that up.
posted by rushmc at 12:19 PM on October 21, 2003

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