Sunday, October 03, 2010

Training with Steve Wheeler "How lucky am I?!"

Here at the University of Waikato our WCeL team (Waikato Centre for eLearning) hosted UK elearning expert Steve Wheeler (aka Timbuckteeth on Twitter) for a morning workshop on Web 2.0. We defined this term as "real time interactive software on the net, that allows users to generate their own content" ...or UGC (User Generated Content), aka 'socal web' or 'participatory web', and valued for the way it has to potential to 'give everyone a voice'. To this end, Steve encouraged us to think about the nature of learning; to think about what students do to learn, and how they check the accuracy of what they are learning; how they make order from chaos. This reflection must influence the way we select the tools we use.

Social Tagging:
Steve gave an effective visual demonstration as metaphor for social tagging. We were given a small pad of post-it notes (little squares of paper with a slightly tacky edge that can be stuck to a range of surfaces,) upon which we wrote a word (or two) describing or defining the objects in the room around us. We then stuck the notes on said object. As the exercise progressed we could start to see patterns emerging. Certain objects started to attract a noticable number of labels, and although the words describing such objects were different, they all could be seen to have meaning in relation to the object.
This is how social tagging works.
However, Steve Wheeler took this further to demonstrate how our global community has taken the seemingly chaotic and from it created a semblance of order. We wrote our names on pieces of paper (the same little post-it notes) and screwed them into balls we then tossed randomly into the room. That is chaos, but when instead he selected one participant and we all threw our papers toward him; this demonstrated how tag clouds develop. There are several theories that describe this phenomenon: "the wisdom of the crowd" being one. There were others he listed too, although I can't remember what they were (unfortunately) and some of them were contradictory. (I must go onto and see if he's uploaded his slides... this information might be there.)

Other tools
We looked at a number of tools or methods:
WetPaint - a tool for developing wikis. He uses it to encourage problem solving. Students go off and find stuff out which they then collaborate on to make a resource.
(Note: I've used wikis in the classroom successfully too, but modern students are extremely strategic... they have to be... and will not contribute to a project like this unless they have to... unless there is some way that they will benefit in regards to their grades if they do. My students benefitted in that the resource they together created formed the basis of an assessment, so although each student needed only to contribute a little bit of content, they could then use the entire resource to prepare for the assessment. It worked very well, but took a lot of effort on the behalf of the teacher to set up.) Back to WetPaint. There was concern raised that the free version of this product (if there still is a free version) is inundated with advertising.
Delicious - (social bookmarking) a place to go for aggregations of tag clouds on a theme. This raises the visibility of relevant content according to tag themes, but has the added benefit of raising the visibility of people interested in that content. (Really neat  - I was able to find very specific stuff I was looking for which I hadn't been able to find with a normal 'search-engine' search.)

Podcasting - there was a lot of interest in the demonstration that Steve gave on using Audacity to create quick and easy sound files. Audacity is really a very simple and effective tool to use which I (happen to) use all the time.
What wasn't discussed however, is that there can be a little bit of fiddling to install and set up Audacity. Getting Audacity working first off is a piece of cake, but ! to make MP3 files the program requires a certain type of decoder which (for proprietary reasons) needs to be installed separately and then linked in from within the Audacity program (the first time only - fortunately). It took me ages to sort this, and I didn't get a lot of help from my friendly ITS dept who responded to my bleat with "This is not what we do". However, they did then give me sufficient written instructions which, after a bit of perseverance, led eventually to success). - a repository for slides and other documents. What I liked about slideshare is that there were articles also... slides may have limited value, but the articles are interesting.
Flickr - similar to slideshare, but these are images. I like Flickr, but have yet to understand how it can become a learning tool.

Twitter - we looked at the tweets flying in for Timbuckteeth. The point that Steve Wheeler made about Twitter was that it's not about the content so much as the connections.
Forgive me... I feel the need to rant...
I must say... that, well... I found the session most valuable, but I was not comfortable with the interaction activities we were set. They worked very well to demonstrate what Steve intended, but they made me feel vulnerable and insecure. I did not know very many of the other participants, and certainly did not have the sense of trust that... well, that I feel that I have developed with you in the FO2010 course. This I realise is a personality 'thang' and there were other more social and sanguine personalities who really enjoyed the experience - so yay for them. However! I need remember that not all my students are like me so, I have to make it safe for all my students; allow the interaction that a sanguine craves, but give my phlegmatic learners permission not to participate if this is possible - whether f2f or online.
(And I did not appreciate having my 'fighting spirit' questioned in front of a class of strangers because I was the last to achieve an activity! I had so 'moved on' from that activity... who cares if the task is finished when the point that needed to be made was so made already)


Sarah Stewart said...

I've been thinking about what you said and I wonder if the key to all these activities is knowing feel more comfortable with FO2010 because you know us now...we have a relationship of such. So maybe what we have to focus on is getting to know each other as we engage with Slideshare, Delicious etc?

Karen Humber said...

I'm totally empathize with you Katherine about the activities. It took me a long time to use them myself because I was uncomfortable. Now because I think there might be people like me in the group, I always try to remember to set the context, describe the reasons for doing the activity and offer the choice to opt out. Since in my experience adults will do what they want anyway,I figure I might as well make it look like it is my idea.

Jane Scripps said...

I enjoyed reading this and empathised deeply. It set me thinking to other complexities that come into the mix, such as our cultures and how those also impact on how we gain confidence in participating, and how that confidence can be dashed by seemingly innocuous comments.
The getting comfortable with people is really valid, I wonder if we ask people to read contributor blogs as a way of becoming introduced, and have a high expectation that facilitators understand how vital warm-ups are.

You have got me thinking deeply for the mini-conference