Wikipedia links used to build smart reading lists – tech – 02 January 2007 – New Scientist Tech

From the “so cool it is uncanny” department…

Software that generates a list of reading material tailored to a person’s individual interests has been developed by a PhD student in the US.

Alexander Wissner-Gross, a physics student at Harvard University, teaches a course to under-graduates student at his university. While preparing the reading list for his course, he began to wonder about ways to automate the process. (Check out his paper about this topic.)
Wissner-Gross says he saw similarities between the structure of his course and the way information is connected via links in Wikipedia, a free online encyclopaedia written and edited by volunteers.

“Increasingly, a net user who wants to learn more about a subject will read its Wikipedia page,” he adds. “However, for further depth in the subject, there has been no system for advising the user which other [Wikipedia] articles to read, and in which order.”

Wikipedia links used to build smart reading lists – tech – 02 January 2007 – New Scientist Tech

I have often thought about how designing a course syllabus in a digital environment would be a challenge. As the course moves on — and students’ interest in particular topics evolve — and new articles, blog posts, and media items are released, how can the syllabus that you made in January still be 100% relevant in April?

This seems to be a wonderful method for engaging students in continually updated and engaged professional reading.

Thanks, Cherice, for the link.

Students Researching Online

Paul has invited me to be part of an upcoming Teachers Teaching Teachers show about students doing research online. Check out the Google Notebook for the show to get a sense of what will be happening and let me know if you have things that you want to add to it.

My interest in this topic goes back to my time teaching middle school and first-year composition at the community college. At the time, I know that asking my students to keep a list of citations with an online citation generator was considered pretty cutting-edge. Now, however, I wonder if that is A) still cutting-edge and B) enough?

In this age of hypertext composing and plagiarism detection services, I have to ask whether or not our old means of citing sources is good enough. Clearly, there are cultural norms and rhetorical traditions that we have to meet here, so I am not suggesting that we ask students not to cite their sources. However, I do want to suggest that we begin thinking more about why we are asking them to site their sources and how to keep track of them.

I have put some initial thinking in the “Citing our Sources – How and Why?” section of the notebook. And, as always, I would appreciate hearing what all of you think about this issue — what is happening in your classroom? How has the research process changed in the past few years with the emergence of read/write web tools?

Comments on Teachers Teaching Teachers Disucssion of “Appropriation”

Although I wasn’t really able to join the conversation tonight through Skype, the Teachers Teaching Teachers crew asked a great question tonight:

Do our blogs have a student-sponsored life of their own? Have our blog sites moved beyond Fisher’s “new literacy practices as sugar” to allowing students to “combine their concerns and self interest with the common good?” Sometimes, and it remains a goal to make our elgg spaces — our students blogs in social networking sites — into places online where they can truly express, question, explore and research subjects that matter to them.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

One of the ideas that I wanted to take up in this conversation was that of genre. It seems to me that Paul, Susan, Teb, and the rest of the TTT crew are getting at the idea that blogging and social networking could be seen as appropriating online teen culture, as Clarence Fisher seems to be arguing here. I feel that blogging, social networking, and podcasting don’t so much appropriate teen culture as they represent new genres and, because of that, the ways that we think about teaching them in school matter a great deal as to how much, if at all, students learn how to utilize these genres.

In thinking about teaching new media genres, then, I want to share a quick example of how this is, perhaps, a very difficult concept to even wrap one’s head around, let alone teach, if you are not a part of the edublogger community. I had the good fortune of working with a class of pre-service teachers the other day, and we were talking about new literacies and technologies. One section of the article that we read discussed the five-paragraph essay as the typical model of school literacy and how technology threatens to change that genre. This caused a great deal of discontent. Suffice it to say that the pre-service teachers with whom I work came up with a question that essentially boiled down to this: if not a five-paragraph essay, then what else instead? I was taught the five-paragraph essay, I succeeded, I know that kids need to know it (or, at least that is what I believe because I haven’t seen convincing evidence to the contradict my own personal experience), and that is what I will teach them. It is a hard cycle to break.

So, how are blogging, wikiing, podcasting, and other new media writing — and the genres that they enable — different? Paul wrote extensively about what blogging can be in the TTT post, so I won’t reiterate it here. What I do want to say, however, is that I think we need to help our colleagues and those that we mentor to understand how writing on a blog or wiki, or creating a podcast, is still writing at its core (creating a text for a specific purpose and audience), but the affordances of the media and the genres that you can create with that media are very different from what we have traditionally conceived as writing. We can move beyond the five-paragraph essay because we can now talk about — and in compelling new media deliver — texts like we never have before. I don’t think we can give up the old genres, but we also have to think about how to compose with the new ones, too.

Do I want to see students’ five-paragraph essays on a blog? No. But, I think that we need to help our colleague envision what is possible in these new media. Is that appropriation? I don’t think it is. If we ask students to collaboratively write with a wiki and only one student does all the work, then we are reinscribing all the bad practices of that genre for teaching writing. Appropriation gone bad. If we ask students to post a book report to a blog and then offer feedback to others, not allowing for uses of hypertext and the natural conversations that will bubble up, then we are reinscribing all the bad practices of that genre, too. Appropriation gone bad, again.

Instead, we need to help teachers see the potentials of these new media and the genres they allow. Then we won’t need to worry about appropriating. We will need to think more about invention, discovery, and creativity, traits that we would wish on all our writers.

Justifying Digital Reading and Writing

Before the NWP Annual meeting, I had three separate conversations (one by email, one by phone, and one in person) with colleagues from the local, state, and national level about why and how to use digital reading and writing in their classrooms and for professional development. I had many more of these conversations at the NWP Annual Meeting and the ACE Workshop. What I will try to capture here is a basic outline of my response to them, and why I feel that these are critical literacy skills.

I hope to return to this post and update it, both because it is very rough right now and it will always be able to grow. Please feel free to help me out if you have ideas I should add, OK?

Frameworks

First, to conceptually frame digital reading and writing, there are a few places to begin:

Teaching tips and things to do

I know that this is not the most organized or coherent list of stuff. Also, I am thinking of turning it into a page on this site so it remains static. But, for now, I think that it is the beginning of something worth capturing and beginning to build as a more comprehensive resource about how and why we want to teach with these technologies.

Typo Generator

Now, here is a great way to kill time and generate cool graphics for your blog:

typoGenerator

Interestingly enough, the warning at the bottom of this image says “the images used for generating may be subject to copyright.”

Also interesting, as soon as I clicked away from the page, the temp image that was stored — and that I tried to blog above — disappeared. Save early, save often, I suppose…

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Blogs for Learning

Thanks to the team at MSU’s Blogs for Learning for featuring my blog under their “User Submitted Blogs” list. This looks like it can become a great resource based on what they have described here:

What is Blogs for Learning?

Welcome to Blogs for Learning, an online resource about instructional blogging. The site provides students and instructors with information and resources about the technical and pedagogical aspects of blogging in the classroom.

Blogs for Learning

Just this past week, I have had three different conversations with educators about how and why to integrate technology – especially read/write web tools – into projects that they are doing. A site like this can serve as a clearinghouse for information that teachers can use to justify blogs in their classrooms. They already have some great articles and tutorials about blogging, and I think that this will grow into a very helpful site.

One thing that is curious to me is the fact that you can’t get the RSS feed for the site off of the main page (I don’t get a chicklet in the address bar of Firefox or Flock). Rather, you have to click on their “Feeds” page and grab it from there. I would have figured it would be easier to get the feed than that.

At any rate, I hope to blog more about these conversations that I had this week – as well as submit a few of the great NWP blogs that I know about to the Blogs for Learning site – but we have to get to the cider mill and pumpkin patch before snow threatens to ruin our day. Ah, Michigan weather…

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Teachers Teaching Teachers Webcast

Just a quick note to say that I’ve been enjoying the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast for the past few weeks. Here is a piece of the write-up from last night’s episode. Check it out.

Our conversation this evening began innocently enough with Gail Desler, the technology liaison for the Area 3 Writing Project in and around Sacramento, California, describing her work over the past four years with blogging in the classroom. Last year 3 different Writing Projects and 5 schools joined together in a project called “Youth Voices: Coast to Valley.” Given that we have stolen their name, “Youth Voices” in an attempt to broaden our network of schools, we are delighted to include Gail and her teachers in the elgg at http://youthvoices.net! Last night Gail said that some of the same teachers from last year’s work would be joining the new Youth Voices. A great question that Gail has been asking is, “How can we sustain and deepen online conversations on a blog?” And part of this has to do with finding the right balance between personal blogging and common blogging around a theme or text.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

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Re: Does Wikipedia hurt scholarship?

So, the wiki debate continues. In the latest issue of AFT’s American Teacher, the pro and con discussion of the month is about Wikipedia. Here, in very stark terms, are what I consider to be very traditional views about the academic research process (Anderson) juxtaposed with a more reasonable interpretation of research, collaboration, and the changing nature of literacy (Locke). I want to look at how each of them define what it means to be a teacher of researchers (at the K-12 level) to make this point clear.

Dixie Anderson, a librarian, suggests that,

As educators, it is our responsibility to hold academic resources to the highest of expectations. We need to become role models in the research process. Credibility and responsibility are the two most important aspects of research. And teaching students the patience to delve into credible resources is the task and responsibility of the educator. We, as educators, cannot condone lazy techniques or unreliable research tools.

I read her comments to mean, essentially, this: we are the gatekeepers for students and, thus, can only recommend sources that the gatekeepers who monitor us (media, publishers, authorities) let us delve into because we can trust them. She makes the claim that “credibility and responsibility” are critical to good research, yet denies her students the opportunity to assess credibility and take responsibility for what they find in Wikipedia.

Then, in what I consider to be a very effective counterpoint, Teb Locke, a technology teacher and co-host of Teachers Teaching Teachers Webcast, refutes this idea. While he is not talking about Wikipedia per se, his argument makes sense in that context. He claims:

Further, wikis facilitate a defining feature of traditional scholarship: publication. Changes to a wiki are immediately “published” for the entire world to see. Not only does this provide a real-world motivation for students, it also allows them to experience writing and editing as a dynamic endeavor.

Unlike a more static writing process in which publication marks the end of revisions and the end of the process, wiki writing is instantly published while undergoing infinite revisions. The wiki therefore brings literacy and accountability to a whole new level. Students are not simply skimming for content, they are constantly evaluating from an editor’s point of view in order to improve what they are reading/publishing.

AFT – Pubs-Reports – American Teacher – October 2006 – Speak Out

Locke, in his example of having students write for a class wiki, describes the ways in which students become producers of knowledge, or texts, rather than just consumers. If we rely on the old model of research, where students bring empty note cards to be filled by drinking at the vessels of knowledge, then the argument that Andersen makes holds water. If, however, we recognize that students have, and will continue to have, multiple and conflicting sources from which to draw, then we realize that it doesn’t.

This, of course, doesn’t even scratch the surface about the cultural, social, political, racial, gendered, colonial, and economic critiques that one could make of most traditional research paper sources (encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, and, wait for it… books) and the fact that even the most “credible resources,” as Andersen call them, all have a rhetorical purpose for creating the text they have. We seem to ignore rhetoric when it doesn’t serve us, however, I won’t go into that right now.

Suffice it to say that we need to stop looking at Wikipedia as an excuse to hold on to our out-dated mindset about what and where students learn as well as who they learn from.

Wikipedia helps us think about how and why, instead, a goal we should all be striving towards given the nature of knowledge, rhetoric, and the literacies our students use.

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Thoughts on Morville’s “The Sociosemantic Web”

Today for Critical Studies, we read a chapter from Peter Morville‘s Ambient Findability, “The Sociosemantic Web.” This chapter suggests that taxonomies are out, folksonomies are in, yet (given the choice) Morville says, “I’ll take the ancient tree of knowledge over the transient leaves of popularity any day” (p. 139). That was the one line of the text that confused most of us, given his overwhelming support of how links, tags, and other forms of metadata can contribute to our understanding of the web, but that was one of our only concerns.

A few things that the chapter raised, however, related to the ways in which we, as researchers and educators, find, use, and distribute knowledge, as well as what counts as literacy now. First, we talked about the ways in which we “traditionally” did research in school with 3×5 cards, encyclopedias, and card catalogs which then lead to a final, polished paper of regurgitated information. Today, students are (or, at least, they could be) working from Wikipedia, keeping Google Notebooks, checking out social bookmarks and blogs of others working on similar research, and creating collaborative reports with a wiki. In what ways does this challenge the traditional power structures evident in schooling, in general, and literacy education, in particular? Was there ever a “pure and good” way to do research, despite the clear and concise steps that we would like to believe comprises good research?

Second, the idea that the world was built on taxonomies and is now working in folksonomies (although we are not so sure there was ever a dichotomy) makes what we want students to do as literate citizens very different than what it used to be. It is no longer about memorizing one idea sequentially after another, but instead looking for connections — sometimes suggested by experts, sometimes by peers — and trying to synthesize ideas into something new and useful, not just to repeat it for a test. We talked about the list of genres represented in hypertext (p. 146) and the ways in which composing those texts on paper as compared to using hypertext drastically changes the task. In some ways, linking is the new way to create citations (although, looking at a list of someone’s references to see what to read next has been a skill that we’ve used before the Internet).At any rate, it was an interesting read and since Morville might be coming to campus later this year for a talk, I figured it would be good to write a little bit about his work now.

Some Props for Wikis from the NEA

Aram alerted me to this article from the NEA which gives a pretty fair shake to wikis and Wikipedia. Here is a particularly compelling quote:

But with wiki technology, students can go beyond simply reading sites to helping write them as well, fulfilling the Web’s promise of becoming a fully interactive medium. According to Frey, whether or not Wikipedia is a reliable source is beside the point. Its value, he says, is in its collaborative nature. “It’s an organic product, it’s an interactive product, and it’s a community product,” he says. “You can’t compare it to traditional resources. It encourages us to accept that in today’s world, anyone can be a published author.”

NEA: October 2006 NEA Today – Getting Wiki With It

Speaking of wikis, if anyone wants to help Aram and I prepare for a presentation next week, please check out our wiki page for the presentation. Thanks for your help.

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