Category Archives: Wikis

NCSS San Diego, Friday Sessions

I’m in San Diego for the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies this weekend. Following are a few posts about sessions I attended.

Digital Age presentation:

It started out on Friday morning with the presentation of lesson plans in the book Digital Age that I blogged about here. Aside from my video, there were presentations on

  • the use of laptops, handhelds, and digital and still cameras to teach and learn about the Cowboy heritage in San Angelo, TX, with the help of guest speakers and re-enactors;
  • the Youth Vote Initiative in a Florida district that uses Rock the Vote videos and spreadsheet-based surveys to teach kids the importance of voting;
  • a Geography presentation that demonstrated the use of graphic organizers such as Inspiration and maps by which students create a proposal for a new trade route from East to West through their state (what was nice about this one was that it’s customizable for both time and space, and the possibility to link the project to current issues such as economic and political impacts of new roads, railroad lines, etc.);
  • and a presentation on the use of Internet tools such as Moodle to stimulate student discusion on Social Studies topics.

It was a nice cross-section of topics and technologies used, providing examples of things that teachers can actually do and use. Unfortunately, only one of the presenters was a teacher himself…

Web 2.0: I was going to go to this presentation by Eric Langhorst but had a conflict with another session, so I had to choose. Luckily, Eric has his powerpoint presentation on his blog, and somebody else live-streamed his presentation as well. I’ll write more about this one when I watch the presentation.

Instead I went to a presentation on Wiki Adventures by Dan McDowell. He discussed how he uses wikis to do things like help his students review for the AP World History exam by having them collaboratively answer practice/review questions. All in all this was an interesting presentation, as it gave me some ideas of different things you can do with a wiki. I really liked the use of the wiki for a Holocaust project, where students use branching to create a type of “create your own story”, to help them learn about decision-making (this is somewhat similar to the tour in the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC.  Finally, though, the most interesting thing that Dan said did not have to do with technology, but with teaching. He said he was a constructivist, but one who lets students learn, create, and share within a box, a box that he creates….

Image Credit: National Council for the Social Studies:

Why communication is important…


Found this story via Darren Kuropatwa’s blog. It’s called “Safety v. Panic“, a powerful, personal experience about what can go wrong with the use of technology for teaching and learning when people don’t communicate. I fully agree with Darren’s comments that

Maybe if everybody tried talking to each other before they started pointing fingers they might learn from each other, understand each other better, figure out a way to meet everyone’s needs better and maybe, just maybe, the kids would have really learned something … and it would have stuck.

This is exactly the stuff I wrote about in my recent Innovate article (free registration required) on building relationships with technology and kids, but on a much broader scale. It’s easy to point fingers, ban, sue, and punish. This type of attitude also takes up a lot of valuable resources (time, money….) that would be better spent on, say … educating?

Read the original post and the comments, read Darren’s comments, and let me know what you think …

Image Credit: “Purpura”, Danella manera’s photostream:

The Importance of Open Content


This one’s been sitting on my “to write” list for quite some time now, but a visit to the university library yesterday reminded me of it.

The idea of open content online is a simple one.  As Judy Breck has written in 109 Ideas for Virtual Learning, and  in this article:

Open content for learning, which is the substance of the global virtual knowledge ecology, is free, reusable, connectable learning subject content within the open Internet. It is easy to assume open content is applauded because it is altruistic for content creators to let what they produce be used charitably, for free. A much more fundamental advantage is the openness in the sense of being connectible to all other open content. Any content that is closed in the connective sense will atrophy in a withering that will ultimately punish those who sought proprietary profit.

I agree with Judy that access and connectibility are key ingredients. To that I would add (and this is by no means a complete list)

  • creativity: learners creating content; prime examples are Wikipedia, Curriki, and any of the myriad of media sharing sites that are out there;
  • accuracy: if content is open, created by many, and used for learning, it should be accurate. Wikipedia has been at the center of the accuracy discussion. If you ask me, I’d put more faith in Wikipedia content than the average textbook, because I know online content is up-to-date, multimodal, and checked by many (relatively speaking) for accuracy;
  • quality: see “accuracy”. If content is open, created by many, and used for learning, it should be good;
  • the power of groups and collaboration: many small ideas lead to big ones; examples of this include Google Image Labeler and Photosynth (Microsoft Live Labs): , as described in this earlier post.

Obviously, open content does bring with it its own issues that will need to be addressed, such as

  • access: does “open” mean “unfiltered”? 
  • copyright: Creative Commons is a workable solution for this issue. It’s a matter of content creators being willing to use Creative Commons instead of more traditional forms of copyright. A good example is Gilmor’s We the Media
  • authority: or the importance of source. See e.g. this post by David Warlick.

What triggered my memory to write this post was a somewhat forced trip to the university library yesterday. I was working on a paper and a tight deadline when I was looking for some specific information on the history of cell phones and cell phone use. I figured, no problem, hopped on the Internet, searched wikipedia, ran some queries through Google and Google Scholar, but lo and behold, I couldn’t find the info, or if I thought I had, it was inaccessible because it was through a subscription service.

Finally, I turned to our library to look for a book or two on the topic. Usually, this isn’t a problem, as our library has a nice service where you can order the books and library staff will pull the book for you and order it. All I have to do is go pick it up (in past years, they would even deliver to your office). Anyway, because that usually takes a day or two I had no choice but to go get the book myself. According to the database the book was readily available on the shelf.

To make a long story short, I finally found the book on one of the sorting shelves (and out of order) after 30 minutes of searching. The trip to the library took me about an hour, time I could have spent writing if the information I needed had been readily and openly available online.

Of course, in a formal educational environment an occurence like this tends to have larger consequences, as teachers and students don’t have the kind of time that I do to go peruse the library for an extended period of time. Immediate access to digital information online and in the classroom is key to maintain the flow of learning.

Another interesting observation here is my dissatisfaction with the whole affair. A few years ago going out and getting the book wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. However, with the pervasiveness of the Internet and online resources, I think immediacy of access is something that we’ve come to expect; I know I have …

Image credit: “Open”, tribalicious photostream:

Free Wikis for Educators

Adam Frey and the gang at Wikispaces want to give away 100,000 free wikis to educators and I think we should help them meet their goal, don’t you? You can create a public space that is open to anyone, a protected space where anyone can see the work but only members can edit, or a totally private space where only wiki members can work. in other words, there’s a flavor for every taste.

Great development if you ask me, free is always good. I hope some of the other social networking sites that only give you limited access for free (e.g. flickr) will follow suit. A wiki is a great tool for collaboration and knowledge building, and because it is online, it really blurs the boundaries between school and world when it comes to learning. Thank you WikiSpaces :).


Image credit:

Threats to Ubiquitous Computing

As I was perusing blogs this morning, I ran across this post from Will Richardson regarding competing bills dealing with “Net Neutrality”.  An excerpt from what Will says about the bill that would regulate Internet access pricing:

While this bill does not in any way regulate what Internet users can access, it does begin to set up a system where the haves get more in terms of faster and better connectivity for video distribution, multimedia sharing and more. To me, at least, it feels like a dangerous precedent, and another way potentially for some of our more fortunate kids to get a leg up on those who may not be able to pay.

I strongly agree with Will that if this bill passes, we could have some real issues on our hands with regards to Internet access. If this bill passes, a lot of work that has been done in recent years to provide Internet access to those who have the most difficult time getting it could be undone with one pen stroke (and not even a digital pen!!). Imagine what it could potentially do to Internet access to schools and public libraries, which are important points of access to information for our children, but also places that don’t tend to have a lot of money. Imagine what it can do to Web 2.0 and the plethora of free social sharing tools. They work because they are freely accessible (for the most part).

Despite all of its issues, the beauty of the Internet is that it does not discriminate against its users. Let’s try to keep it that way.

Here are some links to check out:

technorati tags: net_neutrality, ubicomp

Moodle Tools (Now with Blogging)

I’ve known for a couple of days now that the new version of Moodle comes with a blogging tool. I’m very interested in trying it out with the teachers and students who will be coming into our research lab, the AT&T Classroom, in the fall.

We started using Moodle for a while as a sharing component of our Ubiquitous Computing in Education project. So far, participation has been less than I’d like it to be, and am trying to figure out how to make the site more visible and attractive to visitors, so that they will make the effort to participate. Many people should know the site exists, as we have mailed out and given away about 2,000 DVDs, the main component of our Ubicomp project.

Anyway, we then started using Moodle with the teachers that will bring classes to our lab in the fall, and they were very excited about using it with kids (and they just saw the discussion boards and wikis).

What I like about Moodle is that I can set up blogging for kids in a safe way, because the blogs can be password protected, that is, only the teacher and kids in the classroom (and parents) can access the individual blogs for a particular class). This should take care of a lot of the concerns regarding bullying, predators, etc.).

We’ll see how this works out in the fall and how many teachers and kids will actually use the tools (in combination with this portfolio tool). I’ll keep you posted.

Afterthought: I was kind of in a hurry when I wrote this last night, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m falling in the same trap here as many schools. Setting up a blogging site that’s password protected kind of defeats the purpose of having a blog, i.e. a wide audience. Granted, a group of blogs set up within the same site will most likely get more readers than, let’s say, an essay or report written on paper, but it doesn’t get the potential larger audience that’s out there on the Internet. So … the answer wasn’t as easy as I thought initially.

technorati tags: moodle, blogging, wiki, teaching, learning, education


I haven’t seen an English version of this yet, but I found this site interesting: WikiKids

It’s sort of a Wikipedia for and by kids. The project is still in the beginning stages, so there isn’t much content on the pages yet. What I like about this site is that there are good instructions for kids and adults (teachers etc.), and that the site is very kid-friendly. It also seems that there will be some level of moderation (just like Wikipedia). I really think this site has some potential for education. The real trick is going to be to keep it as open as possible for kids to use, but at the same time not too open so that the site becomes unusable.

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