Picture courtesy of Alan Levine from his Flickr site.
In 1995 Ward Cunningham created the first wiki as a way for multiple users to easily and quickly modify web pages. Wikipedia is a derivative of this original wiki. In our fourth session we will read about the educational impact of web-based collaborative environments from an educator and student perspective and we’ll take a look at a recently created web site by Virgil Griffith that allows anyone to check on who edits wikipedia pages. In class we’ll view another one of Lee and Sachi Lefever’s short videos explaining wikis, try out some collaborating sites, start work our course wiki and brainstorm our upcoming classroom projects.
Answer to Fulvio by Renato.
As usual it is a pleasure reading Fulvio notes and thoughts. And it is with enormous pleasure that I like to answer to his question about blogs. They are useless! I know it sounds strange to say this here, writing a blog, and I don’t want to do a meta-discourse here. But looking at the case of Beppe Grillo and his own web site, we need to consider that Grillo was already famous before he started his campaign on the Internet, and it is so sad (as Grillo himself said) that the only voice against the Italian establishment is the one of a comedian. Or to quote Fulvio Quoting Bertinotti “Grillo is filling a void that exists in politics.” But what if was not Grillo trying to fill the void but Mr. Renato Ventura? My point is simple: if Mr. Renato Ventura starts a blog or any web activity, he will be completely ignored, confused and lost in the ocean of information (abundance is the key word as Jensen mentioned inhis article :”Authority conferred mostly by applause and popularity”). He might write on his blog the most ground breaking information and still be ignored. To rephrase it: it is not the blog that makes and wins the case (or change society) but the person beyond it. Grillo is banking on his own popularity and this is why he has so many followers. I am not a pessimist, on the contrary. But dealing everyday with the Internet (and the useless garbage in it) I think I have to be just a realist.
Ciao and hasta la victoria
While I was reading the articles to prepare today’s class, I thought I wanted to comment on collaborative editing, and talk about all the doubts I have about it. Nonetheless, while I was taking a break reading the Italian newspapers online, I’ve realized that I had to talk about blogs. To be precise, since I think we will have the chance to comment on the readings in class, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about blogs outside of academia (where, I think, we all agree on the innumerable benefits students can have, as Carie Windham points out, from the extra writing practice, the immediate response to their work, the accessibility to assignments – no matter the hour or the location – the chance to creatively control their work and the opportunity to interact with peers and/or other blog readers). I would like to explore what happens out there, in real life. In more detail, I would like to talk about how blogs can affect society and, in order to do so, I would like to describe what is happening right now in Italy. As one could notice by reading the front page of the most important Italian newspapers (namely, La Repubblica, Il Corriere della
Sera and La Stampa) there is a name recurring on the headlines: Beppe Grillo. An iconoclastic comedian who started his career in the 1970s, Beppe Grillo was ostracized for Italian TV since 1985, when he dared joking about how corrupt the Italian Socialist party actually was. In recent years though, he regain some notoriety when he started to attack the ongoing corruption of the Italian political system with a new tool: a Blog. In the last 2-3 years he started an anti-politics campaign to kick out of the Parliament all the politicians who were condemned for corruption and other crimes but didn’t go to prison because a peculiar kind of immunity the Parliament gives to all its members (basically, they are above the Law). Anyhow, Grillo decided to top his anti-politics campaign organizing a so-called V-Day (the V stands for victory but also for a very rude Italian expletive), which attracted 300,000 people on Saturday to sign a petition supporting a common goal: purging Italy of its corrupt political class. Some politicians dismissed Grillo’s initiative as “shallow demagoguery” and warned of “populist tendencies.” Nonetheless, more than 300,000 Italians lined up in more than 200 cities and towns to sign the petition for Grillo’s “Clean Up Parliament” proposal and, beside making the news in Italy, Grillo’s initiative was also mentioned by many international newspapers as, for instance, the Herald Tribune (click here to read the article). Fausto Bertinotti, the left-wing speaker of the lower house of Parliament said on a talk show late Tuesday night that “Grillo is filling a void that exists in politics,” and Grillo later announced he will be coordinating citizens willing to create new parties for the next elections.
Bottomline: can a blog change society? Food for thought…
Notwithstanding the clamor which the supposedly inherent democratization of the Net elicits, in order for it to be viable as a pedagogical tool – and its does have an admittedly enormous potential, not only for students but also for professors/instructors – collaborative editing must entail some sort of hierarchy for an effective use, otherwise it remains an endeavor fraught with dangers. Even a workshop requires an editor-in-chief, as it were, to integrate and coordinate the input material, to eliminate or smooth out conflicting entries made by the collaborators (although this also is extremely difficult, especially with “hot-button” issued). The “project leader” mentioned in the article, therefore, seems to me an indispensable aspect of collaborative editing while at the same time putting a damper on the whole notion of Net’s “limitless freedom”. On the other hand, the possibility of sabotage in Wiki-type writing – an aspect made explicit in the Dielbod article – and the threat of unchecked (and anonymous) revisionists tendencies are offset in my opinion by the envisioning of the blog as an online journal, an unedited expression unhindered by censorship: biased and inaccurate information is always better than any form of bowdlerized information.
However, I felt these two articles to be a bit vague – the call for “a conscientious and trusted group of editors” seems to be a must in all these pieces – on the nuts and bolts of a course based on collaborative editing and blogging. Moreover, I was rather puzzled by the idea of material lost due to editing: it is fairly easy to keep track of a document’s editing history with Word and I do not understand what the changes made during collaborative editing could not be saved somehow. The use of different colors and the instant tracking of changes of online material – again, a powerful didactic tool – reminded me of Natalie’s demonstration last week of her French lit course.
I felt the most interesting aspect of the Windham article was the definition of the blog as a soapbox, platform for sharing of voices, a bastion of liberty in an increasingly Orwellian world – library records anyone? – from which aspiring writers may achieve renown. In our field, clearly the problem is not the blogging itself but the subject matter: although students will spend hours on a sports blog or a Brittney Spears blog, they often are unable to provide critical thought on e piece of literature, and as a result produce bloggings along the line “the book sucked” (I do NOT agree that there will be an increasing sense of accountability on the students’ part concerning what they place on the Web).
As I stated previously, although blogs may reveal themselves to be excellent tools in the teaching of foreign languages, providing the student with authentic examples of the spoken tongue – slang, even dialect – there is always the danger that if chat-like expressions creep into the exchanges, this may cause confusion. It is fundamentally important, as stated in the articles, to set for the students clear rules and expectations, above all as concerns style and grammar (thereby eliminating various “gonna,” “wanna,” etc.). In this sense, I found the five-point guideline described in the Dossier to be an excellent starting point.
The Dossier’s definition of “communal contructivism” as a means to circumvent power knowledge relations dovetailed perfectly in my mind with description the Web as a challenge to the Gates hegemony, thus representing what Internet truly should be.
On a closing note: is face-to-face learning inevitably on the path towards extinction?
Our session about social networking and was very inspiring. Particularly the use of wikis for the classroom gives new perspectives for my teaching. The idea of writing in collaboration is very striking .e.g. the google.document site we tested. It is fascinating that students can instantly share ideas, results, and visions. The assigned colors that indicate the writer help me as a teacher be a “witness” during this process without being “to close”. I am able to participate a process -the “new dynamic for group work”as stated in Educause’s “7 Things you should know about Collaborative Writing”- from a safe distance.
I also would like to add that this writing process can be expanded from the writing level towards the listening level. VoiceThread.com, for instance, allows collaborative listening and speaking. My Business German class, for example, will have the task to create answering machine messages as a group assignment online. We can listen to this change and experiment with the spoken (con)text until one is -so to speak- satisfied with the result. This process as a group allows shy student’s to speak in the target language in a “safe environment” outside a regular language class.
However, before I will use this opportunity as well as a wiki in class I will have to reflect about my goals and to set the framework for the editing process. I think –as I mentioned in class last week- it is important to point out, that one has to respect different opinions and ideas during these collaborative processes. Thus, as an ideal, the written or taped part of a group work during these collaborative interactions should reflect democratic developments outside the classroom.