Session Four—Collaborative Editing

Wiki Wiki Bus
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
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…


Collaborative editing/blogging
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., 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.


5 Responses to “Session Four—Collaborative Editing”

  1. orsitto Says:

    Fulvio responding to Barbara

    When I was reading the article about collaborative editing, I have to admit that I was impressed by the fact that with the new software, people can now simultaneously edit the same document. I think that cross-checking other people’s work could be beneficial for all those participating in this kind of projects. Nonetheless, I am not sure it could work in any kind of situation or environment. For instance, the scenario at beginning of the article was a bit irrealistic, in my opinion. Also, it seems like the scenario was almost implying that for a student it’s not a big deal to arrive late in class (I think we, as instructors, think otherwise). Anyhow, beside the scenario, I think that collaborative editing could be a very useful tool (as Nathalie explained last week) to use for instance in W (writing intensive) classes, also because it strenghtens the idea of community. Needless to say, I also firmly believe that the collaborative efforts should be coordinated by a supervisor able to resolve eventual conflicts.

  2. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    Hi, everybody

    Today I want to share my experience applying technology as part of the discussions in the class that I am teaching. This semester I am not teaching a language class, but instead an Undergraduate course in Spanish Literature, which actually I designed (and keep designing, since it is the first time I am teaching such a course, while at the same time applying some social networking).
    Once in class, Manuela commented that students in general don’t like HuskyCT. But I went ahead, and decided to use some of the tools offered there, since: 1) it is already there 2) Since it is a system I already use, so far as for posting readings, assignments, and announcements, it makes for a good, non-threatening way to get started.

    I am aware most of you already know or maybe have used HuskyCT postings (which I can say work as a blog) and Chat. I was ready to use the “Chat and Whiteboard” feature. Just in case, I went to Barbara so that we would take a look to it. What we found, is that you can open a chat room, give it a title, and you can decide the number of persons allow in the discussion. There is also the Whiteboard, which presumably you can use to upload images, photos, etc.
    Another option is that when you are outside the chatting room, but within the HUskyCT site, at the right bottom corner of the screen you can see who is online, and can make an invitation for that person. I’ve seen a few students online, and I have made an invitation, but has not been accepted so far (that shows how intimidating I am, I guess, or how easily ignored as a character. You decide).
    In a nutshell: the chatting room would be similar to a regular class, where you agree to meet at a specific time. An invitation to chat would be similar to see a student in the library, at random, and chat for a little while. But so far I have not used this feature, but later explained why. (It is part of Alfonso’s conservative approach to everything).

    Here it comes my actual experience. Since during my class it seemed that nobody was willing to set up a specific day or time for the chat, one student suggested to do the postings. I said yes, and that I would count that as participation (for 2 reasons: 1. It seems we never get time for discussing the readings 2. Some students have interesting ideas to share, but are shy).
    My class meets on TUE and TH. The first week postings were done from TH up to MON, and I would consider it as class participation for the precedent TH. I found 8 comments, actually 6 a response to 2 initial comments, and I was pleased with the ideas posted. I made sure to acknowledge this on class.

    I also announced the 2nd opportunity to participate using HuskyCT postings. Today, MON september 24, I just checked the postings left since last TH. The number of postings increased a little, but more important, some students participated more than once, and I found some answers began to be somewhat more sophisticated. I myself responded to some of the postings, agreeing with some, desagreeing with others, but either way I realized that in the process, not only I reviewed my knowledge about the subject, but also got new ideas: POstings are not only for my students but for me as well (of course, whatever good for either the instructor or the students, is good for the whole class).

    This last experience shows to me that I am using this postings, it is better to interact more. If I am to get the most out of this, I better also check the postings regularly, and make my own comments at the spot, to make room for the students reading my own comment, and continue the discussion.

    So far this is my experience. Might be a little bit conservative, but for me is the beginning of using some new strategies. By the way, this class is an advance Spanish class. Although I never emphasized the use of target language only, students are writing in Spanish.
    By the way, I am planning on additionally telling them I will be in the chatting room at a specific day and time, and it will be up to the students to participate. The postings though, remain a fair option, since I know some students will be busy anyway at that specific time and day.

  3. martinawp Says:


    The more we read about, discuss, and experience social networking opportunities and assessment in class the more I am fascinated. Online resources such as the photograph sharing service Flickr, which we are also using for our projects and class, open wonderful access for images around the world and from all different socio-cultural backgrounds, which are connected by pictures only. It is great that we are able to participate and exchange in this way, e.g. e-portfolios, which only years ago would not have been possible. As a major in history one thinks of images of the middle-ages that dominated the lives of so many people for centuries, e.g. the at the same time fascinating and shocking pictures of Hieronymus Bosch. His contemporaries were not able to share and exchange different points of view than those given by the worldly or religious powers. These contemporaries often could neither read nor write –not to mention that they could not participate in our modern ways of communication. How could they develop a view of the world that was independent from local authorities? How can one participate in an enlightening process without access to knowledge and insights of research? Nowadays, one is free to choose and use images and information more individually, and, so to speak, to develop a more open view of the world. The power of image and information is also obvious in current political events such as Myanmar, where local and federal authorities try to shut down telecommunication and websites. From this perspective it is on the one hand highly important for me as a teacher to enable my students to participate in a democratic process by using modern tools of communication and social networking. On the other hand I will need these tools in order to be able to participate in nowadays research, fast exchange of ideas, and last but not least the job market. The impact of this dimension was wonderfully described by Joni E. Spurin in the article “Technologies and Learning. Defining What You Want to Assess.”

    Nevertheless, this fast working medium is not without disadvantages, which I mentioned in former contributions to our class discussions. Today the article “Use My Photo? Not Without permission” in the category “Link by Link” the New York Times describes the case of 15-year-old student Alison Chang. Her picture was taken at a church-sponsored car wash in Texas and put on the Flickr website by Alison’s youth counselor and photographer. Only weeks later, the computer picture appeared on a billboard in Australia for a Virgin Mobile advertisement… As a teacher I have to enable my student’s to use these tools, to be aware of the “dark side” of these modern technologies, and, as a consequence, to help them to deal with potential challenges of their future lives.

  4. alfonsovaronacarrillo Says:

    As a counterargument on collaborative writing, the “wisdom of the people” used to share information, and Wikipedia (promised in a later posting I never found) I recommend reading Michael Gorman’s “The siren song of the Internet” Part II.
    Here is a copy and paste selection of the argument. I find it important, because personally I feel in the middle: Gorman’s arguments are still dear to me, and part of the problem is because we don’t know from here to 15 years how the conflict Academia vs. Knowledge available for everybody on the Web is going to be solved.
    The blog I am referring to, is in the Britannica blog, found at the blogroll of our own blog. Part I is well worth as well, and of course, you should read also the responses to Gorman’s article. That’s the main point: being able to considered both points of view. Here is a copy and paste selection from the article:

    “There is today a concerted and multifront assault on copyright spurred by monied
    interests and the desire of consumers to use digital technology to get something
    for nothing.This assault has created a mindset that sees the notion of
    intellectual property as a barrier to progress rather than what it is—an
    affirmation of the singularity of the human intellect and personality”

    “A common feature of call-in talk shows and even blogs is the person claiming
    to have “done research” into the topic under discussion.
    What invariably follows is a torrent of half-baked ideas, urban myths, and political
    vituperation, the former two being attributed to “the Internet.”
    Research, properly used, signifies complete and critical investigation of, or
    experimentation in, a particular subject resulting in new conclusions or
    discoveries. To many, it now means a few minutes noodling around to see
    which shards of data a search engine can retrieve and, worse, a delusion that
    one is now in possession of all pertinent facts.”

    He talks of three ways to do research, the first one bieng reading the original source, the second one reading authoritative secondary sources, and the third one “The third, which scarcely deserves the title of research, consists of
    unorganized and serendipitous consultation of unauthoritative or uncertain
    sources (reading popular nonfiction, mass-market magazines, or “googling” a

    Gorman concludes with the following:

    “There is a life beyond the search engine—a life of richness and nuance undreamed
    of in Mr. Wales’s philosophy—and all teachers at all levels of education must
    insist that their students use primary sources and authoritative secondary
    sources in their papers and studies, regardless whether these sources are
    digitized. Further, they should emphasize the acquisition of research and
    critical thinking skills applied to the human record in all its variety” “There is a present danger that we are “educating” a generation of intellectual sluggards incapable of moving beyond the Internet and of interacting with, and learning from, the myriad of texts created by human minds over the millennia and perhaps found only in those distant archives and dusty file cabinets full of treasures unknown. What a dreary, flat, uninteresting world we will create if we succumb to that danger!”

    One of the answers to this argument that I liked, is that for doing a good research, critical skills have to be tought, and developed through practice. Even in a wonderful library, full of useful material, without these skills, the information is not useful at all. Whether using a web search or a library search (or both), good research depends on the researcher (and ultimately on how educational institutions, that is us manage to train students on the right direction).

    I’ll finish with a commentary that I could have shared this article, with my own highlighting, through Diigo, but as for now felt intimidated… hope, if you have not read Gorman’s post, the selection is useful. See you tomorrow for our last class.
    [Posdata: on Diigo, you have to go to “Create group“, and from there is a matter to include the info requested… I’ll try that later]

  5. Barbara Says:

    I agree with you, Alfonso, it is important to hear multiple views on this issue —one of the reasons the Britannica blog is on our blog roll, actually. You might want to look at some critical responses to Michael Gorman’s perspectives, for example, The Gorman Shall Ride Again, on K.G. Schneider’s blog, Free Range Librarian or Jason Griffey of Pattern Recognition and his multiple responses to Gorman’s writings. Here’s one specifically directed toward Gorman’s Web 2.0: The Sleep of Reason. As you so astutely point out, the essential issue is developing critical evaluative abilities in our students regardless of the medium.

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