Waraku Education

Ideas, experiments and observations as they occur [and I have time] relating to teaching and learning in a secondary school - special focus on ICT.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Peer produced knowledge sharing in education

What are the practical and philosophical challenges in using technologies for ‘peer produced’ knowledge sharing?

A response to the Jimmy Wales seminar in Adelaide, 'Challenging how knowledge is created', 23/4/2007

If we were to leave the practicalities out of the picture for a minute I reckon that we could agree that core to teacher's hearts is unencumbered learning. We would all connect with the idea that we want to remove the encumbrances to learning for all children. So the idea of free access (free in both senses of the word – free as in beer and free as in libre) would resonate with teachers everywhere.

We can categorise the issues around peer publishing for educators into two main categories
1. The first is the classroom where we make use of peer produced materials and have students involved in the peer publishing process
2. The second relates to peer publishing for professional sharing

Classroom use

Teacher's technical skills.
Just as our teachers vary in height they vary in their technical skills. Generally speaking, the skills required to make web 2.0 peer publishing tools work are fairly minimal. So this is good news.

Education system filtering mechanisms generally eliminate online or peer publishing. The one size fits all filtering systems can fail to recognise the different needs of children as they grow and develop.

Infrastructure in schools tends to be focused on desktop applications with mainly web one level access because of the filtering system. School systems tend to be locked down rather than trying to build a community based on trust in our schools. We often think about systems from a systems perspective and so we want to protect the system and forget about the fact that education is trying to help us build a better society. Two of the core values for this is trust and respect. The accountability model rather than the gate keeper model that Jimmy Wales talked about is a key concept to making schools a better place and in so doing, make our society a better one. Acknowledging that children will make mistakes and this is important for their learning, having methods to easily undo or fix the damage is critical for system design.

We are at a time where we can provide an excellent learning environment where most of what we do is through a browser interface and using FOSS on the desktop. There are considerable advantages to this, one of them being cost.

Costs of bandwidth are still far too high for schools and the pipe is far too narrow.

Concerns about the accuracy of the information being published and shared.
Teachers often feel the need to ensure that all of the information presented to students is correct.

Concerns about being able to control the communications.
Student peer produced knowledge sharing involves publishing that can be used for inappropriate goals. A phrase that I have been hearing more of lately is that a good education is going to be messy and peer publishing certainly can be messy.

Nature of information is changing
We don't need to keep everything in our heads anymore. Information is disposable, used to complete current goals, probably document what we did and then move on.

Peer publishing offers students the possibility to learn about things that are of interest to them. The variety and depth of the information on Muppet Wiki is a great example.

As a final comment on classroom use, I like the idea of students preparing resources for other students.

Use for professional sharing

I have been intimately involved in the establishment of cegsa.org. It is a wiki for SA and NT senior secondary IT teachers to share learning and assessment resources. Working on the setting up of this has highlighted a number of issues relevant to this discussion.

How do we avoid copyright issues?

Should we enforce logins and only allow teachers into this space?

Why should I contribute when others aren't?

Feelings that my work is not complete and polished enough for sharing is a barrier to contributing

Some people feeling that the wiki markup is too hard to use.

It actually takes effort to share resources. Wouldn't it be good if we had a button on our browsers that said, 'Remember this Delicious,SACSA and SSABSA' and then presented us with a range of relevant tags that we could pick from.

There are too many places to log into these days and this takes time and too many credentials to remember.

The open sharing approach of peer publishing is somewhat chaotic and messy. There are not necessarily answers for everything on the wiki and for other things there is an abundance. Some teachers feel that we are doing the wrong thing and just want a text book – forget the wiki just point me in the direction of the approved text please.

As a closing remark, when you are working with others publishing your work in this way you develop a commitment to each other. It is a shared obligation and it is enjoyable. Peer publishing is great news for country folk where we have often felt left out of the PD loop. Now we are interacting with people in our fields globally. This of course has implications for our professional organizations like CEGSA and our employer.

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  • At 9:11 am, Anonymous Kerry J said…

    Your school is lucky to have you. I really enjoyed your insights both in this posting and at the seminar and look forward to staying in touch!

  • At 8:02 pm, Blogger Roland said…

    Interesting to read this, we are going through the same thoughts at VITTA in Victoria. I have some concerns about spam bots so teacher authentication is probably not an issue. I wonder if we have sufficient critical mass to have a community that self moderates. Perhaps an Australian acec wiki might be worth exploring.

  • At 9:20 pm, Blogger Peter R said…

    There can be quite a few teachers who have never used a wiki. Eliminating as many of the hurdles for contribution was important in my mind. It does mean that I am cleaning up spam very regularly ATM. I will keep putting up with that for a while I think and down the track, when this sharing becomes more cultural, introduce authentication to eliminate the spam maintenance issue. If there is anything I can do to help Roland, please don't hesitate to yell out. :-)


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