Wikipedia’s Gender Bias – and What Your Students Can Do About It

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Every system has its biases, and Wikipedia is no exception. A common criticism of Wikipedia is its male bias. Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, agreed with the criticism after it conducted a 2011 survey indicating that up to 90% of editors identified as male. This is a problem for a non-profit organization whose mission is “to empower and engage people around the world to collect and develop educational content … and to disseminate it effectively and globally.”

The mechanisms for the gender bias are various, complex, and the subject of several studies, recently summarized by two New York researchers. They may include the code-heavy interface, called wiki markup, that contributors initially had to use to edit articles. To the extent that wiki markup operated to inhibit female editors, the technical hurdle has largely disappeared: since April 2015, Wikipedia’s VisualEditor is available by default on the Article pages (but not the Talk pages) for about three-quarters of the language editions of Wikipedias. A more troubling and persistent concern may be Wikipedia’s sometimes hostile user culture, which I’ll discuss in a future blog post. In response to these concerns, there has been a series of efforts to increase female editorship. These include edit-a-thons, some organized by Wikimedia Foundation and some independently, to increase coverage of women’s topics in Wikipedia and to encourage more women to edit it. An example is the worldwide Art+Feminism edit-a-thon, the third of which was held last year to coincide with International Women’s Day. Events took place in nine locations across Canada, including Saskatoon, where editors focused on Saskatchewan and Indigenous women artists including Ruth Cuthand, Mary Longman, and Michelle LaVallee. Similar events are planned for the US, Canada and Europe in March 2017.

Anonymous Woman in Green

Woman in Green Dress, Anonymous, c 1825, National Museum in Warsaw. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Educators and their students can help address the bias. In 2012, students in Alana Cattapan’s fourth-year seminar, “The Politics of the Canadian Women’s Movement,” edited, updated, and expanded various Wikipedia articles, including “Feminism in Canada.” Though often serving as a first point of reference on Canadian feminism, this Wikipedia page was underdeveloped, and Cattapan drew on her students to set about correcting this gateway article and other related ones. Librarians have also been active. In September 2016, to celebrate Science Literacy Week, Concordia University Library partnered with McGill Library to host a Women in Science Wikipedia event. The librarians gave a tutorial on how to edit Wikipedia, followed by an editing session in which participants got one-on-one help.

If you’re thinking of wading into the field and wondering where to start, you might want to look at WikiProject Women in Red. The goal of this project is to turn “red links”—internal links that lead to Wikipedia pages that don’t exist—into “blue links”—internal links that lead to actual Wikipedia articles. (More on this later.) Or if you’d rather start by having your students edit existing material, check out the contrapuntally-named Wikiproject Women in Green, an attempt to bring articles on women up to minimum “Good article” status. The project even provides a “Hot 99” list of women’s biographies to get you started—ranging from Aisha to Natalie Wood.


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law and a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, where he is coordinating a campus-wide project on integrating Wikipedia assignments into course materials. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former law student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621.

What Does It Mean to Say That “Anyone Can Edit” Wikipedia?

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In previous posts, I argued for the benefits of having students edit or write Wikipedia articles for university credit. But if “anyone can edit,” doesn’t that make Wikipedia prone to errors, questionable content, edit wars, and vandalism? Well, yes—these things comprise Wikipedia’s dark side and can compromise efforts at using Wikipedia for student learning. For example, Sivan Lerer, mentioned in my first post, found that when her students edited Bahá’í articles that already had substantial content, they “had a difficult time merging what they wanted with what it said in the entry,” resulting in other Wikipedians undoing their edits. But even this phenomenon can be turned into experiential learning. In “Using Wikipedia to Teach Audience, Genre and Collaboration,” Allan Bilansky, who uses Wikipedia in his social informatics course, says that “an informed effort at making contributions that persist within a large community … can be an experience at being answerable to a real audience.” Responding to a student who reported that he “had made a change [to a Wikipedia article], and then it changed back,” Bilansky told the student, “it did not change back;” rather, “[s]omeone changed it back, probably for reasons we can eventually understand.”

In both theory and practice, though, Wikipedia isn’t the freewheeling editing environment that you might think it is. Wikipedia adheres to some key principles, called the five pillars: (i) Wikipedia is an encyclopedia—not a blogging forum, a social networking site, a place to publish original research, or a dictionary (but see its companion lexical project, Wiktionary); (ii) articles adopt a neutral point of view, which includes “document[ing] and explain[ing] the major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence in an impartial tone;” (iii) Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute, so anything that smacks of using Wikipedia for commercial gain attracts censure; (iv) Wikipedia has a code of conduct, or “Wikiquette,” that requires editors to treat each other with civility; and (v) Wikipedia has no firm rules, which means that “principles and spirit matter more than literal wording, and sometimes improving Wikipedia requires making exceptions.”

These principles are fleshed out in specific policies and practices. For example, a Wikipedia article should abide by three core content policies: neutral point of view (NPOV), verifiability (V), and no original research (NOR). Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, after all, which means that it is entirely derivative from other works. Thus, Wikipedians are alert to articles or edits that lack citations to reliable, published sources. Not uncommonly, articles are peppered with “citation needed” admonitions inserted by watchful Wikipedians, or prefaced by warnings that the article may violate NPOV, V, or NOR and be a candidate for deletion. Yet the civility principle means that Wikipedians must be judicious with deletions or other edits. This exhortation takes practical shape in the form of rules like the “three-revert rule”: an editor may not make more than three reversions to an article on a single page—whether involving the same or different material—within a 24-hour period.

Using view history tab on Wikipedia

Click image for screencast on using Wikipedia’s View History page.

To help students imbibe these principles and rules, Bilansky created some innovative assign­ments for his social informatics course. For example, the first assignment required students to read the View History pages (also called page history, revision history or edit history) and Talk pages (also called discussion pages) of Wikipedia articles. Every article has these pages, though most users are probably only faintly aware of them. The page history lists all the article’s previous revisions, including date and time (in UTC) of each edit, the editor’s registered username or IP address, and the user’s edit summary. As Bilansky explains, these features amount to a sort of variorum edition of each article: not only do they preserve every contributor’s minutest work and let you compare two different versions, they also provide opportunities for learning about collaborative writing processes and academic research standards.

The first thing that each of Bilansky’s students had to do was find a Wikipedia article with at least one edit that didn’t persist (that is, changes made by one editor were reverted by another), review the version history, and post to a class discussion thread an explanation of why the edits they examined were undone. (Finding such an article merely requires searching for the word reverted in the revision history.) Bilansky offered prizes for the first student to find a Wikipedia policy cited on a Talk page, which created quite a buzz and an interest in finding more strange-sounding policies or prohibitions, like the endearingly named “sock puppetry” (using multiple user accounts to hide one’s tracks). All this preparatory work smoothed the way for more complex assignments, resulting in engagement on Talk pages and in some cases, collaboration with senior Wikipedia editors (all volunteers—the whole encyclopedia is a volunteer effort) who helped the students navigate their way through what can seem like terra incognita.

I will return to the theme of Wikipedia’s integrity, because there is a lot to say about it. But in my next post, I will consider another critique of Wikipedia—its documented male bias—and what instructors and students are doing about it.


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law and a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, where he is coordinating a campus-wide project on integrating Wikipedia assignments into course materials. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former law student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621

 

How Students Are Learning Medicine and Collaborative Skills, And Transforming Wikipedia

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In my last blog post, I wrote about the wide range of disciplines represented in student Wikipedia projects. Perhaps the most ambitious effort is the Wiki Project Med Foundation, whose goal is nothing less than “to provide the sum of all medical knowledge to all people in their own language.” Started by Wikipedia enthusiast and UBC clinical professor James Heilman, the foundation is working to this goal by collaborating with various partners. These include the closely allied WikiProject Medicine, the non-profit organization Translators Without Borders, and University of California San Francisco, where fourth-year medical students have been editing Wikipedia for credit in a month-long elective course since 2013.

Amin Azzam, associate clinical professor at the UCSF School of Medicine, found that Wikipedia was second only to Google as the most frequently used source by junior physicians (!) but that there was a clear need to bring medical articles up to par. As he explains in a 2014 interview, he and his collaborators prioritized Wikipedia’s medical articles based on the number of unique visitors to the articles and the importance of the articles from a health perspective. Wikipedia also has a system for ranking article quality, ranging from “stub” to “featured article,” and the collaborators found that many articles were at the low end of the quality scale. Azzam encouraged his students to focus on the intersection of these two—high priority but low quality—and direct their efforts to improving them. Most students picked articles from this list, such as Cirrhosis and Hepatitis, while some pursued articles that held a special interest for them, like “Race and health.” Not only did they edit their chosen articles, but they reviewed articles edited by their class peers. The results, presented at a 2015 medical education conference, were impressive. As measured by Wikipedia’s own quality metrics, the students’ work resulted in improvements to most of the selected articles, and significant improvements to several.[1]

Not only has this work continued to the present, with over 50 articles improved through student work, but UCSF’s School of Pharmacy has recently joined forces with the medical school: Tina Brock, professor and associate dean of Global Health & Educational Innovations, now assigns third-year pharmacy students articles to edit from Wiki Project Pharmacology, an initiative like WikiProject Medicine. In the meantime, the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University has also taken up the initiative. In a recent paper in Education Information Technology, educators Shani Evenstein Sigalov and Rafi Nachmias explain how their students have edited over 128 medical articles in Hebrew Wikipedia, already viewed over 1.4 million times. The paper also presents findings of a related study that focused on students’ learning experience, long-term impact and productive teaching practices.

“But surely” you might ask, “doesn’t Wikipedia’s ‘anyone can edit philosophy’ mean that all this good work can be undone?” I’ll take up that question in my next post.

[1]  Articles that went from “start class” or “C-class” to “B-class” in the first session can be considered to have improved significantly. According to the hyperlinked study, the following articles would qualify as such: “Hepatitis,” “Diabetes,” “Amyloidosis,” “Cholecystitis,” “Toxic epidermal necrolysis,” “Placental abruption,” “Therapeutic hypothermia,” “Premature rupture of membranes,” “Umbilical cord prolapse” and “Omphalitis of newborn.”


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law and a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, where he is coordinating a campus-wide project on integrating Wikipedia assignments into course materials. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former law student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621.

 

The Wikipedia Manifesto

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wikipedia-logo-v2-svg

This blog has been updated to correct some initial errors.

A spectre is haunting academia—the spectre of Wikipedia. And while there was a time when all the old powers would have entered into an alliance to exorcise this spectre, a worldwide community of educators is now taking a radically different approach: they’re assigning students the task of editing and writing Wikipedia’s sprawling content, and giving them academic credit for doing so. In the process, they’re turning students from indiscriminate knowledge consumers to savvy knowledge creators. At the same time, they’re building an open-access and up-to-date storehouse of knowledge that, in certain areas, already rivals traditional reference works. As Clay Shirky explains, this is all part of an interconnected movement—from wikis to open textbooks to interactive mapping applications like Ushahidi—in which technology has made possible methods of collaboration that never existed before.

How did this start? For some instructors, it came from a place of despair. So it was for Sivan Lerer, who teaches an introductory course on the Bahá’í Faith at Hebrew Jerusalem University. In an interview published in December 2016, Lerer explains:

I’ve told my students, for many years, that despite its many advantages (it’s accessible and in Hebrew), Wikipedia’s not an academic source . . . I told them they can use Wikipedia in the beginning but afterwards they have to go to the Encyclopedia of Islam, or The Encyclopedia of Religions. But all my admonitions were in vain. They used only Wikipedia as their source.

Lerer also wasn’t happy with the quality of writing in her students’ exams, finding that in many of their answers, they would just “regurgitate” her lectures. Sound familiar? That’s when she learned about the education program of Wikimedia Israel, whose goals are to cultivate deeper student learning and improve the access to, and quality of, Wikipedia’s resources. With the help of education coordinator Shai Katz and Darya Kantor, an active “Wikimedian,” Lerer redesigned her course to incorporate Wikipedia assignments, from revising existing articles to adding new material, such as a Canadian student’s article on the Bahá’í community in Canada. Altogether, 18 students created or improved 17 articles in Hebrew Wikipedia, with Lerer concluding that it was a positive experience for the students, and that “[i]nstead of memorizing, they really learned.”

Students have now contributed to Wikipedia as part of their course work in agriculture and life sciences, chemistry, community history, geobiology, linguistics, mineralogy, psychology, public policy, and a host of other fields. In March 2016, Wiki Edu’s Eryk Salvaggio, who writes a blog for the Wiki Education Foundation set out five reasons why you might consider assigning such a project instead of a term paper. It’s not hard to do, but before getting into the nuts and bolts of it, we’ll look at some examples of what others are doing. In particular, I want to tell you about some medicine professors who, with their students’ help, are now editing Wikipedia to make high-quality medical knowledge freely available around the world.


John Kleefeld is an associate professor at the College of Law and a 2017 teaching fellow at the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching Effectiveness, where he is coordinating a campus-wide project on integrating Wikipedia assignments into course materials. Portions of this blog series are from an article that he and a former student wrote about using a Wikipedia assignment for class credit. See J. Kleefeld and K. Rattray, 2016. “Write a Wikipedia Article for Law School Credit—Really?” Journal of Legal Education, 65:3, 597-621.

Hands up! How We Increase (Or Decrease) Student Participation

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We design courses with many opportunities for students to learn by completing assignments, readings and answering questions in class. But does our teaching increase such behaviours or decrease them?

One lens, psychology of learning, suggests we likely do both. B. F. Skinners’ operant conditioning suggests that how we respond to student behavior can either increase (reinforce) or decrease (punish) our students actions including participating in class discussion or completing homework.

What is Operant conditioning?

As Thorndike’s Law of Effect and B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning note we are influenced by the consequences of our actions. Good consequences encourage more of this activity, while unpleasant (or unhelpful) consequences encourage less of this activity.

Reinforcement increases the frequency of behaviours through either the addition of a pleasant stimulus (positive reinforcement) or the removal of an unpleasant stimulus (Negative reinforcement).

Punishment” decreases the frequency of valued behaviours through either the addition of an unpleasant stimulus (positive punishment) or the removal of an unpleasant stimulus (negative punishment).

What about Encouraging students to answer questions in class:

Hands up! How We Increase (Or Decrease) Students Answering QuestionsWe might beneficially use punishment to decrease of disruptive behaviours such as disruptive side conversations, interrupting classmates, or answering cell phones by adding the unpleasantness of awkwardness when we stand near by, interrupt to redirect conversation, or let silence fall during the phone call.

Our effect may also be neutral leading to attenuation where the lack of a reward results in decreased responses, including when an instructor neither confirms or discounts the response and simply says “next” until they have 3 responses regardless of correctness.

Over time, behaviours do not need to be (and should not be) actively reinforced each time to maintain higher participation or lower skipping class (see information on schedules and fixed versus variable intervals and ratios).

Experiment!

Try seeing how the number of students’ answers increases (or decreases) with different responses. Predict via the lens of operant conditioning. For example:

  • What happens if I ask questions that are too easy? -> Students likely not rewarded by answering.
  • What happens if I ask questions that are too hard? ->Students might not be able to answer and receive the explicit or implicit feedback that they are wrong.
  • What happens if I present my answer(s) on a slide after I ask them? Students might not be rewarded by answering
  • But what if I skim by pointing out all the parts they identified and building on their answer? -> Students might be rewarded and increase participation.
  • What if I summarize the readings? -> Students who read now have the frustration of listening again and having “wasted time” while students who did not read are reinforced that their decision was correct.
  • What if I have them pull out the readings or use a specific page or section for an activity -> Students who read ware rewarded by not having to quickly skim, students who did not read might experience uncertainty or struggle.

Applying operant conditioning is not about “coddling” or saying “good try” without correcting flawed knowledge, but creating a learning experience that is encouraging of participation, reading and incorporating feedback into later performance. Even when a students’ answer is incorrect there are ways to reward behaviours that lead to improvement (e.g., asking questions) and provide feedback to modify that knowledge by “rewarding” the correct bits, “punishing” incorrect parts, and because we can speak better than pigeons, suggesting how to improve.

While it is useful to be cognizant of how our actions may act to encourage or discourage specific student behaviours, self-determination is still valued and people may not want themselves or others to be treated as treating people like lab rats such as by Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory:

Resources:

Tools and Strategies for “Hot Topics”- Part 3 of 3

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After the difficult conversation or incident in class

I regularly use formative feed-back in my class—feedback that is solicited over the course of a term, allowing me to measure student progress, highlighting concepts that are still unclear, and to hear from the students about what is and is not creating an effective learning environment. The formative feedback tool below is new to me, and will be very helpful in determining if and how the difficult topics are addressed in class were ultimately beneficial, or that they require follow-up.

The Critical Incident Questionnaire

At the end of the day (or week, or unit, or other appropriate time period), set aside 10 minutes for the class to respond, in writing, to a few specific questions.  (This may be especially helpful to do when a class session has been particularly difficult or tense).

  • At what moment were you most engaged as a learner?
  • At what moment were you most distanced as a learner?
  • What action that anyone in the room took did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone in the room took did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What surprised you most?

Keep all of the responses anonymous, and collect them at the end of the class.  Read and analyze the responses, and compile them according to similar themes and concerns.  Most important is that you report back to the group at the next meeting, and allow time for comments and discussion. (Borrowed from Vanderbilt University)

If properly prepared, you will actually find that the difficult topics and discussions allow a class to dig deeply into an issue, example, or situation that can take us beyond classroom readings and into ‘real world’ contexts, making learning even more meaningful, relevant, and transformative.

Tools and Strategies for ‘Hot Topics’ – Part 2 of 3

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During Class

A favorite strategy of mine has long been the “oops” and “ouch” strategy. I’m fairly certain I encountered it at a conference, but an Internet search doesn’t reveal who first developed the strategy.

In English slang, the word “ouch” means “that hurt me.” The word “oops” means, “I made a mistake” (I like to define these terms in class, in case they are not familiar to some students).

In the “The Oops and Ouch” strategy, students can express themselves in two ways. If they feel uncomfortable with something that has been said in a class or a conversation, saying “ouch” alerts their peer(s) (or instructor) that what they’ve said has hurt, offended, or angered someone, and that the original speaker needs to think about the impact their words have had. Students who have heard another person’s “ouch,” can respond with “oops,” communicating that they didn’t mean harm and/or that they’d like to think about and reword what they’ve said. During the “oops” stage, the “oops” student needs to ask genuinely curious questions to help them understand. Such a question might be, “How was what I said hurtful or offensive to you?” This opens up a constructive dialogue, and students continuously learn to see concepts and issues through a new perspective.  This strategy is one that you may want to introduce when you are co-creating your guides of conduct on your first day of class (see Part One).

Another strategy is to take the conversation away from the individuals. Sometimes it is necessary to draw the conversation away from individuals, and redirect attention toward a broader perspective, particularly if a student expresses a thought or opinion that is reflective of a more systemic myth, misconception, or belief. If a student makes a controversial statement that raises objections from other students, the original student’s statement can be more generalized by re-casting it as: “There are many people feel this way. Why do you think this is?” Then we can ask, “Many people also disagree—why do you think this is?

The Center for Research on Teaching and Learning (CRTL), University of Michigan, provides an amazing selection of resources for anticipating, facilitating, and responding to difficult discussions and moments, as well as classroom incivility:

I strongly recommend visiting each of the aforementioned links.

Tools and Strategies for ‘Hot Topics’ – Part 1 of 3

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Before Class

Regardless of the discipline in which you teach, undoubtedly you have encountered comments or topics in your classroom that have been opinion-/value- and/or emotion-laden. In those moments perhaps your heart quickened and you felt panicked trying to decide what to do. In this three-part series, we’re going to explore some possible tools and strategies for managing “hot topics” in the classroom.

Whether you have planned to address or discuss a controversial topic in your class, or whether you just know from experience that incendiary comments can emerge with seemingly no provocation, the one advantage you have is that you have time to plan ahead.

Imagine our weather this past couple of weeks. Two weeks ago, I was walking barefoot in a field with my dogs. Last week, I had to pull out my parka and big winter boots. I had boots, coats, hats, and gloves at the ready, even though I didn’t know when winter would first hit. As a result, I was able to be properly dressed, and even though the weather turned lousy, I was warm and reasonably comfortable. We must equally prepare ourselves for how we will manage classroom comments and discussions that warn of, or become ‘stormy.’ Adequately prepared, we will be able to ensure that discussions are safe and constructive learning experiences for everyone in the classroom. And having planned ahead, we will feel confident in our abilities to do so.

The first way you can prepare is to think about your course content and activities. Even before you set foot in the classroom, identify which topics might elicit emotional or confrontational responses from the students. Imagine what strategies you will use. Think about how you feel and what you believe so that you are mindful of your own possible biases. What comments might you anticipate? Where might students lack the knowledge or experience to make informed arguments? How will you prepare these students? Being prepared beforehand significantly lessens the chance that you will feel flustered and unsure what to do when the moment arises.

The second strategy is one that many are familiar with, but few of us actually get around to implementing. Creating guides for conduct on the first day of class establishes the tenor, mutual respect, and civility needed in a safe classroom. Conduct guides co-created with the students are typically most effective, although you may include some non-negotiable items. Some of these might include:

  • Always use a respectful tone.
  • No interrupting or yelling.
  • No name-calling or other character attacks.
  • Ask questions when you do not understand; do not assume you know what others are thinking.
  • Try to see the issue from the other person’s perspective before stating your opinion.
  • Maintain confidentiality (what is said in the classroom stays in the classroom.)

(The above is borrowed from Vanderbilt University)

One last thing you can do in advance is to familiarize yourself with the ‘in-the-moment’ strategies discussed in Part Two of this series, which includes the “Oops and Ouch” strategy. Watch for it next week.

Open Pedagogy: Using OER to change how we teach

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There has been a considerable increase in the number of courses assigning open rather than commercial textbooks at the University of Saskatchewan.  During the 2014-2015 academic year, there were approximately 300 students enrolled in three courses using open textbooks. This year more than 2,650 students are enrolled in the at least 20 courses that have open textbooks as the assigned resource. Since the university started promoting and tracking the use of open textbooks in 2014, this use has resulted in students at the U of S saving close to $400,000 on textbook costs.

The benefits of using open textbooks and other open educational resources (OER) instead of commercial texts aren’t limited to the cost savings for students, however. The lack of copyright restrictions on OER allows instructors to modify these materials to meet the specific needs of their courses. For example, the Edwards School of Business recently released an adaption of an open book from the United States that not only saved their students money, but also meets the learning needs of the students better than the original edition. University Success will be used by the more than 475 students in the course, but also students at other institutions, and other instructors will be free to make their own changes to this resource to better meet local needs.

Just as instructors are able to adapt existing OER, so are students. Learners can become contributors to existing open materials, or use OER to create new learning materials for themselves, their peers, and future learners (and instructors).

John Kleefeld, a professor in the U of S College of Law, created an assignment that offers students in his The Art of Judgement course the chance to improve Wikipedia articles on one of the topics covered in the course. Professor Kleefeld and one of those students, Katelyn Rattray wrote an article on the design of the assignment and the experience that was published the Journal of Legal Education.

Robin DeRosa from Plymouth State University in New Hampshire created an open textbook for her early American literature course by having undergraduate research assistants find appropriate public domain content. As a core assignment in the class, students then wrote introductions for each reading based on their research about the authors and time periods.  While she served as the editor, students did much of the research and compiling of content for this new open textbook. This assignment replaced a traditional paper that would have only been seen by the instructor and the student and likely soon after marking, discarded by the student. Read more about this process on her blog.

Moving away from private “throw away” assignments can shift student activity away from knowledge consumption instead developing their skills in knowledge creation.  In the examples above and many others, this lead to increased student engagement, improved learning outcomes, and freed instructors from reading the same assignments repeatedly.

If you would like to learn more about open pedagogy, the GMCTE is offering a session on November 8 as part of our Introduction to Learning Technologies series.  You can also contact the GMCTE directly with any questions or to schedule a consultation.

Why Google Can’t Replace Good Teaching

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The internet contains more facts, pictures and formulas than any human mind, yet we do not see it as “smart” and it can sometimes feel like we are stumbling in a jungle. Last year’s estimate placed it at 136 billion pieces of 8×11 paper and there are more pages now. In its amazing stack of human content, there are thousands of pages on each statistical test, recent political event, written work and human experience. No shortage of information. But “knowing” requires more than access to or repeating of stacks of information.

What separates a novice from an expert is the richness of details, meaningful connections, identification of significant features that differentiate and inform, and the overall complex organizational structure that tells us the relative importance of a given fact, the other relevant factors, and thus what page to choose among the thousands. Just watch a students’ first literature search (or walk through the library stacks), or my online search yesterday about downspout options.

stacks

Picture via Flickr by Fly under a CC-BY license.

Guided development of expertise, and having someone who “knows” describe the overall framework, highlight key features and reveal the decision making process is what is missing when we simply load a browser and hit search.

In order to be more to our students, than the internet or any repository of facts could be, good teaching is about modeling and build such expertise that shapes the essential ways of thinking and seeing the world that are the core of our disciplines.

We, as experts, teaching novices have the challenge of making what comes naturally to us as our usual mode of transportation, explicit, tangible, and possible for our students who are novices in our disciplines. How?

  • Model the process of decision-making and analysis as explicitly as you can. Practice and ask a colleague from outside your discipline (or one of us in the GMCTE) to listen and ask why.
  • Highlight the key distinguishing features, where you see them in the example, what they relate to, how you make sense of them, and what you now know and thus can decide or do.
  • Show the overall framework of the area with its many connections, and refer to both the framework and the connections across specific topics, facts, authors, images, formulas, approaches, time periods and more.
  • Draw on their own expertise and help link new material with existing connections by asking them to create their own maps, lists of steps or mnemonics

Resources on Novice & Expert

Academic Resource Centre, Duke University, Experts vs. Novices: What Students Struggle with Most in STEM Disciplines (summary) http://arc.duke.edu/documents/Experts%20vs%20Novices_STEMcourses.pdf

Ambrose, S., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.   Chapter 2: How does the way students organize knowledge affect their learning? (pp. 40-65). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass.

Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (2004). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School. Washington D.C.: National Academy of Sciences.