Friday, August 04, 2006

Wikimania conference: free text book

In today's Boston Globe, there's an article called "A new high-tech take on school group project," by Kim-Mai Cutler. The piece describes how one professor, Sheizaf Rafaeli at the University of Haifa in Israel, "hated seeing his students shell out money for expensive, outdated textbooks. So he let them write one themselves."

What technology did he use? Why a Wiki of course because it's an ideal technology for collaborative authoring. Student entries were treated as essays in business course on topics that a text would normally have covered. Other instructors attended Wikimanina and told similar stories. One of my favorite that Cutler reports is this one: "Computer science teacher Vicki Davis of Georgia replaceda 200-question exam with a wiki project. She said that students learned more because they had to synthesize, source, and edit content instead of memorize and that quality went up because students interacted."

What a great use of technology and what an assessment improvement. In the Wiki use, questions are replaced with writing, and students get to show not only what they have learned, but also learn more as they show it. They go from memorizing to thinking, improving their memory of facts and data along the way.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Mash Up Fun

In a Washington Post piece called "Art and Marketing All Mashed Up," Sara Kehaulani Goo reviews how mash-up videos are being used to comment on popular culture, products, and current events. Goo explains that a "mash-up video mixes original images or sounds with music, quick-witted narrations or creative transitions. The result is a video dialogue of sorts that makes a statement that is political, personal or merely entertaining."

Fueled by digital cameras and recorders, and easy to use film and image editing software, it is easy for folk to create what are in effect multimedia compositions. The idea that mash-ups are dialogues with source materials or events suggests to me a kind of active reading. In reading a print text, a book say, we encourage students to respond, and we teach them to underline, take margin notes, draw connections to other things they've read. But it's always been hard, in my teaching experience, to have students do this particularly well. Their notations are begrudging and often are on subjects they're just learning about.

Mash-ups require the same kind of engagement we try to get in reading print in our classrooms -- making connections, interjecting ideas. However, they process of shifting from a private dialogue to a publically shared one via a mash-up causes some key shifts. First, the reading is a performance. Second, the technology makes it possible to engage write/edit images, words, sound and video directly into the primary text, pulling it apart and mixing it up in ways that just don't correspond at all to writing notes in a book's margin. It's this combination of freedom and performance (and the fact that doing these is a choice, not an assignment) that makes them so prevalent on the WWW.

So, can Mash-up assignments work? Would making a mash-up an option in a writing class rob it of some essential freedom? I don't think it has to --depends upon how you frame the assignment. The first thing I'd ask, is if any of my students have already done a mash-up or something like it (photoshop manipulation; fanfic story; parody or satire of some kind). The second thing I'd do is make my own mash-up just for fun and to see what it's like.

And that's what's also cool about Goo's piece. If you want to play around with mashups, the Washington Post
provides a clip of their political reporter, Dana Millbank, asking
questions. You can mix in your own answers, and if you want, submit
your M-up back to the Post for a little contest they're running.

So go ahead. Plan a mash-up assignment for the fall. And make your own to show your students.