Sharing? Collaboration? No thanks

Last week I took our third year students to see a demonstration of the management of a patient with spinal cord injury as part of the Movement Science module that I teach. I noticed that during the demonstration many of them were taking pretty comprehensive notes, and thought that this would be a great opportunity to use a collaborative writing platform to create something useful for everyone in the class.

I proposed the following to them the next day:

  • I’d set up a shared online workspace, either using a wiki or Google Docs and create the document structure so that they’d just have to fill in the spaces from their notes
  • We’d use class time so that this wouldn’t be regarded as extra work
  • I highlighted the benefits i.e. additions to their individual notes from other students, adding multimedia e.g. video and images to enhance understanding, linking out to external sources to strengthen the evidence base, error correction by the group and myself, and creating a potentially useful resource for anyone else in the world

Their response…no thanks. It wasn’t even up for discussion. I found out that they didn’t even planning on typing up their notes, even after I’d pointed out the digital notes are searchable, expandable and shareable. They told me that if they wanted to share with their friends then they’d just photocopy the notes.

These aren’t selfish students, and they’re not limited by access to technology. They just don’t see that sharing in this context has any value for them as individuals, and that’s where I think the problem lies. They think that sharing doesn’t benefit them in the context of their learning (or studying as they call it, which I think is a fundamental problem in itself). They told me that they are connected but only in their social lives. They regarded studying as that thing they do in the classroom, and that learning comes from studying.

I also got the sense that they believe in some way that this is a zero sum game, in the sense that the notes they have will give them some kind of competitive advantage over other students in the class, thereby increasing the odds that they’ll get a higher mark. What it is they’re competing for is unclear. I wonder if grading is somehow related? Grading sets up a system of ranking and competition, not of sharing and collaboration. From that point of view, sharing knowledge is only good if it doesn’t impact on my own position in the ranking system. If you get a higher mark than me, it pushes me down the list. If sharing is seen as a zero-sum game in which your success impacts negatively on my success, then sharing isn’t a good strategy.

Anyway, I was pretty disappointed because I believe that sharing and collaboration has enormous potential for learning. What do I do…force them to share in the hope that they’ll see the light? Even if I design collaborative assignments that requires a sharing component, as long as they see it as work, I’m not sure that it’ll change their thinking.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-05-30

Assignments

Over the last week I’ve given my fourth year physiotherapy students 2 assignments to be completed over the next few months. Here is a basic rundown of each.

The first assignment is part of the continuous evaluation for the Management module I teach. The students must create a website for a (fictional) private physiotherapy practice. They’ll be using Google Sites as the platform, which seems to be the simplest approach that removes most of the barriers to creating sites for people with no experience in this regard. I wanted to make the technology as small a factor as possible, which I think Sites does quite nicely. The objectives for the students are that they should be better able to:

  • Identify relevant information that potential clients would need to find their practice
  • Identify and make use of professional guidelines on advertising and self-promotion
  • Learn new skills that will better prepare them for practice e.g. establishing an online presence using freely available tools
  • Be creative in how they present themselves and their practices

The second assignment is part of the Ethics and Human Rights in Health module that I teach. Students will use a wiki to explore the differences in community-based physiotherapy in South Africa (University of the Western Cape) and Ireland (Royal College of Surgeons), as part of an international collaborative project on Physiopedia. This assignment will focus on groupwork and collaborative learning, using the content as a framework on which to build a body of shared experiences. They will be working with Irish physiotherapy students to create short narratives on the different learning and practical experiences of stutdents working in both countries. The objectives (for our students) that they should be better able to:

  • Identify relevant sources of information to provide background to the narratives
  • Highlight the role of the physiotherapist in community-based healthcare settings
  • Explore and discuss some of the ethical and patient rights issues inherent in the South African healthcare system
  • Engage in dialogue with students who come from different backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic environments, acknowledging the perspectives of those who experience the world in different ways
  • Make effective use of technology to community with and share ideas with peers who are geographically dispersed
  • Participate in the peer review process, by commenting on the work of other groups

I’ll be reporting on the progress of the students as they work on these assignments, and will be making any findings available following their completion.

Reflections on improving teaching practice

Up until today, I was kind of maintaining 2 blogs…this one, and a¬†reflective commentary that I included in my teaching portfolio wiki. The portfolio is something that our faculty suggests we keep for when we apply for promotion, etc. but I thought it could be something more. So when I started teaching in 2007, I thought about putting all of my teaching-related activities online in a public wiki, both for my own archiving purposes and for anyone else who might find it useful / interesting. Over time, it grew to become a portal to some of what I’m interested in. For example it’s also where I document my¬†PhD progress, and my¬†Open Textbook project.¬†I’ve decided that since I was essentially doing the same thing in 2 places, albeit with subtle differences (evident only to me), it was time to post those reflections on teaching practice in one place, which from now on will be here.

One of the resources I enjoy most is the¬†Tomorrow’s Professor blog, which is almost always a great starting point for a few minutes of reflection. I’ve just finished reading¬†this post on improving the teaching of poor teachers, taken from the book¬†A Guide to Faculty Development: Practical advice, Examples, and Resources¬†by Ann F. Lucas.

One of the first points made is that poor teachers will often externalise the blame for underperforming students, often citing low student motivation or high teaching loads as the reasons for this. Effectively, this frees the lecturer from any responsibility to improve. When I first started teaching, I remember clearly how my tendency was also to look outside of myself for the problem, and it was only with a great deal of personal honesty that I could admit to myself that I wasn’t always doing a very good job. Having no teaching experience other than the teaching I was subjected to, I had taken on the role that had been modeled to me as a student, with most of my colleagues having the same viewpoint. There was no incentive to change teaching practice, especially not at the expense of research activities. This is changing at UWC though, with both grassroots programmes and upper management policies rewarding a scholarship of teaching and learning.

When you think about the misguided notion that knowledge of a subject conveys some kind of ability to teach it, you begin to understand how deeply entrenched is the centrality of¬†content¬†in a standard curriculum. What the universities are saying is that you don’t need to be able to¬†teach¬†in order to¬†transmit¬†content, an idea that is hardly ever challenged by our students, who seem to accept (and expect) that their experience of higher education will be a continuation of the previous 12 years of learning. Maybe that’s because¬†the voice of the student is often missing from conversations on improving teaching practice? To¬†address this issue in our department, we’ve taken steps to not only formalise our student feedback process, but to implement it in a way that facilitates engagement with that feedback by eliminating the more¬†repetitive¬†tasks associated with it e.g. data capture and analysis. I believe that if students are give the opportunity to be more involved in the teaching and learning process, to see their concerns addressed and suggestions valued, they may move to a space where the rewards for their participation are clear to them, and are no longer things that need to be externally motivated.

However, giving students an authentic voice means having to address them. I’ve had a few students openly reject the idea that they are at university to exercise their minds, and that instead, I should just pour forth the knowledge they require to be good physiotherapists. In these situations, it’s all too easy to throw your hands in the air and shout: “Why should I care if they don’t”? But isn’t the whole point of the job to guide students to a place where where their preconceived notions of education and the world are challenged? If we’re not up to the challenge, should we rather consider employment elsewhere?

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-09-21

  • ERN – Networks, CCK09, Memory, Google, Britannica, Location, Immediacy http://bit.ly/1sWDBu #
  • RT @jamesparks101: take a look at this wordle project http://tinyurl.com/n8bsxt #
  • Wordle – Beautiful Word Clouds. Might be useful to determine relative weighting in a document e.g. a CV, or abstract http://bit.ly/NLWzM #
  • @pixlr Been playing with Firefox plugin. Very nice, especially screen capture and express editor. Looking forward to offline availability in reply to pixlr #
  • @pixlr I wasn’t aware that the processing takes place locally, that’s pretty cool. Can the software run in the browser when offline? in reply to pixlr #
  • “Laconica is now StatusNet ¬ę StatusNet ‚Äď Open Source microblogging service” from http://bit.ly/kh0v4 #
  • New blog post: Public libraries on Mendeley http://bit.ly/wCjy7 #
  • “Share recommended readings using Mendeley‚Äôs Public Collections | Mendeley Blog” #
  • I just published Abstract – PhD Proposal (M Rowe) to Scribd http://bit.ly/2gLX0W #
  • International Collaborative Undergraduate Student Project 2010 – Physiopedia http://bit.ly/1LqiEY #
  • New blog post: International collaborative undergraduate student project http://bit.ly/fzw7M #
  • I just published Abstract – Wikis and Collaborative Learning to Scribd http://bit.ly/u4OpW #

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International collaborative undergraduate student project

I’ve recently been invited to participate in a collaborative undergraduate physiotherapy project, hosted at Physiopaedia, for 2010. It will involve students from several countries and continents, and our students will be the only ones from a developing country, which should make for an interesting comparison of the final products at the end.

Following the conclusion of the project, participants will be surveyed and the results published. You can check out the project details here, my profile page here, and the project leader here.

Wiki marking rubric

I just finished putting together a grading rubric for a wiki-based assignment that my fourth year students did earlier this year. After I couldn’t find one that suited my needs, I developed my own and thought I’d post it here (see below without formatting) in the meantime. If you have any suggestions to improve on it, please feel free to comment. You can also download the document here (it’s in the OpenDocument format).

Content (40)

The Introduction is clear and informative, giving the reader a good overview of what is to come. The body of the work is comprehensive and generally covers the main topic. The Conclusion sums up the work concisely.

Organization and presentation (20)

Information is clearly arranged and visually appealing so that it is easily viewed. Headings and other formatting options are used effectively to direct the reader. Graphics are well chosen and placed on the page to enhance the message.

Language (10)

A high level of accuracy of spelling, grammar and punctuality is expected. The content is well-written, clear and concise. Appropriate terminology is used to accurately present the information and demonstrates an understanding of the work.

Collaboration (10)

Has contributed to both the assignment and discussion pages, as shown by the history of the wiki. Has made useful suggestions to other group members, as well as the peer review group. Clearly an active contributor to the assignment. Respectful and polite.

References (10)

Reference material is appropriate and relevant, and the in-text citations are correctly formatted (this has nothing to do with the syntax for creating a Reference list). A Reference list is present, although not necessarily correctly formatted.

Peer review of other groups work (5)

Useful, interesting and / or encouraging comments and suggestions are made to the other group. There is engagement with peers and the content that clearly serves to assist the other group in their work.

Information literacy (5)

A variety of links have been used to direct the reader to additional information about the topic, as well as primary sources of content. All hyperlinks work and are relevant. Good use of embedded images to highlight important points and enhance the readers understanding.

Bonus marks (5)

Use of sound and / or video is used to enhance the message and provide another element of understanding and interest. Use of the wiki syntax and other tools demonstrate a deeper understanding of how the technology can be used to enhance collaboration and provide greater meaning to the work.

Additional comments

Medpedia: collaborative medical knowledge base

I got this link about Medpedia off Twitter from Jeff Nugent.¬† It’s a “collaborative, interdisciplinary, transparent” approach to sharing knowledge about health and medicine.¬† Content control is by only allowing registered users to contribute, with the general public able to suggest changes to an article.¬† Registration requires being approved by an editor, and only medical doctors or those with doctoral degrees can actually edit content.

It offers a “Plain English” version of each article, as well as a “Clinical” view for healthcare professionals, which is a great way of filtering content for users.¬† I haven’t looked deeply enough to tell how much of a difference there is between the two, but it’s an interesting idea to separating out content.

I’ve only had a brief look at the site so far but the interface is clean and user friendly, even though it’s still in beta.¬† I’m really looking forward to seeing what comes from this.¬† I’m interested to see how this compares with OpenPhysio, not so much in structure and content but in ideology.

Here’s the link:
http://medpedia.com

The social construction of knowledge using a wiki

I’ve started a few projects in my department, one of which revolves around the use of wikis to create environments for students to engage more dynamically with both the content and each other.  The rationale is that deeper learning occurs when there is an understanding of the content that goes beyond the ability to recite tracts of it back to the teacher.  Another component incorporates the idea of social constructivism, which asserts that knowledge is created through social interactions, where groups build knowledge for themselves and for each other.

It seems that a wiki is an appropriate platform that fits well with this concept.  It allows collaboration from many students, separated in geography and time, to build on each others’ contributions leading towards the completion of a shared goal, all the while encouraging discussion around the content and structure of the content.  In my Applied Physiotherapy class, I’ve put aside a small section of the OpenPhysio website in order to evaluate the process.  Each group must complete an article on an appropriate topic assigned to them, as well as provide a critical review of another group’s topic.  They are also encouraged to make small grammatical and spelling corrections on any other topic they read.

I’m hoping that the process will highlight the benefits of truly working together as a group, as well as of the peer review and drafting processes.  Students should be more aware of how to structure documents with regular feedback, not only from the facilitator but also from each other.  The ability of the wiki to track changes over time will provide valuable information about how the document grows, who makes contributions, the challenges of group dynamics and a host of other data that might be useful in forming a more academic picture of the use of new technology in education.

How web 2.0 is changing medicine

The British Medical Journal published this article in December (2006), which may not seem like a long time ago in the traditional approach to academic publication but which in terms of the Internet is already old news. It asks, “Is a medical wikipedia the next step?”, a question I think is becoming more and more relevant as we see user-generated content proliferating in all spheres of our lives, but more and more frequently in the field of healthcare.

The author, Dean Giustini (librarian at the University of British Columbia Biomedical Branch), looks at the advantages of web 2.0 technologies or social software (e.g. RSS, blogs, wikis and podcasts) with particular reference to the creation of open content, improving access to information and the impact all of this has on medicine. We need to be asking ourselves how we can use these new technologies to better inform the way we teach, learn and communicate with our students and colleagues.

I think the final paragraph sums up my own opinion of the role of the Internet in influencing those of us who are creators and publishers of content:

“The web is a reflection of who we are as human beings – but it also reflects who we aspire to be. In that sense, Web 2.0 may be one of the most influential technologies in the history of publishing, as old proprietary notions of control and ownership fall away.”