Wiki in support of a UG module

<![CDATA[I am using a free hosted wiki system called JotSpot at It is extremely limited in its free version but good enough to explore and evaluate the various features. I’ll post on this separately and list the features which I suspect are pretty impressive. It is my first experience of using a wiki system and as such will become my baseline for evaluating others. I think the wiki function that is part of the Elgg community setup could be extremely useful; especially if it can be restricted to the members of the community.

I have set a wiki up to support a Sociology of the Environment UG module I teach. At the moment it is highly structured with sections for module documentation, lecture notes and a page of links to useful and relevant websites. It is so far disappointingly similar to what I offer the students in our VLE. In the VLE I have set up a discussion room but it has never been entirely satisfactory. I have an idea that the pages of lecture notes in the wiki will be modified and added to by the students and myself and between us we will more-or-less rewrite the lectures dynamically in the light of additional points made, requests for clarification, suggested links to other resources and topics, and so on. I have this vague idea that it would be good if the students could specify and write the module themselves, even have a say in designing essay titles and examination questions perhaps. In this way it would really engage with their own interests and concerns. And given the usual instrumental focus on assessment, it might be a real motivator.

But this may be just unrealistic wishful thinking. I will be interested to see what turns up in the wiki attached to the new usecases weblog set up.]]>

Notes on George Siemens’ Elggradio podcast


These are my notes on the inaugural Elggradio podcast: A Conversation with George Siemens 11/08/2005 available at These are notes only and do not reproduce the discussion word for word. They are a gloss on and interpretation of what I take to be the main points and may not accurately reflect what was said. I will be very happy to edit these in the light of comments and other views.

DT. With all the new technologies and approaches emerging; wikis, eportfolios, blogs, rss etc – how do you feel they will integrate into more traditional learning set-ups? Or will they, can they?

GS. What do wikis, blogs etc. do differently to traditional forms of education? Blogs and wikis are a reaction to (a response to or reflection of) important shifts and changes taking place in society that are impacting on education. These changes involve increased openness, decentralisation of information resources, a reduction in hierarchical structures and thinking, and the development of a network perspective. The tools aren’t dictating the underlying change. These tools will become intergrated into education because they do reflect underlying social changes.

DT. It is often said that technology should not dictate learning practice. However, with pedagogy not able to keep pace with technology could this just be an excuse from those that do not like or want to try out new approaches and accept that society has changed – whereas most learning practice has not?

GS. Technology does impact on learning design and practice. It is a tool but it is reactive to social changes, and more rapidly than educational design is. Tools are extensions of us but their use does adjust and alter who we are as people. E.g. film was first used as another way of doing stage drama, but now movies are very different to stage drama made possible by the functionality of new technology once this is understood. We start with a new technology by doing what we used to do but we can do new things when we understand the functions and possibilities of the new technology. When we get new tools we are able to start doing new things, not just the old ones.

DT. Technology is changing so fast how do people keep up? It is hard for technically minded people that are interested. What about the others?

GS. Not everyone will be like us – people who enjoy developing the technology and using it in innovative ways. The technology moves fast and for non-adopters the barrier to using the technology gets bigger. They won’t become like us so they can use it. So technology will have to develop and hide its complexity under a simple user interface that allows individuals to do what they want.

DT. Thinking about open learning environments like Elgg, do you think it is a good idea to introduce guidelines, some structure to the networks learners may create or is this process best left to the learners? In other words should learners find out what works for them without interference from instructors and/or system designers?

GS. Learning is a network generating process (See Connectivism: learning as network creation). When new information is encountered it becomes a node in a personal learning network. How does this fit in? Depends on what is already in the individual’s learning network. It might not fit in very well (cognitive dissidence) or some new elements may fit in very well and accelerate learning significantly. In these cases one piece of information produces significantly more knowledge than it self – an ‘aha!’ moment. Our current teaching design can obstruct this exploratory process. We don’t create the student’s learning, we create the ecology of learning and the student produces the learning. There are different modes of learning:

  • Some learning needs an information transmission model, clear structure etc.
  • Knowledge acquisition – new ideas and approaches
  • Connectivist – making networks and assigning meaning and context in line with experience and interests.

In these last 2 modes of learning the learner should be given more control. Instruction design needs to enable these modes of learning, not stifle them by imposing the transmission mode of learning inappropriately.

DT. I notice you publish papers on your own site as does Stephen Downes – do you think academic journals have a future?

GS. Yes for much of the market, but blogs and podcasting are becoming a new method of publication. This is the rise of the individual and the tools whereby everyone can have a voice. The standard formal journal process for publishing means jumping through a number of hoops set up by institutions, publishers, anonymous peer review, etc. In this process the forms of dialogue and negotiation that lead to the ‘authorised’ version are hidden from the readership. In blogs rubbish can be published easily but 1000s will look at it and vet it. Some authors will develop a dialogue with an informed readership based upon respect. The process of evaluation is now a function of the informal network. This duplicates some of the functions of the formal method but shifts control to individuals and the network rather than an organisation. Ideas are challenged in a public forum, not behind the scenes where we miss the information and richness of that discussion. The discussion can often be of more or equal value to the article itself. This is invisible in the informal public evaluation of articles. New technologies transform the learning process and will afford a new medium which will afford new opportunities in learning processes. It is necessary to understand the multiple affordances and richness of the social dialogues and interactions made possible with this new approach. The old ‘publication of authenticated knowledge’ mindset does not fit onto blogs etc. It is a new methodology based on a new ideology of how information is shared and presented to others. We need to expose our processes of knowing for others to input into it and take from it. George has created a group blog, wiki and other resources to develop a dialogue on connectivism and “….to foster discussion on how our thinking, learning, and organizational activities are impacted through technology and societal changes”.


Blogs spotted and useful sites

<![CDATA[Quick notes before I lose them!!


Four Reasons Why the Blogsphere Might Make a Better Professional Collaborative Environment than Discussion Forums


Distributed Conversations: More Than Four Reasons

Addition: 24/08/05

Jeremy Hiebert’s site at

Addition: 25/08/05

Sebastian Fiedler at

George Siemens at

Addition: 26/08/05

Scott Wilson at

Addition: 1/09/05

Addition: 2/09/05

Educational Blogging by Stephen Downes on Educause Review

Stephen Downes at

Addition: 16/09/05

Darren Cambridge e-portfolio research]]>

Blogs – individual or group?

<![CDATA[James Farmer of Deakin University is a designer, educator, writer and technologist living and working in Melbourne, Australia. He keeps the blog, incorporated subversion, is the founder of IncSub (online education) and runs a blog consultancy through Blogsavvy. Blogsavvy has an educational blog,

In a post How not to use blogs in education James says:

“Group blogs are a bad idea and don’t work: Sure there’s a place for collaborative/group blogs but that place is not in education. Blogs work well for individuals… they are tools of centred communication and pretty far removed from community management systems….”

I’d like to see examples of group blogs that do and don’t work. I suspect they work perfectly well in some circumstances. The question is, as always, what circumstances?

See the companion post,

In his incsub blog, Incorporated Subversion, a post Educause, eduforge or edublog? he seems to suggest blogs are highly individualised entities and are somehow best used and developed as aspects of an individual’s total persona. This may link to the claim mentioned above that group blogs don’t work and blogs are an inappropriate tool for group contribution/collaboration. Richard Wyles counters by saying he, as an individual, has many roles and interests and could write different blogs for each of them and implies each would have a different readership and plug into a different community.

I think I am with Richard on this one. I am a member of many different communities and to some extent have a different identity and persona in each. I am a different person in each and it is a common sociological phenomenon that when an individual is confronted by two normally discrete audiences, say on graduation day when ‘cool’ student friends and doting parents are simultaneously present, he or she can experience some discomfort and embarrassment as they try to carry off two different personas at the same time.

I would probably find setting up a blog to address all of my different groups and communities would make me feel uncomfortably egocentric as the only thing my potential readership might have in common is me. The implicit assumption is that I am the main focus and purpose of the blog. Of course, that might work for some! However, a more focussed readership around a topic that I am interested in would be more obviously focused on the topic and our shared interest.]]>

The Blog of Proximal Development

<![CDATA[The Blog of Proximal Development at: is written by Konrad Glogowski. He is a PhD candidate at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. He is researching the use of blogging communities in elementary education. The blog is “to vocalize some of my thoughts on this subject and comment on the impact that blogging and blogging communities have on my classroom and my students”.

Konrad’s posts are generally very interesting and he includes links to many other key posts and writings. I will edit this post and/or comment re: useful and interesting posts on Konrad’s blog.

Two that struck me immediately from a quick reading of current posts are How Not To Use Blogs in Education (July 27th, 2005) which links on to James Farmer’s list of “what not to do” when using blogs in education and Adopted Voices (July 25th, 2005) where he describes his students’ confusion when he introduced them to blogs. They immediately tried to understand what he was saying in terms of deadlines, assessment, how much to write, how are marks awarded and so on.

Something I will need to follow up extensively is information on student resistance to using blogs in education, what their expectaions are, how these can be modified, etc.]]>

Self-education in e-learning and weblogs

<![CDATA[I have decided what to do with this blog and Elgg. I am going to develop it into a resource for me to learn about how to use blogs in teaching my modules. It will be a collection of resources and information I find or that is passed on to me by friends and colleagues. It will be annotated as I go in terms of what I think are the main points I can take from each item. Hopefully others will add comments if they disagree with my summaries or think I have missed a significant idea or implication.

I hope to gradually organise it into a form that could be used as the basis of a staff development package (presentations, seminars, a handbook and a continually up-dated dynamic on-line resource) for using blogs in teaching and supporting/enabling learning. I hope in the process to get some insights and ideas on how Elgg might be used by students on their own ‘self-education’ projects.]]>