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December 9, 2017

Exploring IT Resources – Wikispaces

Filed under: EDDL 5101,Technology @ 1:50 am

Exploring IT Resources – Wikispaces

 

Introduction

Wikipedia is one of the most successful examples of collaborative knowledge in recent history. In just a few years, it has supplanted encyclopedias as the “go to” source for information, and several studies have suggested it is as reliable and accurate as the encyclopedia’s it replaced. While most people are aware of its existence, many do not realize the collaborative nature of the knowledge gathering process. Wikipedia defines a wiki as “website on which users collaboratively modify content and structure directly from the web browser”. The key word to me is collaboratively, and that spirit is what I will try to harness with this resource.

The host for this resource is Wikispaces, http://www.wikispaces.com/, an established company founded in 2005. Originally offering free wikis for everyone for any use, it has recently transitioned to a pay for premium access model, but still offers free use to K-12 or post-secondary educators.

Ease of Use

The Wikispaces format is easy to use for both learners and educators. The interface is reasonably intuitive, with an easy to see menu bar running down the right hand side of the page for content and navigation. Free use comes with 5 gigs of storage space, plenty for text and pdf files but limiting the ability to store videos on the site.  It does allow linking to external sites from content pages to video storing services like Youtube.

Content is easily uploaded, and WebDAV servicing is available. Discussion pages can be enabled or disabled, and can be formatted either as a single topic per page, or all topics on a single page to emulate a threaded discussion board. A choice of themes and stylesheets are available, and both themes and stylesheets can be edited and customized. Changes are tracked by the site and can be viewed by the wiki organizers.

Three different formats ae available:

  1. Classic wiki format, with standard content and discussion placing and features.
  2. Basic website, which looks like a website but allows editing like a wiki
  3. Classroom mode, which allows news feeds and enhanced engagement tracking

Organizers can switch between formats without loss of content.

Custom domain names are permitted, allowing DNS redirects from a domain the organizer already has set up.

Confidentiality

There is a range of security options available. .  With the permissions set to public, non-members are allowed to post in the discussion area and can request to join. I don’t envision this level of security being used in an educational setting.  At the strictest level of settings, the wiki is only visible to members. Members must be invited by e-mail and are sent a code that they can use to join. This ensures no outside access to the discussion boards and content.

You can also choose whether to allow the wiki to be indexed by search engines, and have the option of forcing all communications, not just logins and passwords, into SSL.

While no platform can be considered 100% secure, the site appears to provide adequate security for both learners and instructors.

Transferability/Scrubbability

Content can be easily exported and backed up. Export formats include text, PDF and HTM, so offline access to material or transfer to another platform shouldn’t be an issue.

There is an option for individual discussions to be deleted, and the entire wiki can be deleted by the organizer.

Academic Use

I envision using this resource in the classroom in two different, but similar, ways. Initially I would set up a wiki that involves the entire class. Course content can be stored on the site eliminating the need for handouts or e-mailed content. The discussion topics would cover introductions and icebreakers, and as the course progresses new topics could be discussed. The security features ensure the safety of the learners, and the organizer control over the discussions should prevent any issues from getting out of hand. The immediate use of the discussions with the introductions and icebreakers will hopefully help with the development of the learning community.

As the course progresses I would have the students utilize small group wikis for a form of team based learning. Both the security level and the fact that there is no cost make this ideal for students. After breaking the class into groups, I would assign a “real world” problem scenario to the class. Each group will open a wiki that initially will be only for their team members and the instructor. The site would be used to gather resources and collaborate to come up with a solution to the problem. After a set time each group would invite the rest of the class to be members of their wiki, a type of simultaneous reveal. All the groups would see each others solution, the research they did, and the discussions that occurred as they worked collaboratively on the solution. They would be able to comment on the work and join in the discussion.

 

 

September 18, 2017

PLATO, Not Just Your Father’s Greek Philosopher

Filed under: EDDL 5101,Technology @ 12:47 am
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Many years ago, in a land far, far away, (ok it was back in Ontario, not that far away but it was a long time ago), before I even considered getting into teaching, I worked in a position where computers and system support was one of my responsibilities. This included consultation with our information systems supplier Electronics Data Systems, EDS. (Anybody remember Ross Perot?)

What does this have to do with the history of Ed-Tech? Well, one of the things EDS provided us was an online learning system called PLATO. While I admit there was some value in what PLATO provided us, I cringed every time I looked at the I.T. budget and saw what PLATO was costing. Along with the usual technical issues and questions I solved on a regular basis I remember spending considerable time interpreting content and questions and providing learners support with material. At the time I would never have called myself an educator, but in retrospect it was a large part of what I did.

Fast forward 30 years, and I hadn’t thought about PLATO for 29 of them. Then I read both Bates and Watters referencing PLATO in their histories of ED-Tech. Bates maintains that “PLATO was a highly successful system, lasting almost 40 years, and incorporating key online concepts” (Bates, 2015) I was already predisposed to question Bates beliefs after he called the current iterations of the History Channel and the Discovery Channel “general educational channels”. (Bates, 2015). As interesting as I find “Curse of Oak Island” it’s scripted reality programming, not educational. So I question his definition of successful. Did it make its owners a ton of money? Yes it did. But I question how well it served its learners. All the other departments I networked with had a person like me, someone who performed at least some of the functions PLATO was supposed to provide. And providing feedback to the supplier to correct their material. I have to question who, or what, was educating who?

Bates was correct in stating that key online concepts were used in the PLATO system. In many applied technology courses I see developed today the concepts embodied in PLATO are still being used. Watters also recognizes that many of the features of PLATO are still incorporated into Ed-Tech today. (Watter, 2014) Provide material for learner to study, test learner on material, provide immediate feedback and supplemental information where required, assume learner has learned necessary theory. As I look at resources I have created I have unconsciously fallen into much the same pattern.

As I reflect on both my experiences from 30 years ago with budding online educational technology and my experiences from yesterday as I was uploading new material to Blackboard Learn one thing is clear. “Building new technologies is easy (or easy-ish) changing behaviours and culture is much, much harder” (Watter, 2014). This statement really resonates with me, and as I move forward through this program I resolve to not get caught in old behaviours, to not fall back on the “same old same old”.

References

Bates, A. (2015). A Short History of Educational Technology. Teaching in a Digital Age.

Watter, A. (2014). The Hidden History of Ed-Tech. In A. Watters, The Monsters of Educational Technology (pp. 7-31).

 

 

 

September 15, 2017

RSS Readers or “OK now my brain is bleeding”

Filed under: EDDL 5101,Technology @ 10:24 pm
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While I’ve seen the RSS Feed icons on websites and on some level understood the concept of RSS Readers I quickly learned actually using them was a different story. My go to source Google apparently discontinued their reader.  So I chose the recommended multi-platform replacement Feedly. My first attempt at subscribing left me subscribed through Internet Explorer not Feedly. Solved that problem and moved on to which feeds to subscribe to.

The first feed I subscribed to was the Conference Board of Canada’s Education and Innovation blog. This was not only for the innovation but also because several articles referenced skills and employment. As an applied technology program we live and die by the opportunities our students have after graduating. Hopefully this will help on both accounts.

 

** In the interests of becoming more familiar with WordPress I’m going to publish this now and update by edits or comments as I search for more feeds.

 

First attempted edit.

After reading chapter 1 of Tony Bates book I decided to check out his website. Lo and behold I see the RSS feed symbol!  Again a minor glitch trying to sign up directly from the browser, followed by an attempt to search from Feedly that wanted me to sign up for their pay “power search” feature, I finally managed to sigh up.

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