Second Stab at Collective Learning

Before Class: A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how my students found it difficult to collaborate to develop a single consensus definition of globalization. This week we’ve been trying a second time to develop a class consensus, this time on what Thomas Friedman means by The World is Flat. After discussing the idea in class, I asked each student to summarize their understanding in a single sentence, which they did. Then I asked students to develop a class definition on our wiki. This was Tuesday. Three students posted their own definitions, but there was apparently no attempt to edit them to a single statement. As one student commented on the class blog last night, “Umm..this isn’t happening, methinks..

So we’re going to work on this in class today. More later…

After Class: We began class today with a “quiz” in which I asked:

1. Did you understand what I wanted last class?
2. Are you reluctant to edit each others’ words? If, so, why?

When we discussed these questions, the class said they understand what I wanted, but almost universally admitted they were uncomfortable editing each others’ postings. We explored why they felt that way. Several students mentioned that editing someone else’s work was disrespectful to their ideas. Another student mentioned that he wasn’t sure enough about his own answer to replace someone else’s with it. After all, what if he was wrong and the other was right? One student said he thought it best to just list everyone’s opinions and leave it at that.

I asked how anything was ever decided in life if one always took that view. I reminded the group that nothing is really gone in a wiki, and in the event of a “mistake,” we could always recover what was deleted. I also pointed out that while we had been using the wiki to support our process, it should also be thought of as a product of our work. As such, it would be ungainly for future users to have to read fourteen opinions rather than one consensus view. What good are Cliff Notes if they’re as long as the book?

Martha joined the discussion to make several useful points. She pointed out that, in contrast with blogs which are supposed to be individual, it is part of the wiki philosophy to edit the contributions of others. She referred the class to the Wikiversity:Be Bold statement, and urged students to take its license seriously.

I then switched gears (went back to the course content?) and prepared to walk the class through several exercises that I hoped would enable them to develop the desired consensus. I had earlier posted all of their responses to a wiki page I labelled “Digital Scrap Paper.” and I proposed thinking of this as a work space that we would play with and throw away when done. The idea was to help them feel more comfortable editing the responses. Midway through the first exercise, a student asked if we could refresh the wiki page. Upon doing so, we discovered that a couple of students had consolidated the fourteen responses into one. I asked the class what they thought, if anyone had any suggested changes or if everyone could accept the result. They agreed to do so. I guess that some students had gotten the point.

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