Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Gaggle of Galloping Google-Doccers

I haven't tried the whiteboard on Blackboard/WebCT (or whatever we call it this year--eLearning?), but I found its collaborative uses limited. Now, cooperative use, that was a different story. Discussion boards allowed generative questions, the chunking of individual text, and asynchronous peer review (that did not work particularly well). Google Docs isn't a perfect program either: only 10 users at a time can edit. (I know what we learned last Tuesday. Well, at least one thing.)

However, I see real possibility for using Google Docs as a collaborative writing technology. Doing collaborative work "'assists with deeper levels of knowledge generation and promotes initiative, creativity, and development of critical thinking skills' (p.33)" (5), according to Palloff and Pratt (2001) in Decentered, Disconnected, and Digitized: The Importance of Shared Space, by Beth L. Brunk-Chavez and Shawn J. Miller. Teachers often conflate cooperative learning with collaborative learning, but the very real differences between the two can mean the difference between effective and noneffective pedagogy. Stacey (2005) points out differences between the two, according to Brunk-Chavez and Miller: [I]n cooperative learning, students divide the work among themselves and later assemble it into its final product to be evaluated" (4). This is what we are doing with gDocs Presentations. Each person takes a slide, loads a chunk of text and maybe an image, and leaves the document to be organizaed, titled, and unified by a self-designated leader or two (maybe). With collaborative learning, "partners do the work together and while the work may be delegated, the final result is negotiated" (4). However, collaborative learning also empowers students, with
authority over both the process and the product [...] transferred to the groups. The "answers" are not predetermined, and as we well know, students working collaboratively will often arrive at unexpected, unforeseen, or even conflicting solutions or answers. (5)

I see this as the desired outcome for collaborative learning. And only portions of the work would be delegated in this model, perhaps the initial setup of the document and preparation of the final draft for submission. Even those tasks should be interactive. Collaboration, it seems to me, should result in a single voice not peculiar to any one of the collaborators, but rather a synthesis of all the voices into something new. Similarly, the text of the collaborative document should be synthesized, with threads and fine detail appearing throughout and interwoven with each other like a fine tapestry. So when I next design a collaborative assignment, I hope to engage students in the artistry of knowledge-making, not a cooperative activity similar to bringing dish to a potluck dinner. But, "[t]he real problem that became evident in [the] study...[was finding] that many of the instructors simply didn't seem to want to instill any sort of truly collaborative activities in the first place" (21). This refers to CMS rather than Google Docs, but the criticism is equally applicable.

Other terms to remember:

Instrumental and substantive theories (17)
"learning as protected activity" (9)
teaching as "protected activity" (8)
"digitizing as protected activity" (10)

Questions the authors ask (20):
  1. "If instructors, when critically examining the tools available for collaboration online (particularly for composition courses), find that the tools fail to meet their needs, why then are we not ourselves working more collaboratively with programmers and others who may be able to create more usable digital spaces?" (My follow-up: What would such collaboration look like?)
  2. "And, if we do find the tools we have adequate, have we considered the unspoken, rhetorical implications of these tools before we present them to students?"

Monday, March 17, 2008

WoW or WheW?

World of Warcraft is attractive as a game, but I do not have enough experience to be able to judge its merits as a teaching tool. I downloaded the 10-day trial last night at midnight after returning from Colorado (and a conference) and played for 3 hours. Tonight I played for 2 hours and checked several times for "friends" who might be present. I was disappointed to always be alone and fending off beasts. Admittedly the white tiger was pretty cool but I got tired of constantly releasing Sylaura's spirit and racing down a path to reclaim her corpse. In fact, my wrist is physically tired and somewhat painful--a tendonitis flare-up, I think.

Landscape was initially quite beautiful but became darker and more foreboding in certain countries or lands. I did not take notes while playing, which might have been useful for writing this blog. (I was too busy trying maneuver escape from beasts and returning the avatar to her corpse.) I let the Spirit Healer heal Sylaura once for a 25% hit on everything she had.

Sylaura did better than I'd hoped in that she completed one quest and attained Level 2, I think through sheer perseverance. I don't know that my skill grew much, certainly not enough to be able to escape the clearing where all sorts of murderous animals and hominids snuck in on her.

I don't think I had any system problems, but I was not able to figure out how to use my headset. It took awhile, too, to find a way to use the mouse instead of the arrows to manipulate the avatar. I tried to contact other class members but the "Friends" list showed everyone as offline.

I would not use WoW in a classroom because I know that I could spend a great deal of time trying to master the game, and I would not want to introduce someone to the game who might have difficulty escaping its allure. Still, I concede that the game might be useful in some way as a learning tool. I'd like to hear more--convince me if you can.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Mind Your P[lagiarism]s & Q[uota]s

One out of 100 people in the U.S. are in jail or prison. Margaret Seltzer aka Margarat B. Jones committed the taboo of presenting Love and Consequences as her memoir, not the fiction it really is. The WPA mailing list adds yet more threads about plagiarism and dishonesty to the archives. Why does it seem like the problem of plagiarism is escalating? I think DeVoss and Porter, in Why Napster Matters to Writing: Filesharing as a New Ethic of Digital Delivery are onto something:

From a rhetorical perspective, Napster represents a crisis in delivery, the often-neglected rhetorical canon…Napster should matter to writing teachers because it represents a paradigm shift: from an older view of writing as alphabetic text on paper, intended for print distribution, to an emergent and ill-understood view of writing as weaving digital media for distribution across networked spaces for various audiences engaged in different types of reading….But the shift is not merely a shift in genre…There is also an economic shift, a shift in the terms of rules and ethics governing the sharing and distribution of writing, what rhetoric has traditionally called delivery. (179-180).

This crisis in delivery, involving understanding and correct use of copyright law, extends beyond the digital to print. The boundaries blur; the rate of noncompliance increases; the speed of detection accelerates. The crisis, as I see it, is no longer so much limited to the act as a cultural shift in values. Are we retreating from the idea of individualistic authorship to a more sustainable collectivization of common knowledge on the fast track—copyrighted material moving swiftly into the realm of fair use? (Devoss & Rosati, “It Wasn’t Me, Was it?: Plagiarism and the Web, Computers and Composition 154-55)

Certainly we must design assignments that encourage synthesis of sources and critical thinking that defy quick and dirty unattributed copying from internet or paper text sources. When I think about the time it takes to track down suspected plagiarism, document it, and report it through appropriate institutional channels, it makes me tired. But it also makes me concerned about fairness. Even though I uncover a smattering of plagiarism in my students’ writing (practiced by students intentionally sometimes, unintentionally often), I suspect it’s a little like the saying about mice: if you see one, there are another 20 in the house. If preventing plagiarism is futile, how do we go about reinventing the idea of authorship?

As I read the opening of Karla Saari Kitalong’s A Web of Symbolic Violence, I recognized many people I know in the code copying and subsequent questioning of ethics. Over and over I have been told to look at page source to find what I need. In the announcements for an online scheduling page that I help maintain, I was frustrated with the lack of formatting options. I looked at page source for the rest of the document, copied and pasted some code, and got what I needed: now the announcements are more accessible as technical documents.

  1. Is copying code for such purposes plagiarism, dishonest? When does it cross the line? When code copying is encouraged as a way of learning, how do we, as teachers, identify a line of demarcation?
  2. My brief journey into MySpace involved going to a template page and copying page source for a background. Was that plagiarism? How do we make sense of availability versus authorial rights?