Last year I participated to the online course Connectivism and Connective Knowledge given by George Siemens and Stephen Downes. It was a great experience that influenced deeply my practices. It is a good new that they will deliver another version in the fall of this year.
One of the interesting features of these courses is that everyone is free to participate in its own way. This year it will not possible for me to attend the course as I did last year. Nevertheless, I subscribed with the intention of posting during the course about a work I’m doing that I believe is related to some of the topics that will be faced in this new version. I will try to listen to those that share similar interests in CCK09.
In this first post I’m going to outline this work.
The objective is to investigate the potential of web 2 technologies to improve the learning experience in a variety of graduate and post graduate courses. Basically, with the method I’m investigating, the teacher tries to facilitate the personal involvement and the practice of the students by keeping to a minimum its own interventions. From the technical point of view, the teaching method is based on the use of blogs and feed syndacation. Both the students and teachers use the blogs to write assignments, to pose questions, to comment and to collaborate. More details are available in this paper (pdf).
My thesis is that by means of the blog community and a sensible conduit of the teacher it is possible to give life to a phenomenon akin to what Etienne Wenger described as a community of practice (CoP), where the feeling of common objectives, the active collaboration among participants and the development of a set of common practices, substantially improve the process of meaning creation and, consequently, the learning experience. However, in my perspective the role of the teacher should not be that of controlling and managing that community as it is often intended when talking about CoPs. Instead, I see this community as something that should grow by itself, free to establish connections with resources, people, organizations and networks that are external to the class environment, much in the sense of connectivism as it has been formulated by George Siemens and Stephen Downes.
Thus, the class is the place where I welcome my students but then I try to bring them “outside” through what I’m calling the “blogroom”. The blogroom is a living community and the teacher has to take care of it as it is common with every newborn form of life. When you are taking care of a living being – it could be a newborn infant as well as a grove or anything else – the most important thing is to learn to observe it before doing anything.
The blogroom community is a living being because it is composed of humans but it is also a living being in its whole. The teacher should be able to see this creature being aware that its well being is of great importance to improve substantially the learning experience of its components.
The main objective of this work is to explore methods to observe this community, supporting, but not replacing, the complex subjective impressions and feelings of the teacher. Since the life of the blogroom is trackable in all its details, the idea is to use methods of the social network analysis to extract relevant information from its traces.
The method is based on a set of web services and open source tools that allow one to extract the history of the blog community and to perform statistical and graphical network analysis on such data. The tools are 1) Google Reader for feed aggregation, 2) Google Docs for management of students data, 3) a set of Ruby packages to automatically browse the internet and exctract data from web services, 4) the Statnet package of the R environment for social network analysis and, finally, 5) some software I’m writing in Ruby myself to glue all together.
In this method, a variety of social network analysis tools are used to evaluate the part of students activities beyond the minimum trivial level constituted of a standard sequence of assignments. These evaluations may be done both on longitudinal studies as well as to compare different students populations. Conventional measures of networks as well as recent network modelling methods based on exponential-family random graph models (ERGM) are used.
This is a no cost project since all these web sevices, software tools and software languages are free and I will use them as long as they will remain free.
During the next months I will posts on specific aspects of this work.