Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Anthropology Wiki Favorites 2010

Our semester is wrapping up here – it’s all over but the final exams.
Once again, I was very pleased with how things went using the Course Wiki for SC2218:Anthropology and the Human Condition.
The following page lists some of the favorites selected by me and my teaching assistant Dina:

Although it is hard to pick out a single favorite from all of these, I would have to say it is the following video, which absolutely nails the concept of “Commodity Fetish”:

I had a bit of a scare mid-term as the host Wetpaint had some serious technical difficulties. But fortunately, they sorted it out. I’m still a bit concerned about using Wetpaint going forward, as it isn’t clear how stable their business is? If anyone has thoughts on Wetpaint or alternatives, I’d love to hear them in the comments (or email). Overall, the integrated Wiki and social networking functions on Wetpaint work very well, though the interface for editing could do with some fixes (for example, it must be possible to maintain formatting of paragraphs and such if cut-and-pasting from MSWord, no?).

November 20, 2010 Posted by | Teaching | , , | 2 Comments

Wiki Experiment… Day 18

It is now about 18 days since the Anthropology and the Human Condition Wiki went live. We have also now completed three weeks of the semester at NUS. I’m very encouraged – delighted, to be honest – with the results of this “experiment” in participatory learning so far. The Wiki format is bringing forth lots of thoughtful engagement with the topics and ideas in the course. Still early days… but bravo to all you brave souls who have gotten on early and boldly gone where no NUS students have gone before…

That said, a few reflections on using the Wiki, getting it going, and keeping it active…

THE FEAR OF WIKI… We met with the first two small-group discussion sections this week. It is clear that there is still a lot of uncertainty – and anxiety – surrounding the Wiki. What exactly are we supposed to DO with this thing? What exactly is required of us? I’ve created a page on the Wiki to try to allay some of these fears and calm nerves. But ultimately I believe all of this will be resolved in the end (and only) by participants – students – getting on the Wiki and working with it. The goal, expectation, hope is that this will be a transformative experience and the 70 or so participants in the course who started with little or no idea what a Wiki is let alone how to edit and create one will become saavy consumers and producers of this form of Internet-mediated communication.

MAKING THE LEAP, from discussion, blogging, chatting, and so forth to Wiki… So far, participants have added much more content to the discussion threads on the Wiki than to the main Wiki pages. As one of our participants in discussion sections today pointed out, the discussion thread area feels much less intimidating than contributing to Wiki pages. It is a space where participants feel more at ease commenting and expressing their take on things. So why Wiki at all? Because as pointed out in the same discussion, information is easily lost and hard to find in discussion threads. And the threads themselves are hard to follow. Wiki’s are set up to present a more concise, accessible – dare we say authoritative? – presentation of ideas, information or whatever.

FRAMING AND INCENTIVES… If you troll around various Wiki’s and similar media (like discussion forums), the fact is that most are the creation of a very small number or even just one dedicated individual. (Take a look at members and their contributions on Wetpaint wiki’s for example – often it is just one person adding substantial content.) Nothing wrong with that. But part of the power of the Wiki comes in harnessing the power and participation of as many members as possible. Moreover, for a course Wiki, my goal is for all the students to learn the Wiki format itself. To me, the best way to do this is to recognized that participation (time spent; blood, sweat and tears shed) by making it part of the graded evaluation. The cynical teachers out there (and I’m one of them sometimes) will bemoan the fact that ‘students never do anything except for a grade’. But turn that around a bit: As mentioned, the grading component gives recognition to this being an important part of what the students do in the course. In addition, students at NUS have lots of classes (five generally) with lots of instructors asking them to do lots of assignments all semester long. Is it fair to ask them to step up and “voluntarily” contribute to something like a Wiki… then moan and complain when they don’t?

FORM (FORMATTING) MATTERS… As one of the teaching assistants in the class emphasized, it is important to pay attention to formatting – and generally how the pages look – as well as the content. Formatting matters in terms of how accessible the material is. And let’s face it, plain old visual appeal makes a difference (at least one participant has said they think the Anthropology wiki background graphic is rather ugly… probably true… it seemed the best choice of those available at the time so leaving it for now… perhaps the class wants to find a better, more appealing one?… But, I digress.) The point is that attention needs to be given to formatting – including recognizing and rewarding that as part of “participating” in a course Wiki like this.

All for now… stay tuned to see how things evolve… or better yet, join us on the Wiki 🙂

August 30, 2008 Posted by | Teaching | , | 8 Comments

Gearing Up

Gearing up for the new semester, which starts in a couple weeks.

I have two courses to teach this term:
SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition
SC6214: Gender, Culture and Society

I am working through how to approach these courses this time around. I’ve taught both (more than once). It helps a lot to have the basics in place so that I can build on what I’ve done before, rather than scrambling to put together an entire course.

The plans and schemes at the moment, especially for students considering taking the courses are:

SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition
The most significant innovation is that the course will use a Wetpaint Wiki as the primary platform for course participation. The Wiki is still underconstruction. It will go public in the first week of the term. It is modeled very much on Mike Wesch’s innovative teaching techniques. I recommend his recent video on YouTube – “A Portal to Media Literacy” (one hour long, but if you are interested in pedegogy, well worth watching).

The Wiki will be a platform for students to collectively produce notes and commentary on the lectures, readings and films related to the course as well as a platform for group projects (more on that sometime later).

I’ve also decided… there will be no required readings for the class.

Before any students out there jump for joy and rush to add the class, this does not mean that no reading will be required! But here’s the thing… it struck me as I was watching Wesch’s lecture (in clips from a prior video “A Vision of Students Today“) one point made is that his students in an intro course reported that they do 49% of their assigned readings. I expect that is probably true of NUS students as well.

So why bother calling them ‘required’ readings? All the readings are recommended. But there is no real way in practice for me to KNOW if the students are actually reading all the readings – certainly not for a class this size. Moreover, is it really important for the students to have read every page I assign for them to learn and understand Anthropology? The point being this – for the course (and of course exam), I certainly recommend that they read the assigned readings; but I require that they learn and understand anthropology and the principles covered in the course.

The “recommended” readings will be more or less the same I assigned last year (also the films). In past years, students have been assigned to write “reaction papers” (short summaries and commentary) on the readings. So each student would write a few pages on one or two of the readings, submit these to me (or one of the teaching assistants). We would read these and return with a grade. This time around, no reaction papers. Rather, the assignment will be to contribute to a collective contribution on one or more of the readings and/or films on the Wiki. I’m still working out the practical details. But the basic idea is that the students will collectively produce notes and commentary on all the materials for the course. I hope as well that they will take this beyond the assigned readings and films. Where this goes exactly will be up to the students. The objective will be to learn and understand (and produce??) anthropology, which may or may not entail ‘doing the readings’. [Btw, I am certainly not endorsing blowing off the readings; but just reading is not the point.]

SC6214: Gender, Culture and Society
This is an advanced graduate course. While I’m making the reading list a bit more open-ended in the SC2218 Anthropology class, the readings will be more focused in this course than last time around. Last term when I taught this course, I had very long lists of journal articles related to topics on a week-by-week basis. The idea was to select from among these every week for the graduate students in the class. [To be honest, from the start of the semester last time, I wanted to trim the list more and earlier than I did, but I just couldn’t find time to do it – or at least not do it well – in my overloaded schedule.] The readings and content of the course will be more focused and directed this time around (at least that is the plan).

One main assignment the students completed last time will definitely be maintained… The students worked in small groups. They had to find an entry on Wikipedia related to gender that they felt was in need of editing and collectively edit it (including doing background research). At the end of the project, several of the students said that they came away with a much more critical view of the content on Wikipedia. I don’t think I’ve ever given students a more useful or successful class assignment. There were (and still are) some ‘bugs’ to be worked out in the practicalities of this, but it will certainly be making a repeat appearance in the coming term.

July 31, 2008 Posted by | Teaching | , , , , | Leave a comment