content,  higher ed,  OU,  Web/Tech,  Weblogs

Content may not be king anymore, but it has some influential friends

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a two day staff development workshop here at the OU. It had been very well organised by the Social Sciences Faculty and the aim was to get staff thinking about using new technologies to solve some of their problems in teaching. There had been some good initial work, so the groups came with problems they wanted to address, eg student retention from 1st to 2nd level, encouraging reflection, etc.

I was asked to present on the use of blogs and wikis. I gave a brief whizz through and tried to convey my enthusiasm for them as educational tools (I ended with a half-jesting 'eat my hat challenge' that whatever their issue was, I could solve it with blogs and wikis).

There were also presentations on:

  • Interactive quizzes
  • Screen/slide casting
  • Podcasting

The groups then had some hands on sessions and had to choose two technologies and on the second day, set about solving their problem with these technologies.

Can you guess which of the four technologies was most popular? The answer is Screen/slide casting, with every group wanting to create one of these, and the other three all about equal after that. I think this may have been because it was more immediate (blogs take some time to get going and you need students really) and thus suited the workshop format more readily. But I think it is also something to do with educators relation to content.

In the age of the social network, it has become a cliche to say that content is no longer king, but it is something that people can readily engage with, rather than some of the more nebulous and longer-term benefits of blogging. I saw a lot of academics very excited by the liberating effect of being able to produce their own content (this was something I had pushed as a benefit of blogs also, the easy multi-media aspect). One downloaded Camtasia and was off making videos, another used Xtranormal and soon they were producing complex ideas and scripts.

The take-away message for me then was that many people are unaware of how easy it has become to create multi-media content, and that demonstrating this is a good 'way in' to appreciating the potential of a whole range of new(ish) technologies.


  • Sue Waters

    I think the key for new people is one they can see an immediate benefit for their current practises is always appealing.
    Screen/slide casting is probably the easiest for them to visualise how they might use and perhaps an aspect they wanted to learn more about. Wonder how appealing social bookmarking would have been?
    Love your SlideShare on it.

  • Anne Marie Cunningham

    Hello Martin
    I’m a big fan of slidecasting/screencasting as well but I think it can be used to give a sense of dialogue with students… not just content.
    I have to make a special appeal that the next time you do a presentation you record the audio too and put that on slideshare. The images are interesting but I would love to know what you are saying.

  • mweller

    Hi Sue – yes I think that’s it exactly, they can see immediately how it could be used. Blogs are a bit more of a slow burn. I sort of proposed one use of wikis as a collective resource like social bookmarking. I think the point that we throw away all the stuff students have found every year and start again is a valid one.
    Hi Anne-Marie – yeah, I usually do a slidecast, but I’ve had this post kicking around for a couple of weeks and keep meaning to do the slidecast, so I thought I’d just get it up. This may slightly undermine my own point about easy multi-media!

  • Charles Severance

    Martin, I am going to comment with my teacher hat on not my technology maker and evangelist hat on. What we teachers really want is technology that accomplishes two tasks at the same time: (1) helps us teach more effectively and (2) lets us be more efficient. The problem with wikis and blogs is that they kind of fall down on (2). This very morning I am setting out to “grade” some really wonderful student projects where the evidence is all buried deep in about 150 well-written highly-linked wiki pages. Since all the wiki is is “content” and there are no tools to help me manage it, this grading may take nearly a half day for a 35 student course. I need hand-assess to within-group participation levels and cross-group interaction levels and the quality of those efforts. I think that teachers like slides because they are efficient for the teacher and actually work reasonably well for students when there is supporting materials, etc. I think that you might get more uptake from teachers who are really teaching if your talk was titled, “How to use Wikis and Blogs to Teach Better and Save Time’. I think that your ‘eat your hat’ challenge was only that you could *represent* any problem in either a blog or wiki rather than claiming to do so making good use of a teacher’s time. Of course now that I am a teacher most of the time, I personally am trying to find technical solutions to making Blogs and Wikis more effective *and* efficient to use. It is harder than it might seem on first glance.

  • Jon K.

    I want to pick up the thread that Charles began about wikis taking more time. I think he’s right, I’ve only used wikis on a small scale but it required a shift of how I mark (mainly in large batches). I needed to start to pay attention for a little bit of time each week and make some preliminary notes. By the time the end of the semester rolled around, I knew that my students were progressing, and had done a reasonably good job with the content.
    I think that wikis do show base conceptual understanding much better than other methods of assessment and provide a better gateway to higher levels of learning (Bloom’s Taxonomy or otherwise). With that said, it’s going to take more time to assess.

  • mweller

    Hi Chuck and Jon – yes I’d agree with you, particularly with respect to wikis. I’m not a massive fan of wikis, they nearly always tend to be messy I find unless people take real care.
    I think their use needs to be framed carefully – so on your point of saving time for instance, one use I suggested was that in a particular course students were having trouble with an assignment and found the (extensive) guidance confusing. I suggested wikifying this and giving ownership of the guidance to the students and tutors. There is a potential efficiency here in that you don’t end up repeating the same advice.
    Similarly I suggested using wikis as a collective resource, so these grow over successive presentations (sort of wiki as delicious) so here your task of finding new resources is lessened.
    You have to remember we are dealing with distance ed students here, so the other advantage wikis offer is pedagogically we can do collaborative type projects much easier than we could before.
    So I’d go along with what you say – use them because they allow you to do things you couldn’t do before or they save you time. But in both of these aspects I think we still have some way to go.

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