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Resources and discussion for parents, teachers and young people navigating the evolving landscape of the digital world.

Friday, May 13, 2011

MockiPEDIA Part 3: What a (crazy, amazing, worthwhile) mess!

Rich teaching and learning experiences are usually messy. They don't come in workbooks or on worksheets. They aren't quiet or reserved and they don't fit within the lines. Sometimes they even involve actual mud. The MockiPEDIA is a mess, but the good, creative, fantastic, fun sort of mess that evolves into an inspired work of art. The MockiPEDIA project is winding down and I'd like to share a few highlights and challenges faced along the way.

First, to get the icky stuff over with, let's talk about the challenges:
1000+ emails   Hundreds of daily emails demanded a chunk of my time each day. I'm not going to lie, it was a daunting task and felt overwhelming more than once. That said, I think the process of email notification of site updates as a tool for tracking student contributions was beneficial. Not only did I have an understanding of how each student was contributing, I also had the opportunity to identify where students were finding success and where they were struggling. The process also gave me a window into the process of working on the project from a student's perspective. Humorous updates were also abundant. I still giggle a bit about a couple of creative phonetic spellings (bi-ass instead of biased) and unintentionally funny wrong-word errors (a scrotum is not an ancient roman battle weapon).
Dealing with the "P" word   I started this project reminding students about good note-taking strategies and some to avoid (no cutting and pasting!) in order to limit instances of plagiarism. Unfortunately, there were incidents when a student copied something word for word, or close to it. Part of me was angry, and the other part of me wondered if there was something different I could have done either in the structure of the project or in the way I managed student contributions. I also worried about the student writing that seemed to be a simple regurgitation of facts rather than an 8th grader's interpretation and explanation.
I identified one teaching misstep right way; students were not required to submit research notes. I made a quick adjustment in the 7th grade project and did require students to submit notes each week as an indicator of progress, but I can see the difference it would have made in the MockiPEDIA with the 8th grade.
In addition to requiring notes for the 8th grade next year, I also plan on demonstrating the pervasiveness of plagiarism is on the Internet by demonstrating how frequently the same paragraph of text is repeated on various web sites. Plagiarism is something that is probably going to happen at times, regardless of the project, but it does remind me how important it is to keep talking with students about strategies to avoid it.

Now, on to the highlights!
Digital citizenship in practice    Watching students navigate a collaborative writing project has been interesting, to say the least. Some handled difficult situations, such as editing the work of a peer or having work deleted, with tact and maturity. Others at times disregarded the impact changes they made would have on the whole project, or on the feelings of a classmate. Rather than consider these incidents challenges, I instead view them as being rich in the possibility to impart wisdom and experience.† Student with concerns were coached on the best strategies to move forward and those that needed it were reminded of their responsibility to the group.
I learned something new every day   One of the best things about this project was that the students drove the direction of the research. Topics they chose to add to the MockiPEDIA were sometimes surprising, always interesting and, at times, intriguing. I learned about historical figures I never new existed and I became fascinated by topics, like the Black Panthers, that got lots of attention.† Students found connections between historic events, people and places without needing to be lectured on it by a teacher. They read much more broadly on the topic of African-American history than they would have had they been stuck with one topic for two weeks.
True collaboration, with all the advantages and speed bumps    Our learning specialist mentioned that some of the students she works with didn't contribute as frequently to the MockiPEDIA because they may were concerned about others seeing work that wasn't polished. I agree! I find myself at times hesitant to comment on blogs, online articles and other social media sites because I'm afraid of what others might think or that I might not communicate clearly the point I'm trying to make. This is a legitimate concern, but one we must overcome to participate in an increasingly digital world.  
A study on Wikipedia found that over 85% of the contributions are from men. This is concerning on a number of levels and is likely true in other areas of participation on the Internet. Life experience tells us that the more we practice something, the more comfortable we are joining in. The students who participated in the MockiPEDIA have an experience they can mine when they run into similar opportunities now and in the future. I'm particularly impressed with a student who struggled to contribute in the beginning. However, once she got started she wrote an article and then found connections between the topics she researched and two others. In the end, she met her point requirements well before the deadline!

To conclude, it is clear, at least in my mind, that the benefits of this project far outweigh the challenges and I'm sure that I'm only touching on some of the benefits here. As the project concludes I plan on getting feedback from students about their challenges and highlights. I hope it will help us build a better project next year (and I really hope they liked it too!).

To read the first two posts on the project, click on the links below:

MockiPEDIA Part 1
MockiPEDIA Part 2

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