#plenk2010: The Equal Web


So I was reading through this week’s readings (I didn’t bother with the video; the house is very noisy this evening – was it good?) and – as recommended – I had a good old think about where the web might be going in terms of its impact on teaching, learning, and education.

I thought about my own students; the ones who love to talk and take control of our group blog, the ones who engage sporadically, and the ones who you never hear a peep out of. And I thought about this course and wondered how many of us are ‘velcro’ students – competitive, perhaps a little controlling, liking to be ‘involved’. Probably quite a lot of us. Some of us will write posts and lead discussions that capture people’s imaginations and go a little bit ‘viral’. Some of us will put a lot of pressure on ourselves to do this and cave under our own expectations.

I saw a documentary earlier with Dylan William (of Black & William fame); it was part of the BBC’s School Season and showed how a variety of different formative assessment techniques can be used to increase classroom engagement (& learning). One of the techniques he was asking teachers to try was a ‘no hands up’ rule; students were selected at random to answer questions rather than asking for volunteers to answer. This strategy resulted in some interesting feedback from students, who had previously only been used to speaking up if they knew the answer. Those who didn’t often volunteer a response not only found that they were forced to be more attentive, but they also became more accustomed to offering up an incorrect response. The stigma of not knowing the answer began to fade.

The most interesting interaction was that between the teachers, Dylan William and the handful of keener students who until recently had provided the responses to class questions. These students felt frustrated; they wanted to demonstrate their understanding, they wanted to be rewarded for their attentiveness and they were bored waiting for others to ‘get it’ when they got it ages ago. The teachers sympathised with the keen students. Some felt they were being prevented from rewarding the best students for their hard work, or, worse, holding them back.

Dylan explained that the reason the keen students were frustrated was because they were used to running the show; they were used to controlling the pace of the learning experience and used to having positive attention focused on them. Sure enough, as the teachers developed more eloquent ‘no hands up’ strategies, the more vocal students began to realise that their perspective was changing; they were learning to listen.

Reflecting on this made me think about similarities and differences with my own learning context (my PLE). Yes, I can choose who to listen to and who to respond to, but they have to put their hand up first (that’s a metaphor). And chances are I might not hear what they have to say unless they have the necessary connections and clout in order to shine out through a dozen tweets.

For all its developments, will Web X.0 remain like the classroom before Dylan William walked in the door? Dominated by those with confidence in their own opinion, the time and inclination to put it out there, and the approval of the wise crowd? Or will we see a dawning of the new age, a virtual ‘no hands up’ rule that results in everyone offering themselves and their thoughts equally, with no fear of being ‘wrong’? Now, that would be a change :-)

8 Comments on “#plenk2010: The Equal Web”

  1. Hi Lindsay,

    I enjoyed your post. i have trained with http://www.insynctraining.com/ in delivering live interactive online classes (web conferencing e.g. elluminate) – one of the motto’s or ground rules for participants if you like is be prepared to be called on by name :-), part of a sub strand of be prepared to participate.

    the good thing in this environment is that you can get 10-15 people coming up with answers or opinions either by text chat or whiteboard techniques – everyone is kept busy, everyone gets to see the possible answers and everyone knows they could be called onto expand on their contribution. it is an inclusive and engaging approach – where everyone can be involved

    i always try to look for ways of bringing these techniques back into the face to face classroon e.g whiteboard brainstorming use flipcharts and felt pens.

    I think with the MOOcs unless you really have a lot of time, it is hard to hear everyone. I am reading more articles than i have done previously, reading a smatering of other blog posts and the getting my own blog post out. getting your own blog post out i think is the key to doing some actual thinking and learning. other peoples blogs generally conjure up and spark off the best thinking though i have found.

    • Hey Steve, that sounds ace!
      “- one of the motto’s or ground rules for participants if you like is be prepared to be called on by name”

      I really like the notion that everyone could be called upon to expand their contribution. I’ve worked on distance learning courses before where we’ve tried a number of strategies to maximise engagement and it’s interesting thinking about how this kind of ‘ground rule’ might come into effect for asynchronous learning exchanges. The best result I got was from small group role-play – there’s a paper I wrote about it here if you’re bored/exceptionaly interested! http://www.cebe.heacademy.ac.uk/learning/casestudies/case_pdf/LindsayJordan09.pdf

      My strategy with the MOOCs today has been simply to pick links at random and try to get what I can from them and offer something back :-) But I guess what I was also thinking about was what about the people who aren’t taking part in the MOOC or anything like it? How do we listen to what they have to say? How can they be encouraged to participate? I guess some people might ask – Do we *want* them to participate? Do we *want* to listen to them? I think I do, you see – but it raises some interesting questions about value, crowdsourcing, reputation, you name it :-)

  2. I love that ‘no hands up’ rule; where students were selected at random to answer questions. I read something similar, where the teacher reported the students had to at least take a guess. They were not allowed to say or hide behind an, “I don’t know.” Then if they got it wrong, they had to ask someone in the class to correct them, someone who knew. The need to guess and to ask for help from someone who knows had a transformative impact on students. They certainly became far more attentive. But they also own the material more. They embraced and engaged with the material. They became what I would call more powerful people. Some hate to say, “I don’t know. Others hide behind it.” It can be liberating to say it when you’re used to avoiding it. And liberating to not say it, when you hide behind it.

    I also enjoyed this line: “I might not hear what they have to say unless they have the necessary connections and clout in order to shine out through a dozen tweets.” I like that you are concerned about those more quiet voices. You ask, “will we see a dawning of the new age, a virtual ‘no hands up’ rule that results in everyone offering themselves and their thoughts equally, with no fear of being ‘wrong’?”

    I am not so sure. There are advantages for being able to quietly listen along, especially if you are more of a self-directed learner than one who learns from the interactions. If there is no space for people to hide in class or online, they may just stop showing up all together. There is also a great benefit of learning to step up and and claim your space. Such rights of passage may be lost in the “no hands up” rule.

    I’ve been a quiet voice online, not because I didn’t have the words, but largely because of shyness. I am working to overcome that shyness in the MOOC. There are lots of things we can do to make people feel more welcome and at ease, without having to make everyone the same. Giving people the space they need to warm up to the process can be greatly beneficial.

    I’m glad you found my post so that I could find your blog.

    • Steve, you know what they say about whispering to be heard.

      So many of us PLENKers heard your “quiet voice” in your post about “why MOOC is so hard.” It was exceptionally encouraging about the benefits of blogging as a tool for personal knowledge and for curating to help others.

      Was going to post a comment there but got lured away by another quiet voice when I read Lindsay’s comment.

      Never a blog fan before because the norm for voices most often seemed loud and arrogant, I am finding new interest and nourishment from the compelling quiet voices in PLENK 2010.

      Thanks to both you and Lindsay.

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Lindsay Jordan and Lindsay Jordan, Fernando Santamaría. Fernando Santamaría said: #plenk2010: The Equal Web http://j.mp/bAMN0u [...]

  4. 3rd attempt after not putting in anti-spam word :-)

    Lindsay – paper looks excellent – i shall read more deeply on the train tomorrow. maybe MOOC’s sholud have group tasks for people to sign up to, as well as reading lists.

    just listed my top five ways of learning in a facebook conversation with other plenkers :-) here’s my top five in order

    1. Reading articles, reading blogs about the articles and then blogging
    2. purposeful small group synchronous meetings
    3. Working on a task in a group.
    4. Get your PLE setup well organised
    5. Listening to experts in live synchronous presentations

  5. I loved hearing about the “no hands up” strategy, Lindsay. And it was especially exciting to read that as teachers developed “more eloquent strategies” that the “always hands-up” students began to change their perspective and enjoy learning through discussion.

    This strategy to me seems to really epitomize Connectivism. It becomes a collaborative effort to make connections among participants rather than make public the knowledge that the teacher wants to bestow with the support of her handful of eager-to-be-heard-and-please students.

    I’m new to blogging and I’ve been thinking about why it’s so scary. For me, it’s not so much fear of being wrong as fear of sounding naive. Sean Fitsgerald/Fitspatrick (can’t remember which is Second Life name ;-) wrote eloquently about the fear of not measuring up and that really resonated with me. It’s easy to feel less than confident among such accomplished bloggers/writers. But I’m encouraged by your call for a “no hands up” rule for the Web and your model. There is no competition to rise to the top of the blog ratings. Just write honestly in your own voice, be it quiet or funny or certain or tentative, and know that you’re contributing to your own learning and that maybe someone else may make a connection and be better for it. But if a blog falls in the blogosphere, there need not be a reader to have sound.

    Oh, and wanted to thank you for your article on asynchronous role-playing. I teach courses in learning through literature with young adults and I’ve had several students use this technique with middle and high school students (we called it sociodrama) with role-playing in forums and Ning. Ning worked great because the students could create personal pages for their characters. Two memorable ones are the role-playing forum after reading about the US’s Japanese internment (Road to Manzanar) and the Ning “My Fair Verona” for characters who may have lived during the time of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I look forward to sharing your ideas for scenarios that can work in other content areas and adding more student self-assessment and input in the assessment criteria.

    Thanks for a post helpful in many ways.

    • Cris, I’m so glad you found the post and the paper useful – What you wrote really resonated with me:

      Just write honestly in your own voice, be it quiet or funny or certain or tentative, and know that you’re contributing to your own learning and that maybe someone else may make a connection and be better for it.

      Thank you :-)

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