Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Higher Purpose

Time for some clarity...

My previous post garnered some comments (thank you...both of you!).

Let me use this post to expand upon my previous post and, more specifically, the assignment given to my students. The homework came with an intentionally vague instruction: "come prepared to do something with that knowledge".

I knew the students were going to present to my colleagues, but what I was interested in, as a means of assessing my students, was how they process, syntehsize, and then...get this, KNOW the information (but not in that order).

Students were asked when they came to class to synthesize, collaborate, and contextualize. While they needed to hold a pretend session at a fake conference, they were sharing their information in an authentic way to a REAL group of educators who were interested in learning more about wikis (Note: Joyce Valenza sat in on the presentations and she is no wiki-rookie).

The wikipiphany I had during the class period had everything to do with how students present information, regardless of the topic.

I was shocked that not one of them could, on their own, talk about the content without first making a PowerPoint. While this program may help them organzie information, I'd argue that is not the real purpose of PowerPoint (or Keynote). Furthermore, it is disconcerting that they would turn around and use their organizer as the visual tool for their presentation.

Students were far more concerned about having a tool to help them deliver content, while they never once considered:
1. How they work to know information
2. How they communicate to an audience and,
3. How they choose to share their information in a meaningful, releveant, and powerful way that will resonate with their audience.

The lesson was no longer about wikis. In fact, the homework could have been, "Here are five facts about ferrets" along with the aforementioned vague instruction and I'm certain the "teachable moment" still would have emerged.

They can wiki. They can blog. They can moodle, odeo, and podcast, but if our students are unable to articulate or demonstrate how they take knowledge in, they are in some serious trouble. And any attempt on our part to get them to "share information" pales in comparison to the heart-sickening thought that on their own, they are unable to make sense of new content and lack the communication skills to deliver it.

I'll end with an anecdote. My two year old son went to a birthday party and the kids were all given Playdoh. They molded, shaped, smushed, and stretched the 'dough of play'. After a few minutes, a group of the kids gathered together and put all their Playdoh in one big mound. It was phenomenal collaboration, but they made a big ball of nothing out of little mounds of nothing. They had no idea what they were doing with the Playdoh, but the adults marveled over their ability to come together to make something.

Great for a two year old, but a nightmare for our students.


JoyceValenza said...

What a powerful wikiphany! Glad I was a witness. Every model of ACADEMIC presentation these students have seen to date validates their performance last week. We need help our colleagues retool. We need to share new models, and remind learners that they they can apply powerful the media strategies they see outside the classroom. Let's put that on the list.

Kristin Hokanson said...

Check out Power to the Students others are thinking and saying the same things around the world. Helping to "retool" is an important role and you are taking great strides in doing so.