Unleash the Hounds!

For the past two days I have been in class with Gina working with her students on developing their wikispaces for the Harlem Renaissance Project. Working with students in this manner is akin to swimming with sharks for a lot of us: we were in their zone of IM, web creation, and video, and we had to figure out how to work within the chaos.

Gina and I are analyzing as we go here as we give the students full access to the wiki. The most pressing issues are that the students are so unused to such freedom and openness in design that when they get to the space, they began stepping all over each other and their page design suffered. That is as much our eagerness as their wonderment. Our first group of students was a real test case in that we just unleashed them onto the space with little direction. This was a conscious decision our part just to see what happened.

For our next group, we required that they plan their attack before they go the machines, and it worked very well. One thing I tend to forget as I attempt to use the read/write web with students are the conventions that work so well in a traditional setting. Things like pre-writing, planning, brainstorming and peer editing are equally, if not more important, with something like the creation of a wiki. So many more people will have access to the material than the students are used to (see writingthecity), so creating something of impeccable quality becomes paramount. Not to say it wasn’t before, but what Gina and I have seen in just one day in terms of student concern over the appearance of their work was striking.

As the students in the second and third sections of the class migrated from their planning tables to their machines, we saw that they had decided to sit together using neighboring machines. This was a distinct difference from the first section, which sat with groups scattered around the lab. Delegation occurred, with stress (from the students) on the roles and responsibilities of each of the group members. And although there is an IM-like feature built into wikispaces.com, the students found that speaking to one another in close proximity worked infinitely better. When they are working remotely, they thought, the IM would help.

It’s a work in progress, for both the students and Gina and I. The advantages that the students see are that they are free to roam and create within what to them are transparent parameters. In actuality, we have more control than we need over the space.

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