Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Phases of Engagement in an Online Class

Engagement in a classroom or with any group or organization is not a fixed process. Conrad and Donaldson in a very practical book provide a number of useful strategies for engaging students in an online classroom. Additionally, their basic ideas can also be applied to many other efforts to engage people in online environments. They describe their overall model as "phases of engagement." The word "phases" is a perfect term because it implies a process that occurs over time.

They describe the four phases as follows:

1. Newcomer-- Getting to know people in the classroom and understanding how to interact.
2. Cooperator-- Beginning to work with one other person on an activity or problem.
3. Collaborator-- Working in small groups to solve problems or discuss issues.
4. Partner-- Leading or initiating activities or projects including making presentations or leading discussions.

Conrad and Donaldson suggest spending about two weeks on phases 1, 2 and 3 and then 10 weeks in phase 4. This is a typical length of a 16-week, semester-long class.

Their book, "Engaging the Online Learner" includes about 100 specific activities for these phases.

There are two important ideas in these suggestions for website and online instructional designers-- 1) think about social processes as a part of design and 2) create multiple opportunities in these various phases to engage participants.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Persuasion in Facebook: An example of Collaborative Learning

In his work on mass interpersonal persuasion, BJ Fogg has been exploring how apps in Facebook are adopted. One of the ways he has explored this work is through a class he has been teaching at Stanford University. Although you can't see all the "collaborative" processes that Fogg is using, this is a good example of Learning 2.0 strategies in higher education.

This class has extended past the usual 15-week boundaries and others can join in on this discussion and learn about The Psychology of Facebook.

Although non-class members cannot get into the current course, you can get a glimpse of the collaborative strategies that Fogg seems to be using to engage students in learning and some of the tools he uses to facilitate collaborative work among students.

  • Invitation to join the extended version of the course
  • Fogg's orientation to class about next session including, streamed lectures, the use of survey for peer feedback on student work, and group process guidance.

Tools for Collaboration

  • Google Documents
  • Facebook platform

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Participation Inequality--90-9-1 Rule Sorta Holds up

One Internet folk wisdom is the 90-9-1 rule of participation on the Internet. This basic formula is that 90% of users will lurk, 9% will contribute occasionally, and 1% will account for most of the contributions.

Wikipedia notes that this rule is an "Internet theoretical concept." In a 2006 post, Jakob Nielsen calculates some actual statistics based on contributions to Amazon, Wikipedia, Technorati, etc. and suggests that the real numbers of participants does not easily map to the theoretical concept. For example, with blogs he notes that the actual percentages are: 95%, 5%, and .01%. In short, a very small percentage of users make most of the contributions on blogs.

A recent paper by Ochoa and Duval (2008), Quantitative Analysis of User-Generated Content on the Web looks at the actual participation rates of various websites including Amazon, Furl, Fan Fiction and others. There results indicate that there are different patterns of participation in these various sites. For example, 10% of the users contribute 50% of the Amazon reviews, 64% of the Library Thing book catalogues and 75% of the Merlot learning objects. Ochoa and Duval also note three general patterns of production-- fat-tail pattern with many users making contributions, a "fat-belly" pattern in which a smaller group of "star users" make a larger percentage of the contributions and a "prolific user" pattern in which one "mega-star" user makes an extraordinary percentage of the contributions (for example in Merlot, one user accounts for 12% of all the learning objects in this open source repository.

The overall point is that generating participation is a very difficult challenge and takes a substantial audience to achieve. Obtaining participation is a very high bar for Web 2.0 developers who are interested in engaging participants in content generation. Nielsen offers some useful ideas for effective engagement of users.

Reading Blogs is Not Enough

The biggest problem in the blogosphere among blogs devoted to science and education is that too many bloggers are only reading other blogs.

Unlike political blogs, current event blogs, and technology blogs, the bulk of the new information about science and education is not on blogs. It is in print journals, scientific conferences (that aren't streamed or open via other Web 2.0 technologies). (See my recent postings about BJ Fogg and online community participation.) So, if bloggers, students, and other interested parties want to keep current with current developments in science and education, they have to read the print literature.

An important contribution by bloggers to the advancement of science and education would be to summarize the print science online. We are still a long way from Science 2.0 and Learning 2.0. We won't make big advancements until more scientists and educators open their labs and classrooms with Web 2.0 technologies.

Reassurance from Experts Won't Work

The most common sentence from scientists or about science I have found in news articles about the autism-vaccine connection goes like this:

"Studies repeatedly discount any link between thimersol (or MMR or vaccines) and autism."

This is generally right. The overall scientific evidence has not demonstrated that there is a connection between vaccines (or any component of vaccines) and autism. Yet clearly this has not stopped the debate or convinced most parents of children with autism.

So I keep asking, why not? In part, this hypothesis is kept alive by a variety of people who are effectively using the media to focus on this issue.

But I also think that scientists have not engaged in the pubic debate effectively by providing the evidence for why this in not the case. We keep repeating the conclusions as if when "experts" (at least from the scientific community) speak that is the final word. On the other hand, parents of autistic children, another kind of "expert" continue to voice their views that their personal experience is otherwise. That is, there is a connection between the timing of their children's vaccine and the onset of autistic symptoms.

Scientists must find a way to talk about the lack of convincing evidence for a vaccine to autism link, yet validate parents' experiences that there seems to be a relationship. Tough assignment, but necessary.

Scientists will be much more convincing in the long-run if they acknowledge the importance of generating various hypotheses (like vaccines as a cause) and the careful exploration of these hypotheses and the often mixed evidence that emerges.

Teachers Say They will Learn Online

A recent survey of over 2,000 kindergarten through grade 12 teachers indicates that they are willing to participate in online professional development experiences.

Their most preferred method of instruction is in-district workshops (84%), but 69% also indicated that they were use online professional development experiences.

The survey also indicated that their greatest needs were regarding instructional skills (35%) and classroom management (25%). Both of these topics were an especially high priority among teachers with less than 5 years of experience.

There are lots of educational blogs, but are their lots of online professional development experiences for teachers?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Blogs and Science-- The Autism-Vaccine Debate

The debate over the link between vaccines and autism is a good example of how science is getting handled in the Web 2.0/user-generated content world.

In 2007 Jennifer Singh and her colleagues reported the results of their study examining the disconnect between the media/public discussion of the link between vaccines and autism and the scientific discussion. The major finding was that the public/media discussion was more focused on the link between vaccines and autism than the scientific community. In short, most of the scientific work was looking at other causes of autism outside of the vaccines.

The authors come to the following conclusion:
"The take-home message from these analyses is that despite a relatively long and intricate history of autism, millions of dollars of funding and thousands of papers in the peer-reviewed literature to explore causes, symptoms and possibilities for intervention, the selective reporting of the press was in sharp contrast to the focus of research and funding. Perhaps, as Nelkin suggests: 'In an age where communication among scientists is specialized and obscure, simplification is an essential if not a controversial part of making science palatable to the public.' In the case of autism, the press provided information to the public that was straightforward to understand and to which the public could then respond actively or, indeed, reactively."
Today I followed up this research is a very crude analysis of the blogosphere regarding the "autism-vaccine" link. Using Google Search of blogs, I identified all the blogs that include both the words "autism" and "vaccine" during the two-week period (May 3-16, 2008). I identified 105 blog posts (mean = 7.5 per day). I randomly sampled 15% of the posts and coded them for whether or not they mentioned scientific research or not and whether or not the author was a scientist.

My results indicate that no scientists were among the 14 blog posts I sampled. Although 57% of the blog posts mention scientific findings, these findings tend to be very selective and focus on relatively few studies overall. Two of the blog posts (see Texas two Step, Science Based Medicine) have very thorough and thoughtful analyses of the scientific findings and the scientific weaknesses of some of the more popular reports that tend to favor the link between vaccines or environmental causes and autism.

Although my efforts are much more limited, they illustrate that the issue identified by Singh persists and may be even more prevalent today especially since the advent of Web 2.0 technologies in which many more people can voice their views beyond traditional media outlets.

Singh and her colleagues discuss how the discussion of science in the media shapes the public's perception of scientific findings and policy decisions. They suggest that scientists need to be more involved in presenting science in the media. Based on my limited analysis of blog posts it continues to appear that scientists are not very active in the use of Web 2.0 technologies to present scientific information.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Motivating Community Members by Social Comparison

There is some very interesting work being done by a group called "CommunityLab" in regards to how online communities sustain themselves and motivate community members to contribute.

Here is one recent study and the findings in regards to how feedback about amount of "effort" might effect a person's contributions. Harper, Chen and Konstan (2007) report on a study in which they used an email letter to community members about their relative number of ratings of movies on a movie-rating website. They divided the participants into two groups. The control group got an email letter that provided information about member's ratings in general and the experimental group was provided personalized information about how many movies they had rated compared to others-- less, the same or more. The groups were roughly matched in terms of past contributions.
Here are a couple of interesting findings:

1. Following the email newsletter both the comparison and experimental groups were active on the website. The authors don't tell us if both groups increased their activity from before, but this would be interesting to know.

2. Participants getting the social comparison data rated more movies than the control group. They rated twice as many movies.

3. Those individuals who were told they rated the fewest movies rated more movies following the feedback than any of the other groups. In short, the intervention worked.

4. There were some interesting differences between men and women that suggest that men felt more motivated to improve their scores when they were told were doing less well than others and women were more motivated when they were told they were doing the same as others. The authors did not seem to actually compare the actual behavior of men and women; they only compared their perceptions of what motivated them.

The author's make the following conclusion:

"While subjects who received an email message with the comparison manipulation were no more likely to click on one of the links or log into the system, they were more likely to rate movies. Thus, we find that a comparison makes no difference to a member's interest in using the system, bu that it change their focus within the system" (p. 157).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mass Interpersonal Persuasion

In a new paper, BJ Fogg writes,

"A new form of persuasion emerged in 2007: I call it 'mass interpersonal persuasion' (MIP). This phenomenon brings together the power of interpersonal persuasion with the reach of mass media. I believe this new way to change attitudes and behavior is the most significant advance in persuasion since radio was invented in the 1890s."

That's a provocative way to begin an article!

So what is this "mass interpersonal persuasion?"

Fogg writes that "mass interpersonal persuasion" is best exemplified by ability of users in Facebook to distribute applications. He describes six components that were bundled together to create this new process:

  1. "Persuasive Experience: An experience that is created to change attitudes, behaviors, or both.
  2. Automated Structure: Digital technology structures the persuasive experience.
  3. Social Distribution: The persuasive experience is shared from one friend to another.
  4. Rapid Cycle: The persuasive experience can be distributed quickly from one person to another.
  5. Hugh Social Graph: The persuasive experience can potentially reach millions of people connected through social ties or structured interactions.
  6. Measured impact: The effect of the persuasive experience is observable by users and creators" (p. 4).
The primary example described in the paper the use of Facebook as a platform to share "web applications" among people on Facebook. Fogg and his colleagues conducted a class of students to create applications for Facebook that would be designed using feedback from Facebook users. The results were that the students were able to develop widely used applications. He reports that at the end of the course, over 16 million people had used student's applications and at one point over 1 million people each day used an application the students created.

So what does Fogg make of this?

He writes that the persuasive experience and automation has been put together before. Research in his lab and reported in his book, Persuasive Technology, has demonstrated that people's attitudes and behaviors can be changed using computer-guided systems. The new aspect created by social networking technologies is that these "automated persuasive activities" could be easily exchanged among a large, networked group of people. The last element of "measured impact" provides feedback to users and creators about which "persuasive experiences" are working.

Here are the questions I find myself asking:

1. Can you change behavior or attitudes with these efforts for the long-term or is this mostly a short-term behavior change strategy?

2. What particular persuasive techniques or strategies work in social networks?

3. How does network size affect the creator of the persuasive strategy?

4. How does mass interpersonal persuasion work within various age groups?

There are many interesting questions and issues to consider in regards to the components of "mass interpersonal persuasion."

Prousage- An Application to Science 2.0

Axel Bruns has written in new book, Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond, and has a website devoted to his ideas about "produsage." He suggests that the distinction between production and consumption of media no longer fits the ways in which material can be created in blogs, wikis, and so forth. As a result he suggests that "produsage" be used to describe this process and gives this definition:
"the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement."
He writes,
"In collaborative communities the creation of shared content takes place in a networked, participatory environment which breaks down the boundaries between producers and consumers and instead enables all participants to be users as well as producers of information and knowledge - frequently in a hybrid role of produser where usage is necessarily also productive."
The example that he gives that makes me think about learning and scientific work in new ways is the example of reporting on events like climate change or other long-term ongoing events. He notes that traditional news reporting relies on "breaking news" or a new angle in order for it to "make the news." He notes that the problem with this approach is that the "breaking news" often leaves out important context, history or changes. This immediately made me think about news reporting of "new scientific findings" that report on a single finding in a new study without any sense of the body of knowledge within which this study is embedded. This has led to many non-scientists completely discounting science because one day they read that some food or activity is good for you and the next week they hear it makes no difference. The general reader of science news rarely is ever offered a thoughtful summary of the general knowledge about a topic in the news-- this isn't news!

Bruns suggests that Wikipedia and other collaborative knowledge projects are much better vehicles for creating useful, context-rich understandings of events and the world. It provides a way to "update" the story as new information is gathered. It reminds us that our understanding of events, news, new findings, etc. change or are enriched over time. These collaborative knowledge platforms also remind us that their are multiple views of information and that our knowledge is always incomplete.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Web 2.0: A New Espistemology or Not?

In a recent article in the Educause Review, Chris Dede, asserts:
"Web 2.0 is redefining what and how and with whom we learn. For example, in Wikipedia, “knowledge” is constructed by negotiating compromises among various points of view. This raises numerous questions: How do we in higher education help students understand the differences between facts, opinions, and values—and how do we help them appreciate the interrelationships that create “meaning”? In an epistemology based on collective agreement, what does it mean to be an “expert” with sufficient subject knowledge to teach a topic? Since almost any piece of information can now be found online in less than a minute (along with inaccurate and biased data), what core knowledge does every student need in order to prepare for twenty-first-century work and citizenship?"
He goes on the write:
"In the Classical view of knowledge, there is only one correct, unambiguous interpretation of factual interrelationships. In Classical education, the content and skills that experts feel every person should know are presented as factual “truth” compiled in curriculum standards and assessed with high-stakes tests."
Dede is incorrect about the "classic view of knowledge." This is often the perceived view of how scientific knowledge is viewed, but for at least the past 50 years, the philosophy of science that under girds thinking about scientific problems views scientific facts as embedded in world views and cultural perspectives. One of the important contributors to this perspective was Karl Popper and another influential work was Thomas Kuhn's book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962.

At the same time, Dede is correct that many teachers and students have assumed the "classical" approach to knowledge which is there are a set in indisputable facts that need to learned by students and that success in learning is the ability to report about the specific facts.

The power if the Web 2.o tools is that it allows more people to voice their views in more places and to create interactive venues (for example, Wikipedia) in which people can debate and construct information. This has always been what good teaching should be. However, it is wrong to suggest that this is a new "epistemology." Dede writes that the classic view is that "new knowledge through formal, evidence-based argumentation, using elaborate methodologies to generate findings and interpretations." This has not changed as a result of Web 2.0. It may be more chaotic and it may mean that more voices are participating in the discussion, but the rules of argumentation, evidence presentation, logic, experimentation, and so forth still hold.

The great value of Wikipedia and Web 2.o tools is that there are increased opportunities for individuals to practice this critical thinking and to explore a wide range of scientific ideas.

The big challenge for educators and scientists is to open their scientific societies, journals and laboratories to similar types of examination, critical views and open discussion. (See comments about Science 2.0.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

B J Fogg and Persuasive Technology

Some of the most extensive work on helping people to learn is by B J Fogg and his colleagues at Stanford University. In their Persuasive Technology Lab, these scientists are working on understanding how to use computers to help people change behaviors and attitudes.

His core idea is that computers can be used to persuade people to change. Fogg suggests that computers can be used as tools, the medium and as social actors. As tools, computers can make it easier for people engage in a specific behavior, lead people through a process or provide information that is motivating. As a medium, computers can allow people to explore cause and effect relationships, provide people with vicarious experiences that motivate and help people reverse a behavior. Computers can also be a social actor by rewarding people with positive feedback, modeling a target behavior, or providing social support.

This work gets beyond talking in general terms about elearning or learning 2.0 and provides specific ideas and results about how to change behavior. Increasingly, this work is moving to the use of mobile technology for changing behavior.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Clay Shirkey on Finding Time for Participation in Web 2.0

Here is a first for me-- posting video... maybe even watching a video. I am an old-time text person. This is short, about 15 minutes. Shirkey basically asserts that the big change that has come about is that we are all spending less time passively watching media (TV in particular) and spending more time producing and sharing media whether through blogs, video, wikis, map-making via Google Earth, etc. He suggests that we have spent lots of time in this passive mode and that even if a small percentage is devoted to production and sharing that we have a lot of time to convert to production and we will produce a lot of new material.

Open Classroom on YouTube

In various posts I have suggested that we experiment with open classrooms. Here is a discussion about an experience teaching in an open classroom.

Alexandra Juhasz, professor of media studies at Pitzer College, developed a course about YouTube using YouTube as the platform for conducting the course. She writes,
"I decided to teach a course about YouTube to better understand this recent and massive media/cultural phenomenon, given that I had been studiously ignoring it (even as I recognized its significance) because every time I went there, I was seriously underwhelmed by what I saw: interchangeable, bite-sized, formulaic videos referring either to popular culture or personal pain/pleasure."
There were really two experiments going on simultaneously in this course. First, the course itself was translated into the YouTube format. This required the course to be converted from an environment that relies a lot on text (readings, papers, even most slides in lectures have a lot of words) to video. Additionally, the classroom was open to the public and so the students and teacher could not only be observed in the classroom, but non-class members could comment about the material in the classroom. As she reflects on this experience, she comments on the impact of the open classroom, stating,
"The elite liberal arts classroom, usually (or at least ideally) depends upon an intimate and “safe” gathering of high-paying, and carefully selected students, to create a communal pedagogy. In my typical Pitzer College classroom, once doors are closed, students are asked to publicly contribute their interpretations, and sometimes personal experience or knowledge, always knowing that they are not experts, but are certainly experts-in-training. The steady construction of a confidence of voice, particularly in relaying a complex analysis, is one of the “services” we professors hope to provide. Students, often feeling vulnerable in the eyes of their classmates and their esteemed professor, are challenged to add their voices to the building dialogue, one in which they are an active, continuing member. Ever aware of the power dynamics that structure the classroom, allowing some to speak with comfort and others not, I engage in strategies to alter the “safety” of the space. Needless to say, these lofty dynamics begin to radically shift when anyone and everyone can see and also participate. During the class, students were routinely judged by critical YouTube viewers who we would never see or know, who may or may not be aware of the history of our conversations, or the subtle dynamics in the room. While access grew, the disciplining structures in place in a closed classroom (attendance, grading, community responsibility) could not insure that our outside viewers were as committed and attentive as were we. It was interesting to me to see the strength of the students’ desires to enforce the privacy of the classroom."
The comment by Juhasz correctly identifies one of the problems with creating open classrooms, but the lesson from this experiment is important. The lesson should not be that classrooms should not be open, but when and where they should be open and for what purpose. Opening classrooms beyond the immediate classroom participants needs to be done for specific purposes, not just open to the world for whatever happens. Here are some specific ways a teacher might open a classroom:
  • Students are presenting projects and what feedback about their ideas from a broader audience. (Even this might be open only to people who have a specific expertise or set of interests.)
  • the class is discussing a topic that is related to a current event and invites the public into this discussion.
  • There is a community of interested people who work on a topic related to a classroom topic that would provide additional insight to the students in the classroom.
  • The formal classroom experience is over, but students and former students are interested in continuing the course discussions informally by creating an extended learning community.
The point is that creating open classrooms is not an invitation to open everything up all the time. It is encouragement to think about the times and places in which both the learning in the classroom and the learning outside of the classroom would benefit from the openness.