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Momenta Learning

A blog on topics related to E-learning, online education, and instructional design.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Is Wikipedia an appropriate source content these days?

In my work as instructional designer I have come across content that had links to Wikipedia entries on many different subjects. I just didn’t think that much of it because I use that source myself when I need a quick and down definition to something I don’t know. But is Wikipedia an appropriate source for e-learning content?
If you were asking me this question in 2005, I would have said no at the drop of a hat. In those days, you could hear rumors and chatter about false entries, biased entries that helped support an agenda, or simple pulpits for somebody’s rants. I have never posted anything on Wikipedia, or helped shape a post already there, so I cannot talk about the whole process. But you can go to Wikipedia and open an account for free (you don’t even need to provide an e-mail), and you can start helping by editing entries, they even claim that you do not have to be an expert in the field because you can help catch grammar or style missteps.
Wikipedia has come a long way, especially in subjects related to science, engineering and technology. Many of these entries have references included in the post that can be checked for accuracy or review. Some of the subjects are developed beyond to what a regular textbook would offer. This has happened thanks to the collaboration of thousands of people around the World who have volunteered their time and patience in editing entries in Wikipedia. This link provides the current statistics on Wikipedia. As time has passed, and as more people has participated in the process, Wikipedia has improved a lot. But even after all I have explained here, still many instructors are reluctant to using this source for their class content. I have bad news for them: most likely your students are using that content anyways, for good or for bad, so why not help them see if that content is good for them to use? The process of reviewing these entries requires critical thinking. You can start by reviewing the content in a particular post and point out where the flaws lie so that your students can form an idea of how reliable those sources are. I don’t think is good practice that you just tell them not to use those sources, and then they will turn around and use them behind your back anyways.
For some historic facts, things might get trickier. Nevertheless, I have seen many entries (like the Gettysburg address) that have references included. But I guess that would be open to debate. Many of these entries have images that help understand what the entry is about (I don’t know if copyright releases are in place before posting). Along the post and text there are other links included to other Wikipedia entries, videos, external pages, and so on. Even historical figures have entries in Wikipedia, from the past and the present. Highly publicized murderers, politicians, scientists, public figures, artists, singers, etc. have Wikipedia entries. It is rumored that many of them have people going into their entries to modify things they don’t like in it.
So if you have doubts about using Wikipedia for your course content, this should help you make up your mind: if Wikipedia was printed into a book the size of the Encyclopedia Britannica, it will contain more than a million pages (and somebody is trying to do that). Many of the contributors in Wikipedia are actually experts volunteering their time for the project. There are references that you can check (which are not other Wikipedia entries). And of course, you can always go in and make the modifications yourself, if you find that the post is biased, incomplete, or inaccurate. At the end of the day, resisting to the use of Wikipedia is futile, your students are using it a lot, professionals are using it too. The argument that is not a reliable source of content is not accurate anymore.

Common Core & Ed Tech: Top Nine Posts for March 2014

Common Core & Ed Tech: Top Nine Posts for March 2014

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The 5 personal relationship levels any ID needs to develop

I have to confess that when I started working as an instructional designer (by pure coincidence), I thought my job basically involved making HTML pages, making objects using Javascript, and maybe some graphic design. Somebody else would pass the content over to me and I would just insert that content into the pages. In fact, there was a time when I thought most of my work will take place in my cubicle, in front of my two huge computer screens, just moving to get coffee, going to a team meeting, or having the casual conversation about work with my colleagues.
But instructional design requires the ability to work with and for others. Building relationships in the workplace, and outside of it, is as important as the basic course design needed to develop the courses. In my experience, I have found that there are four levels of relationship that an instructional designer needs to cultivate and grow:
  1. With your supervisors
  2. With your colleagues
  3. With support teams
  4. With outside vendors
  5. With your customers
Here is how I break it down, please realize that this is not a model for all environments. The corporate world is more complex than the university setting (where I operate).
  1. Your relationship with your supervisors
    I don’t mean to be a suck-up, you will have to disagree with them when you believe you are right. Do not bend over backwards to please your bosses, it will not serve both sides in the end. You also have to respect the position they are in, after all, they are there for some reason. You have to consider their vision of the section or team, the direction they want to take, it is their job to trace the way to go, it is your job to support those goals and do what you can to achieve them, even if you do not agree with them. But you have to voice your concerns if things are not working the way it was planned, this way, your boss can rectify the direction before it is too late.
  2. Your relationship with your colleagues
    They are not your drinking buddies, but you may have a beer with them from time to time. You will be with them in the trenches, at this level your relationships become a little less formal because you will be spending most of the time with them, so the casual sharing of personal information is more common, which allows for a more comfortable interaction. It is important to be a team member, ready to help when any of your colleagues asks for it but able to decline when you have other priorities, do not drop everything you are doing to help a colleague, unless your boss asks you, or if you certainly do not have any looming deadlines (that is rarely the case), or if the project involves the whole team for delivery. Clashes of character and lack of affinity will sometimes be unavoidable, nevertheless you should keep things at the professional level, do not let your emotions cloud your judgement, do not let your aversion to a co-worker influence your opinion about an issue at work. This a fertile area where I could add other issues related to how you handle your work relationships (and personal) with your colleagues, for the sake of space, I will deal with this on a later post.
  3. Your relationship with your support teams
    They are not your lackeys, do not demean those around you that provide a service or a support role to your team. Do not look down on them because you have the big college degree and they do not. Treat them with respect, respect the work they do. Ask as you would ask a colleague for help, they are an essential part of the organization as well. In some cases, some of these relationships will develop beyond the workplace. Show genuine interest in who they are, what they do in the organization, observe how they do their daily work, you might learn something new.
  4. Your relationship with outside vendors
    This includes instructors, since many times they are hired to deliver content. This is one of the most demanding relationships in your circle. They will be the professionals you will be in touch the most. You have to keep up with production, your schedule, and with demands from your supervisors and the organization. Sometimes, this is the area where projects get delayed, the subject-matter expert (SME) would not cooperate with you or they will not work at your same speed. This is a very tricky situation because you are not their boss, certainly they are not your boss, your are the liaison, the glue that keeps the course production in schedule and on budget. You need to know your SMEs well, how they work, their styles, how they respond to your requests, and so on. There are also outside vendors. Unless you are the guy that makes the decision to purchase a product for the organization, they will bug you that much. But you need to have their number and information handy when you need it for technical or product support.
  5. Your relationship with your customers
    Your customers are the population that will be learning in your courses. In many cases, when debugging is needed, the buck stops with you. Many organizations have student support and your intervention might not be needed. But you have to be ready to deal with students that do reach your help desk. You need to have the course and organization policies regarding refunding, assessments, deadlines, and accessibility.
I created this classification from my own experiences dealing with relationships in my workplace, as an instructional designer in a university setting. In the corporate world, things might be a little different. If you can help me reshaping this classification for a more general workplace (both academic and corporate), or if you have a different idea, please let me know. I am always looking for new learning experiences regarding my relationships to others around me.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My comments on Week 2 Films 1 and 2.

To say the least, these two commercials show a very rosy future. It is clear that they are trying to convey the message that the technologies they are promoting will be present in every aspect of our lives: from when we rise in the morning, to when we go to sleep. Who is to say that in the distant future, portrayed in those two films, everybody in the world will have access to that kind of technology, when right now we are not able to feed the whole population on this planet?
The way education, at the basic level, is shown in the film suggests that the classrooms of the future will require every student to possess a computer or digital device. I just don’t want to spend time listing the failed attempts at achieving this that many school districts have embarked on, the recent fiasco in Los Angeles County is the latest one reported.
It seems to me that the classes in both films are heavily using media and interactivity, and this seems to suggest that this is the best way to teach something like building a bridge. I think that is not defensible because there are other methods that are as efficient as using multimedia and computer programs. Another suggestion is that the use of cool gadgets in the classrooms will enhance education, which is also not true.
In overall, I believe this two cases show an example of a utopian vision of the future. But I was left with the impression that these kids and their families belong to a privileged class. This is another issue that education is currently undergoing, just like in other parts of the economy, a dismal gap between people who can pay for college and those who cannot afford it. I would like to read research related to the effects of economic status on e-learning, especially attitudes toward the use of it.
One thing that is not depicted in these films is the interaction between the students. It is well documented that students communicate to each other using social media but the film failed to show how that is going to evolve when those technologies presented actually exist.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

An example of dystopian story about technology...

When I watched the movie "Pi" some years ago, I was impressed by the use of the camera looking at the actor while he was moving (accomplished by a camera strapped to the actor), which is commonly used nowadays but at that time was really innovative. I do recommend the movie but it is not for the faint of heart because of its dim and gloomy nature.
Even though many people think that what is changing the world is technology, many really mean the hardware behind that technology. But what actually drives these machines is not the hardware but the software (algorithms) that makes them do stuff. I have always thought that the revolution in technology did come from hardware improvements but the creation of more powerful algorithms is what has actually sealed the deal. And this movie talks more about the numbers behind the hardware than the hardware itself. This movie was made well before all that wave of web 2.0 came around, so there is little reference to the internet and more emphasis on the power of computers and algorithms. I consider this a good example of dystopia brought about by technology.

My comments on Film 4: "New Media"

This second film, although very well made, falls short on a new message. I know the visuals are impressive but to me, the message is difficult to see. The role of technology is not clear, since this really looks more like an invasion of machines more than the influence of technology in our lives. But the similarity to the other film "Bendito Machine III" lies on how a higher entity takes over our lives and environment through the use of gadgets, which most of the times, do more harm than good to us.
The final sequence left me wondering if the actor is the controller of those machines or if the machines are controlling him? I couldn't figure that out.

My comments on Film 3: "Thursday"

I admire those films where the title is something hidden in the movie that you have to find out later. In this case, this film has the title hidden well into the middle of the film, and at first sight there is no clue on why the movie is called "Thursday". By the way, it would be really cool to have a restaurant that is far up the atmosphere!
I think the film presents many issues with technology that are widely known, such as how we have become so dependable on it that when we loose power at work, everything comes to a halt (it is true, not only that, if I loose the internet connection, I just cannot move forward), or how we get so absorbed by technology that our entertainment, our communications, and our activities revolve around technological gadgets such as cell phones (smart phones?), tablets, and so on. This film does not have any dialogue either, but I don't believe the film could have gone without it, I think this a conscious decision from the filmmaker and not the nature of the film (like in Inbox). The original idea in the film is how we get so involved in the life in a big city that we forget that nature is still trying to thrive in those environments, the birds story line is real and true in many cities. What is not true is the fact that the city is presented as a barren, devoid-of-life, place. In fact, there is a whole movement right now on making big cities more green by placing more green areas around.
I am not sure what the question about gains and losses means. I will try my best. I see many gains in the sens that technology has made our life so much easier in many aspects. The fact that I can sen this post to be viewed by potentially many other humans is remarkable, and a positive gain. The loss is that I cannot have all of them in front of me to tell them all this I am typing here, which is depicted in the film with the couple having to communicate by text messages because they are so busy with their lives. Another loss in the film is the fact that nature is so hidden in the city that is hard to see or notice until a bird smashes on your window, just like in the film. The enormous gain is the awareness that comes out one we realize that life is actually thriving around us, despite our best efforts to transform the environment to our needs.
I think the agent in this film is the bird because it is taking the role of nature in the film. The fact that this bird has thrive in the urban environment and has transformed its environment (by building a nest inside an antenna's plate, using wires to build the nest for lack of tree twigs) makes it the main role in the movie. I watched the whole thing waiting for the next sequence where the bird would show up. I think another message in the movie is the fact that life moves on despite our best efforts to manipulate it into complying to our wishes.