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The conversation in the class around the Wiki collaborative writing tools made me think if the anonymity of users would help in creating a better environment for collaborative writing and leaving feedback in online forums and collaborative writing websites. The problem with anonymity is that people might not take as much responsibility in their feedbacks or modifying other people’s work. For example, if in a Wiki even one person modifies the other colleagues’ or classmates’ work without proper understanding of the original materials, or erases a big chunk of others’ work by mistake, it can create a lot of tension in the space and it also would be hard to track down.

Additionally, if it is not clear who has written and changed which section, the students might lose their motivation in contributing properly in the project. Having their names appearing under their work and comments, in either digital or non-digital contexts, would be motivational for the students to put a lot of effort in the material presented to the public, or to their classmates and instructor. On the other hand, however, the ability of leaving feedbacks anonymously would make it easier for the students and colleagues to voice their opinion towards each other’s works. Many times both a classroom and in virtual environments, people are so worried of offending their colleagues by their comments that they cannot give each other easily constructive criticism and their feedback turn out very vague and somehow censored.

Now the question is from which option in practice the students would benefit more. Which one in action would create a more democratic atmosphere and friendly, respectful and inspirational space for expression for the students? Does it help if the students are anonymous to each other, but the instructor can see the real names in his/her account? What are the advantages and disadvantages of creating such a dynamic in that space? How would that work in graduate classes or in online collaborative projects between a few colleagues in various (either academic or non-academic) institutions?

The article was published in 2005 and a lot of the information and statistics it provides has drastically changed since then. Specially Wikipedia has become more and more popular over the last 10 year and have jumped from the 37th mostly used websites in 2005, as mentioned in the article, to the 7th in 2015 (based on the statistics on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_popular_websites and http://www.alexa.com/topsites). I was wondering all along how would the results be different, if the comparison is being done again in 2015 between Wikipedia and Britannica. How has the ten years of generation and editing of contents by millions of users changed the average quality of the articles?

The article is also biased towards natural sciences over other types of scholarship. The main question is if the writing of articles by experts (as in Britannica) will make it more scientifically valuable and accurate than those written and edited by non-experts. Even though the core question brought up in the article is valid, the overall study seems to be only concerned about the accuracy of scientific articles and completely ignores other types of scholarships. For instance, it looks like the study has paid no attention to the historical accuracy of articles and or to the validity of any articles in the arts, engineering’s, and social, political and human sciences. Since research methodologies and evaluation techniques in each of the field is extensively different and the pace of the change of the information varies significantly based on the discipline, there needs to be much boarder research using different approaches for different fields, in order to properly evaluate the accuracy of Wikipedia articles in each of these fields.

Homogenous and smoothed out voice:

I have been also wondering about the political bias in writing about controversial issues or people. It seems like in many cases, editing these types of article will have less probability of being written and edited by neutral writers, but instead being modified by a few completely opposing radical perspectives, similar to the comment sections of many blogs and websites, when it comes to controversial issues. However, looking at many Wikipedia articles, it looks like the articles of this kind have been also neutralized to a great extent. I think the collaborative content creation by extensive number of editors can result in overall neutralization of the results and in most cases getting rid of extreme perspective towards controversial political issues. Therefore, even though the articles are written and edited by many different users all over the world, the voice in many articles sounds very homogenous and even to some extent belonging to the same source. What do you guys think? Do you also feel like many of the articles are written by one person? How about the articles in other encyclopedias?

Creating a proper atmosphere and structure that supports group exercises (both in class and take-home) is a very important and hard task for the instructor. It can be challenging for the instructor to control the flow of the class, evaluate the students, and create friendly and inspirational environment within the groups. The instructor should also pay attention to the ups and downs of any kind of collaborative or collective project development. The group dynamic can be destructive, if the group members don’t get along well or can’t agree on the division of the roles. And if done properly, it can be very pleasant, productive and useful for the student and can help them in leaning proper interaction and collaboration in a team. It also depends on the ability of the instructor to design the activities and assignments and their evaluation methods intelligently and innovatively, and also to make class atmosphere friendly, safe, motivational and respectful in order to make a lot of the collaborative techniques (with or without digital media) successful in the context of a classroom.

The collaborative exercise done in the classroom, using Google slides made me think more about group dynamics. First of all, I believe the instructor should pay a lot of attention to the scope of the exercise, the allocated time for the exercise, and the number of students in each group. In other words, paying attention to simple details as such will change the exercise to a great extent for the students. For example, if there are too many tasks to be done in one exercise in a short amount of time, the exercise would lose its power and the students can’t function well in a group to come into a proper conclusion together. Therefore, when time is short, the instructor should either reduce the number of tasks to make it more practical, or let students do the exercise in groups of two or even perform it individually. Many times groups with the size of three or more can create a dysfunctional dynamic, especially if the group members do not have enough time to discuss the questions properly in the group and come into a common decision at the end. Additionally, the instructor should pay attention to the fact that if the students are put randomly in a group to work with each other on a big project or exercise, they might not be compatible with each other and become frustrated in doing the work. Therefore, when the teachers assign group activity, they should be very meticulous and take the details related to the tasks, the timing and the group dynamics very seriously in the pre-planning of the project/exercise.

In the article, Bennet et al bring up the difference between cooperation and collaboration with a negative connotation. They consider it as one of the disadvantages of developing materials in a wiki and also as one of the problems that the students felt towards this technique. They consider it as a problem, since it made it hard for the instructors to know the amount and quality of the effort that each student put on the development of the wiki. It also made it possible for the students to only take part in the type of work that they were familiar with and was easier for them to achieve, rather than coming up with original ideas and contributing fully to the assignments and learning and putting effort in all the dimensions of the exercise.

This made me wonder if the cooperative method would be necessarily a wrong approach in students’ interactions, or if designed properly, can be constructive in the classroom. For example, maybe in a class exercise where the interaction with the students has a more cooperative nature, the students can share the responsibilities in between each other and each take over a task that they feel competent at and take pleasure in doing. Therefore not only would they enjoy doing the exercise more, get to practice the collaborative method of working in the industry, where usually people have separate tasks but pass their results to one another to complete a bigger task together. This type of exercise or take-home assignment requires much better pre-planning, flexibility and evaluation techniques by the instructor. For example he/she should pay attention to the quality as well as the amount of work that each student put on his/her task and evaluate the student based on that.

The instructor can also ask the students to make progress report and final presentation, where each student would present the specific contribution to the whole work and how his/her work helped in making his/her group mates’ work stronger in addition to how much creativity, originality and research he/she has brought in the project. For example, one exercise could be to ask the students to make a website for the class together. They can create smaller groups. Each group can have a subject with different branches, and the students can each take responsibilities in one or more components of the website’s development. One can take care of research around the subject; one can use the data to create contents; one can come up with creative graphs and questions and games around the subject; and one can be the graphics designers and create the visuals for the website as well as interesting story boards about the subject or the questions/issues they work on. This creative paradigm can be very constructive, if properly designed.

One important questions that constantly came to my mind in thinking about the digital tools for this week was how to differentiate between distracting and constructive technologies, when it comes to applying multimedia in teaching. This reminded me of digital performance and installation art practice. Many times using more modalities, if not created as well as the others can be distracting and can take away from the piece. For instance if the piece is centered around an expansive experimentation with the haptic technology and spatial audio, adding visuals to the piece can take away from the strength and sharpness of the piece. It would take away from the focus of the audience members on what truly is important. Plus, the visuals most likely would not be powerful enough and properly interactive with the other modalities, and therefore, would weaken the piece and the perceptual attention of the audience members.

The same thing can be seen in teaching using multimedia. If a technology is not appropriate or is applied without addressing the right issue, it can frustrate the students and distracts them from the core of the subject. For instance, some times using clickers in a classroom can create chaos and take the students’ attention to an insignificant question. It can also distract them by bringing their attention to the other students’ responses and the percentages for every option, which in spite of being interactive and motivational in a few cases, can be distracting in many other cases and take away from the cohesive and productive discussion or interactions in the class. Therefore, even though no technology is necessarily distracting by nature, it can be rather destructive if not applied properly.

In the article, Miller suggests to avoid using colors as a means to convey meaning in texts or graphics. He argues since it is not usable by all the students and can be problematic for some, it is not a proper way for conveying meaning in a classroom. For instance some students with disabilities might not be able to take advantage of those features and get confused. In a different section, he asks the educators to get rid of anything unnecessary and change the sections that are too wordy or have too many images, to avoid confusing and distracting the students, specially the students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

As an instructor, it is important to be familiar with your students, their disabilities and sicknesses, and the potential problems. It is important to consider the non-perfect situation of human body and human conditions. There will be most of the time cases where a few students have missed a class or two for medical or other emergency reasons, or even have even missed or didn’t properly understand a part of the lecture, because of sitting at the back of the class or even not having full attention at the time or being a non-native English speaker. It’s easy to forget or ignore these when you are teaching. However, by taking those factors into consideration, when designing the class agenda, creating presentations or explaining the concepts, no matter if you use multimedia tools or not, the educators can make the class more efficient and comprehensible to more students.

I think it is very important to use the right digital media for the right purpose in the classroom. Many times educators can get excited about some digital media and try to impose using them in the class, even though they are not the best fit for that specific context. For example, if the contents that the medium can support are not in the level of the class, instead of being constructive, it can be disturbing for the students. Therefore, if the instructor wants to apply various media in the class, he/she should put a lot of effort in finding a suitable package. Even though the instructor should come with a proper set of tools (digital media and non-digital recourses) to the class, taking students’ suggestions into consideration can be also helpful.

The instructor should attempt to evaluate the level of familiarity of the students with relevant technologies for the class or even the common social media or applications commonly used by the students. He/she can also use students’ help and suggestions about the media and websites that they find relative and helpful for the class subject in a in-class exercise and discussion or take-home assignment and then do a broad research on those sites and technologies and again bring it to the class and discuss it with the student and use some of the ones that she/he finds relevant and helpful for some sessions or some exercises in the class. And in this way turn his/her fear and intimidation and even wrong estimation and expectation from the digital familiar and knowledge of the students into a positive educational approach towards the class.