Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Proverbial Lead Balloon

I admit, I have always been a bit naive, and perhaps a bit overambitious. I remember that when I was five or six, I was lingering down by the barn on my Grandpa Elder's farm, contriving a way to catch one of the cute piglets that was in the feedlot (in the shadow of its grumpy 200 kilo mother sow) so as to keep it as my own. I had to have my own pig! And now I recall how I had also brought my small tricycle to the feedlot gate and set it there as a corner post for my would-be pen, along with a hodgepodge of boards, a watering can and some string.

Oh yeah, sure, I was really gonna catch that piglet and keep it fenced within that crude set up. 

Several years later, I had another ambitious plan: to start my own museum. In my hometown of Thornville, Ohio, Grandpa Blackstone had a hardware store. On the second floor of the stately 19th-century building, there was an empty room, overlooking the front sidewalk and the village's main street. There was also a staircase that ran down to the street from my would-be museum space.

What a perfect place, I imagined,  to display my various collections of heirlooms and collectibles, including some Native American artifacts, old jars and jugs, a minor coin collection, and souvenirs from multiple family trips to Canada. So I worked relentlessly at cleaning that empty room; I convinced my patient great-grandfather to build display tables, which I then set up, and I set out all of my treasures with carefully measured attention.

In all my effort though, I had missed one important point:  Why would anyone besides my grandpa, my great-grandfather and my bullied younger siblings ever make the effort to walk up those dusty stair to visit a lackluster museum with my odds and ends? 

I had similar big ideas in a couple other stages of my life, with similar results. The proverbial lead balloons.

That's a bit how I now feel about having my students utilize the NUS Wikispace for their group research projects. It's great for everyone to be able to view and comment on each other's work. It's useful for a tutor to be able to access, assess, and admire student achievements. It's a good idea having students archive their group work in a common, mutually-accesible space. And so there it is on the NUS Wiki Dashboard, Professional Communication BB, neatly available for student use.

What I discovered today though in reviewing student work was that several research teams had set up their own wiki space right there on NUS Wiki but not in "my" space. Others had understandably used a space more familiar or workable to them, like Google Docs.

And so, I faced a dilemma. Castigate those who had created alternatives that were more suitable for their own research team's needs or be amenable to the deviation from my plan and adapt to the "beautiful" reality of the situation. 

Being more realistic and practical than I am either naive or ambitious, I decided I could adapt, that I should accept the learning apparent as students developed a system that worked best for them. 

The pigpen idea I gave up when I suddenly realized that separating the tiny piglet from its gargantuan mother was going to be a life-threatening affair. The museum idea I dumped after my first visitors walked up and back down the hardware store stairs *without* making any entrance fee contributions to my coffee can at the door.

And what of NUS Wiki? Why persist in forcing students who had set up other wiki sites for archiving their research project documents to export them to my long-established space just for the sake of ceremony? 

Well, I think you know the answer already.

I will be happy to review my students' materials on the site they have created, wherever that might be. That's more practical and realistic than transferring data just for the sake of some prescribed scenario.

Adaptation is survival.


Deenise said...

Hi Brad,

How are you? :)
I think I may have a solution to your problem but I am not too sure whether this will work. Why not get students to post their documents on blogs? Each team will set up a blog and create a few achives. In the way, students get to use any workspace they feel comfortable with. They simply have to copy and paste the text on the blogs. Everyone write and read comments. Students would use the workspaces for sharing and editing of documents and blogs, for commentary. Last semester,my team hardly wrote any comments for each document posted on NUS Wiki. We usually share our opinions during meetings where we will further clarify with each other.I felt that the commentary function is only useful for communication between the teacher and each team or among the various teams because both parties hardly get to meet each other.That's just my two cents worth of view. It might be interesting if students could take this as a challenge and come out with creative solutions to this problem too.It might lead on to greater things.Perhaps some new innovation? :)

Rohan Rajiv said...

Dear Brad,

A big thumbs up!

The single biggest reason I rate ES2007S as the best course I took in NUS was your (and hence, in my eyes, the course's) ability to adapt and be open to new ideas and suggestions.

I strongly believe that new ideas are to be encouraged and tried. They may end up becoming 'successes', then again, they may not. Either way, I'm sure everyone involved will only be better for it. What better time than university to take swings, after all? (small as they may be)

I'm sure a bit of adaptation will make for a great learning experience. As Timon and Pumba would say '...... the way I see it, you can run from it or learn from it'

Best from waaaarm Oman,
Rohan :)

Glenn said...

Dear Brad,

Nice sharing! Many a times I too find myself dreaming too big and far that I realized I set myself up for disappointments. However I realized for me personally, each set back is an experience which I learn and it helps me to be more practical in the next dream or aim that I set for in the particular area as I have a better understanding of the people and the dynamics in that area. So keep trying!


Female Saints said...

Dear Brad,

A big thumbs up!

Very beauty in your words.

weaboon said...

Frankly, I felt that the introduction on the use of the wiki platform was a great idea. However, it was sad that it was not played to the advantage of wiki. While wiki is a promising platform for shared authorship and collaborative editing/writing, it does not outshine, in this aspect, plattforms like google doc which offers real-time editing features. What could be worse than potentially revolutionary ideas being buried, before anyone can even see it, when a newer version of the document layers over it due to a technical limitation? Real-time editing solves this, so before such a feature is incorporated into the wiki.
However, a wiki space does have an obvious advantage in that it will make an excellent database. It is a superb platform to store, present and most importantly crosslink information. This is exactly what makes wikipedia an epitome of wiki potential.
In a design of a wiki assignment, I have a bold proposition: Use a wiki space to make a proposal pitch, instead of using the conventional book of proposal report and presentation with slideshows in the background. Use the wiki, to propose and provide the neccessary written, as well as a communication media to support a presentation in a proposal pitch. In other words, exploit the fluidity and dynamism of data presentation offered by wiki. Who says that a report or presentation must be linear? =)

Annie said...

(Meant to post comment on this story)

I love how you took a fond memory (I think I might have been right there with you!) and used it to write about a current situation....

j_hteo said...

Hi Brad,

Your post reminded me of another situation I faced here in NUS last semester.

In one of my elective modules, I met this lecturer who decided that he should post webcasts of his lectures on his own external profit-making website. He chose not to put them up via IVLE, and told us to install a program to be able to view them.

After installing, however, I found out that the program isn't that user friendly. The same could be said of the site on which we should view the webcasts. In the end, I could not view a single webcast, totally defeating the purpose of having webcasts.

Therefore, while students should cooperate with teaching staff in achieving academic goals, the latter should also sufficiently tolerate alternatives employed by the former, especially when academic quality is not jeopardised. In choosing to reduce the amount of formality by not insisting on NUS Wiki, I think you have made a very good move.

Jinq Horng

Vivien said...

Hi Brad,

As you have said in class before, If you can't beat them, join them.

I guess you have made progress since I have never herd you mention about NUSwiki. (:

In my opinion, ambition is important as it is one of the motivation that keeps us looking forward. Realistic ambition may be an oxymoron but I guess it is pretty relevant. Knowing when to let go of your ideology (ie NUSwiki) or cling onto it also requires each of us to weigh the pro and cons of the matter. Well, in case of the museum, you could allocate a promotion counter on the second floor. Haha marketing strategies. Hahaha

Anyway, when you talked about the little piglet that you wanted, it kind of reminded me of Charlotte's Web. Not sure if you read the book, but it talks about little Charlotte insisting to keep wilbur, the runt, as a pet and how it saves the day.