Skills for the 21st Century

Cognitive and Literacy Skills for Success in a Fast-Paced Technological Age

Collaborative Knowledge Generation – Dr. Wesch’s example

Posted by durencls on April 15, 2010

So, I was investigating how we can effectively use web 2.0 technology in adult education  and I ran across Dr. Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist and “digital ethnographer” focusing on the changes web 2.0 is having and could have on our society.   Reading through his blog, I came across this post – How to get students to find and read 94 articles before the next class

OK,” I thought – “…that sounds pretty cool, even if it was at the university level, how did he pull that off?”  Essentially, he used something like a classic cooperative learning Jigsaw. Each student was assigned to find online, read, and summarize 5 articles on a single class topic. Students entered this information quickly and easily into an online database so everyone could see what articles had already been submitted to avoid repetition.  Summaries were due 36 hours before the next class.  Students were then required to have READ everyone else’s summaries before class – in this case 96 articles (some folks entered more than 5).  His statement was that the class conversation resulting was phenomenal.  With such a a broad understanding of the topic, a much richer discussion and debate occurred.

So, thinking about this one cool example of collaborative knowledge generation – “Web 2.0 thinking” – I asked myself “What future skills does this example include?”  “How could we teach those skills to AE students?”   “How could we teach those skills without access to the internet or the technologies Wesch used?”

 OK – “Metaskills”  involved that *I* saw (in order):

  • Research – finding the articles on a topic on the web, at your readability level.
  • Reading – skimming (don’t need to read the whole article in depth in order to summarize the main points.)
  • Writing – creating a 3-4 sentence, concise summary of the main points in an article; writing a well stated clear summary for peers.
  • Reading/Critical Thinking Skills – Analyze and integrate reading with prior knowledge (synthesize, make connections, generalize, etc.)
  • Listening/Speaking skills – clearly communicate your points in a non-offensive manner, listen to other’s points and build on their thinking, respecting others’ points of view…
  • Hard Tech skills – Internet search techniques, Use of a web browser, basic typing skills. (Note that all but these last are also pretty clearly GED, workplace, and/or post-secondary ed skills as well.)

Wow.  And in the process they are automatically “creating knowledge collaboratively” – and learning to vlaue one another’s input. So what might this look like in an AE/ESOL class? With or without technology access?

How about a topic of career exploration? Each student chooses a job sector (like education or health or automotive, etc.) , and finds out about 2-5 jobs in that sector – via the internet, classifieds, interviews of folks holding those jobs, books magazines, etc.  They collect information that they feel their peers would want to know, and then prepare a short summary of these jobs  for their peers.  These summaries are communicated to their peers, and then a class discussion of career options is held.

Adjustments for learner’s functioning levels/access to technology:

  • Searches could be done via interview, online (e-mail, live chat, skype) or offline (in person or via phone); via the newspaper online or offline, via articles or web pages online or offline; books at different reading levels, etc.
  • Written information to be gathered could be dictated in part or in full by a list of teacher generated or student generated questions (individually or as a group), students’ writing tasks might be to fill out a form (online or on paper), or to write a more free-form paragraph – on paper or on a wiki, or a blog…
  • Students could have to read each other’s summaries or listen to them on recording (on or off line, with or without the written piece in front of them).  To stay in the spirit of this exercise, the reading/listening of each other’s summaries should be done independently or in small groups- not as a whole class “report out.” (One person reading while everyone else in class listens is the very opposite of “cooperative learning.” ) If done in small groups, folks could be grouped in like sectors for initial discussion or in unlike sectors to take back to a sector discussion (see below).
  • Follow -up discussion: Whole class discussion of best jobs, worst jobs, most interesting, most surprising. Have students group and discuss by sector before or after a cross sector discussion, etc.
  • Math Extension – add a survey component – ask questions about the class’s job preferences based on this research (how many want jobs in each sector, which are the best paying jobs, etc.), and graph results.

Here’s an example of how even low ESOL folks could participate: Students choose sector by photo, conducts interview in English, native language ,or through interpreter, but then must fill in a 3-4 line form with stuff like name of job, pay,  work hours/days, and whether or not they think they’d like the job, and “report out” orally to class.  Students then “vote” for jobs they’d like to have after hearing about all of them.  Based on this information- they go out and research more!

Whew! I’ll stop now.  Any other ideas or brainstorms prompted by Dr. Wesch’s strategy?

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