Digitally Mediated Learning

So I’ve spent the last three hours on our course management system looking at collaborative essays written by students in my Western Civilization I class on a series of wikis. The goal is for the students in the class to produce a Western Civ textbook drawing on some podcast lectures of mine, sources on the interweb, cheap, used textbooks for reference, and the library.

The class is about 150 students and is held in a Scale-Up style, active learning classroom. The room is divided into 16, 9-student tables and each table produces 3 parts of 9 textbook chapters over the course of the class. Today I was reading the component parts of chapters dedicated to the Roman Republic, The Roman Empire, and the Late Roman World. For each of these periods, one table writes on the one specific topic: military, political, cultural, social, and economic history. Each section of the chapter takes about 3 weeks to write and runs to around 3000 words.

To do the writing, the tables use a wiki that allows me and their fellow classmates to watch the table, articulate a thesis, organize their arguments, and present their evidence over the course of 3 weeks. This transparency in work has parallels with the growing transparency of our own digital world where we both celebrate the immediacy of blogging cutting edge research and respond with skepticism (and sometime horror) at our lack of privacy on the web. It has always reminded me of Foucault’s reading of Bentham’s panopticon in which he argues that the future of Late Capitalism involves a society where observation creates the docile bodies enslaved for consumption and production.

As we create digital spaces for our students to work in groups, to learn in visible ways, and to produce collaborative documents we are inculcating them to work in world characterized by a transparent interest in process.