Michael Griffith (Literature) : Report on WebCT Asia-Pacific Conference, Cairns 18th-21st September.
This was a great conference in the way it placed WebCT in the wider context of new developments in educational technology. Professor John Hedberg (Millenium Chair in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) at Macquarie University) gave a fascinating key-note on the way technology is still being used to support old paradigms of teaching. There is a real need to recognize and understand the ways that the new technologies can force a paradigm shift in which education can become dramatically more interactive and community driven. His explorations in the use of open-source LAMS (Learning Activity Management System) as an adjunct to WebCT helped to extend the boundaries of a conference driven by a single American software company.
My own paper was along similar lines to Professor Hedberg’s. I presented a “Showcase” on my use, this year, of LiveJournal Blogging, which I have added into the core of WebCT in all my units. I began this as an experiment in an effort to find a place within WebCT where students could keep a journal of their learning in literature. Little did I know that it would become a dynamic way of expanding the walls of WebCT, helping to create communities within, between and beyond my current literature units, helping to create a space for creative writing (poetry, stories, reviews) and for lively debates (on the New Orleans fiasco for example). Essentially, what LiveJournal has provided is an interactive space where students can more comfortably express their own personality, their own interests, along with their response to the unit content. It has also provided me, as lecturer, a space to give more relaxed and cohesive input on the content for all my literature units. The experiment has provided a technology that has assisted me in my own goals to subvert the limiting top-down educational paradigms that are still part of the Academic scene in Australia. The Quaker educationalist Parker Palmer in his wonderful book The Courage to Teach has the following very apposite quotes that I managed to weave into my conference presentation:
“If we regard truth as something handed down from authorities on high, the classroom will look like a dictatorship…. If we regard truth as emerging from a complex process of mutual enquiry, the classroom will look like a resourceful and interdependent community.”
“… our assumption that students are brain-dead leads to pedagogies that deaden their brains. When we teach by dripping information into their passive forms, students who arrive in the classroom alive and well become passive consumers of knowledge and are dead on departure when they graduate…. we rarely consider that students may die in the classroom because we use methods that assume they are dead.”
• Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach, Jossey-Bass, 1996:
The title of my paper was WebCT with LiveJournal: 5 C’s: Community, Collaboration, Connection, Creativity, Cohesion. My subtitle was “Expanding the boundaries of the humanities using LiveJournal with WebCT”.
The paper was very well received and I was able to make some important collaborative connections with other universities to continue my explorations in the new technologies.
Here are a collection of comments from my own students (form 1st, 2nd and 3rd years) about their experience of using LiveJournal within WebCT:
“The biggest benefit I have found using LiveJournal actually comes from being able to read other students "work". Acquaintances have become good friends, and LiveJournal has been the catalyst for that. I went to uni for 2 years with the people in this current English class and it was only last semester, through reading their musings on the TV shows they watch, the music they listen to or the football that they follow that I felt like I was getting to know them. Personally, I found it broke down walls and the dynamic of the students in the unit began to change and become incredibly cohesive.”
Joanne 3rd year.
“LiveJournal has created a great launching pad for my creative writing. Because of its ease and accessibility my writing does not end up in some forgotten scrapbook, its amazing to think that peers, tutors and even the world have access to my work!”
Shaun 1st year
“If livejournal didn't exist I don't think I would have ever discovered my liking for writing poetry. It allows me to share my poetry and to also be inspired by other student's poetry!”
“I have found live journal to be an excellent resource, ironically at the beginning of the year i thought it would be a waste of time. It provides a space where i can creatively air anything at all in an informal way. It's great because previously we haven't had a creative outlet... Now we do!!! It also means i can share my ideas and hear my fellow students thoughts as well. I now rave about it!!!!”
“I like the fact that I have the freedom to write what I want, and not be too worried about grammar etc. Livejournal allows you to write freely and then use your ideas to formulate assignments etc. When I go out into the "big wide teaching world" I hope that I can introduce this technology to my own students. If I had of known about an online journal I would have done it sooner, cause I can add graphics and pics of my own...IT’S GREAT!!”
“Live Journal has become addictive for me! It's great because it's a place where I can write down my thoughts on various things we read and look at in literature and where I can get some feedback from other people. It's also entertaining/enlightening reading what other people write as well so I think it's a very good learning tool!”
Using live Journal has allowed me to escape from the drudgery of essay writing that is so much a part of most university courses and units. It is an outlet to be creative writers, not just academic writers. It also allows one to delve into a new medium of technology such as live journal and the ease with which one can communicate their thoughts is endless.
Fadia (year 2)
“I think LiveJournal is great, it allows us to explore as well as view the different emotions of everyday experiences. It also gives us an insight into the study of literature and the texts we are studying that we may not have picked up on our own.”
Chadia (year 1)
“I am enjoying the community forum more than my own personal writing (the debate is my favourite! in fact I would like to add thoughts to another debate if we have time...) It is interesting to read what others think and then have the opportunity to write back to that. I know we can access everyone's journal, but having a community allows for that all in the one go, with a variety of responses!”
Andrea (year 2)