All Kinds of Contributions

salvēte, amīcī et sodālēs! I’d like to apologize for the absence of a post on Saturday. It had been a busy and crazy week for the whole family, and we ended up with a quiet, peaceful day at home … and one where my multi-tasking children were very reluctant to relinquish the computer to Dad! 🙂 So, if you were hoping for a full-length Saturday post (or any post at all yesterday), I do apologize. I’ll try to make up for it today.

Some of you may have been wondering about this sentence from Friday’s post:

In the next week or so, we’ll be adding some more stories, too, and we’ll also be looking at more exercises and quizzes … and thinking about ways to make it easy for non-tech-savvy participants to submit exercises and quizzes.

What types of participants might be submitting exercises and quizzes to the Tres Columnae project? Obviously, some teachers may want to contribute … especially if they get a small royalty, as we’re planning, when other teachers create a “custom sequence” through the Tres Columnae materials for their students. Some adult learners might also contribute exercises and quizzes, especially if they’re adult re-learners who have studied Latin in the past. In each of those cases, you can probably see that the content knowledge is greater than the technological know-how, and rightfully so! We certainly don’t want anyone to have to learn the intricacies of the GIFT file format – or any of the other file import formats that Moodle recognizes – in order to contribute. Our goal is a spreadsheet that you fill in and upload. We edit it, let you know if there are any issues with it, and then do the conversion painlessly, without your having to worry about such things.

But what about students? First of all, would they be able to submit exercises and quizzes? And if so, surely they’re so technologically skilled that we need not worry about them? Short answers: yes, we’ll encourage students to create their own exercises and quizzes as well as other forms of content, and yes, we actually are a bit concerned about certain types of technological skills. Let’s take the two points in order.

To begin with, why on earth would we encourage learners to create exercises and quizzes as well as stories and other content?

  • First, because of the old concept of discere docendō … if you can explain something else (or, even better, develop a way to measure it accurately), that’s a sign that you understand it deeply. After all, you’re working at the level of Synthesis or Creation in Bloom’s taxonomy, and at the level of Understanding in the Paideia framework.
  • We also want to provide as many different pathways as possible for our participants to contribute. (connect with learning styles and intelligences – but there’s not much for the analytical or logical-mathematical learner in stories, images, audio, or video.)
  • We also believe strongly that the more different kinds of contributions we receive, the more types of learners we’ll be able to benefit. As Clayton Christensen notes in his amazing book Disrupting Class, the realities of the educational marketplace are such that teachers and curriculum developers in any given field of study tend to have similar learning styles and intelligence profiles. In math, for example, they tend to be logical-mathematical thinkers, and in our own field, most teachers are highly verbal and, given the prevalence of the grammar-translation approach, quite analytical in their approach to language. As a result, we tend to design learning materials that teach the way we learn, and so we perpetuate a cycle in which certain types of learners (the ones like us!) are more likely to be successful. By opening up the creation of exercises, quizzes, and grammatical explanations to our learners, and by encouraging them to come up with different and unconventional approaches, we can provide more opportunities for more kinds of learners. Plus, if we incorporate someone’s exercise or quiz in the “core” pathway through Tres Columnae, they’ll also receive a royalty from us!
  • Even more important than the small amount of money is the real sense of contribution and community, especially for learners who have struggled. Imagine how great it feels when you, a formerly struggling learner, have created something that will significantly help others, probably for years to come.

In Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen envisions a future educational marketplace in which all sorts of teachers and learners contribute “stuff,” which is then available either for free or at a small cost per user, depending on the license and business model of the site where the “stuff” is hosted. Of course you know that the three columns that inspired the Tres Columnae project are found in the Forum of Herculaneum, and a Forum is, among other things, a central marketplace. We don’t know if that means we’ll be a one-stop shop for learning Latin online, but we do want to provide lots of choices; an ability to customize your learning experience; and, with our Ownership model, some kind of compensation for those whose contributions (including exercises and quizzes) are popular with the community.

But why would we need to provide for “non-tech-savvy participants” who are students? Surely the Net Generation is so technologically skilled that it needs no assistance with such things? If you say that, you probably haven’t paid that much attention to the interesting combination of technological skill and ignorance that characterizes a lot of members of that generation. Yes, they are very skillful with technology that they know and regularly use, and yes, they’re very good at troubleshooting technology issues. But the kinds of work they typically do online (game play, for example, and instant messaging, and social networking, and even blogging and vlogging) are rather different from the detail-oriented, programming-like process of creating an import file full of questions and answers. Just as most drivers, even skillful ones, are unlikely to rebuild their own cars’ engines in the garage, most tech-savvy teenagers aren’t familiar with highly detailed and complicated file formatting … and why should they be? If you want to contribute an exercise to Tres Columnae, you should be able to devote your attention to the content of the exercise, not the format of the text file. In the same way, when driving, you should be able to pay attention to the road (and please don’t text!!), not the fuel pump.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

  • What do you think of participant-created exercises and quizzes coming from students as well as teachers? Does it scare you or excite you … or are you already consistently doing this sort of work with your own students?
  • How do you respond to the idea of royalties for such submissions?  Does it appeal to you, or do you feel like teaching is a sacred calling that should be unsullied by commerce?  Tres Columnae is for you, our lectōrēs fidēlissimī, and for the community as a whole … so if you don’t like the idea of royalties, we can certainly remove them from the model!
  • What do you think of my characterization of young people’s technological skills – on target or not? And, if I am on target, what if anything should we at Tres Columnae try to do to improve those skills?
  • Finally, what do you think about making the process of submitting exercises and quizzes simple and transparent? And do you have any really good suggestions for doing so?

Tune in next time, when we’ll flash forward – and backwards, too – to imagine how a participant might go about contributing “stuff” to the mature version of the Tres Columnae project. Then we’ll look at some more sample exercises and quizzes, and we’ll finish the week with another story. It’s faintly possible that there may not be a post on Tuesday; I’ll be briefly out of town for a milestone event in the life of an old friend. But if all goes well, I should be able to make the post before I return home on Tuesday.

intereā, grātiās maximās omnibus iam legentibus et respondentibus. Please keep those comments and emails coming!

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yes, I have used the idea of students creating assessment materials for other students, and I was pleased with the results, although they did need monitoring, because some students came up with rather unhelpful models, while others were very creative and some were fiendishly hard. I like anything that makes us feel that we are fellow-workers in the field of Latin, lending each other a helping hand. I think royalties are fine and will make my students feel, Wow, what I contributed was valued, but I hope administering the royalties doesn’t turn out to be a royal hassle!

    • Yes, I agree that student-created assessment materials need to be monitored … I’m glad you had such positive results with them overall. I think the “fellow-workers in the field” image is wonderful! And it goes right along with the Tres Columnae core value of Ownership, doesn’t it? If students perceive that their teacher is the only worker (and they are passive observers), why would they want to be engaged in the learning? Or if they perceive that they are the only workers and their teacher is doing nothing, why, again, would they want to be engaged?

      As we work on the logistics of the project, we’ll figure out a simple, straightforward way to handle royalties … assuming, again, that the community, as a whole, thinks they’re important.

      Thanks so much for giving me some food for thought! 🙂


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