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The focus of our Design Project is to create an online resource for teachers to share and collaborate on unit plans. It will center around a wiki where users will have full editing privileges to add and modify content but will also incorporate a number of web 2.0 tools to help foster a sense of community and promote collaboration. We contend that the collective wisdom of an active community has the potential to overcome many of the weaknesses of traditional textbooks. As Scardamalia (2002) points out, knowledge building discourse “results in more than sharing of knowledge; the knowledge itself is refined and transformed through the discursive practices of the community.” Through a collaborative effort, teachers can respond to student needs and interests on a continuing basis, as well as to keep content up to date at minimal cost.


Constructivist theory underpins this approach to knowledge construction whereby, “credence is given to the notion of knowledge as a shared entity as opposed to residing purely within the individual. The online community is seen to facilitate this view of knowledge in that knowledge is seen to be a construction of participants’ online interactions within the community and remains within the virtual domain to be accessed, challenged and developed further by others in the community” (Turvey, 2006). Siemens and Downes’ theory of Connectivism further develops this notion, as it proposes a model whereby knowledge cannot be viewed in discreet units but rather is distributed across a network of connections (Downes, 2007).


In areas such as technology where rapid developments often render textbooks out of date in a very short time, it is becoming increasingly expensive for schools to try to keep up. According to industry estimates, the current average cost of a hardback high school textbook is $105USD (Svensson, 2012). This is likely to prove prohibitively expensive for many schools to remain current with new technologies. Furthermore, when new products are released, it takes time for new books to appear on the market. With teachers typically ordering books a year in advance, this compounds the issue of outdated information. Since it is increasingly the teachers themselves that are discovering how cutting-edge technologies can best be integrated into the classroom, it is reasonable to assume that through collaboration, these early-adopters are in a good position to develop teaching materials that can challenge the dominance of textbooks in a number of areas.


Our research uncovered a number of similar projects online where teachers have shared units on wikis. Unfortunately, in most cases, entries tended to be contributed by a single author with little or no collaboration from colleagues and, in many cases, had not been updated since the initial posting. Informed by Social Presence theory, we argue that a stronger sense of community among users would likely have a positive impact (Gunawardenaa & Zittle,1997). A common sense of purpose and tools to support continued, ongoing communication between users would encourage teachers to collaborate with colleagues online and to continue to participate in the development of units over time.


The emphasis for this project is to develop an active library of units to support project-based learning. This method is consistent with Constructivist pedagogy. Further, our project is informed by Constructionism which adds that learning happens, “especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity.” (Harel & Papert, 1991)


To this end, we encourage users to present units using a design cycle framework (Middle Years Program, n.d.).  It presents a learner-centered approach to instruction where students identify issues to address and then systematically work through a series of steps to develop a product or solution. This model adds a dimension of flexibility to units such that they can be applied to a number of disciplines and encourage collaboration from teachers in different subject areas. For example, one of the first units that we plan to develop is one where students will create short videos. Going through the phases of the design cycle, students will investigate various movie-making tools and analyse existing videos to develop an understanding of techniques and a variety of possibilities to consider. They will then go through phases of designing, planning, creating and finally evaluating their own videos based around a problem or issue that they have chosen to concentrate on. This unit does not specifically focus on any particular curriculum area beyond technology.


Given its widespread use and the fact that it has proven able to accommodate curricula from other programs around the world, we have selected a model of the design cycle promoted by the International Baccalaureate Organization. It revolves around the 5 aforementioned phases: Investigate, Design, Plan, Create and Evaluate. We believe that these categories will help provide a common language for teachers developing units while at the same time offering a great deal of flexibility to accommodate a wide variety of units (Middle Years Program, n.d.).


References


Downes, S. (2007, February 03). What Connectivism is [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Gunawardenaa, C. N. & Zittle, F. J. (1997). Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within a computer‐mediated conferencing environment. American Journal of Distance Education, 11(3), 8-26. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08923649709526970

Harel, I., & Papert, S. (1991). Constructionism. Ablex Publishing, Norwood, NJ.  Retrieved from http://www.papert.org/articles/SituatingConstructionism.html

Middle Years Programme Curriculum: Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ibo.org/myp/curriculum/group8/

Scardamalia, M. (2002). Collective cognitive responsibility for the advancement of knowledge. In B. Smith (Ed.) Liberal Education in a Knowledge Society (pp. 67-98). Chicago: Open Court.
 
Svensson, P. (2012, January 21). Apple starts selling interactive iPad textbooks.  Associated Press. Retrieved from http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_TEC_APPLE_TEXTBOOKS?SITE=OHALL2&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT
 
Turvey, K. (2006). Towards deeper learning through creativity within online communities in primary education. Computers & Education, 46(2006) 309-321.
 

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