Archive for November 15, 2011

No More Swikis: End of the Constructionist Web at Georgia Tech

Using Wikis for undergraduate courses was invented at Georgia Tech. We started in 1997, long before Wikipedia.  Ward Cunningham talks about our work in his book “The Wiki Way.”  Our paper on how we designed the Swiki (or CoWeb) at CSCW 2000 is, I believe, the earliest reference to wikis in the ACM Digital Library.  Jochen “Jeff” Rick built the Swiki software that we use today, and he did his dissertation on his extensions to Swiki.

We published a technical report in 2000 about the varied uses of Swikis that we saw around Georgia Tech’s campus.  Some classes were having students create a public case library.  Others were have cross-semester discussions between current and past students.  Others had public galleries of student work.

All of that ended yesterday.

Georgia Tech’s interpretation of FERPA is that protected information includes the fact that a student is enrolled at all.  The folks at GT responsible for oversight of FERPA realized that a student’s name in a website that references a course is evidence of enrollment.  Yesterday, in one stroke, every Swiki ever used for a course was removed.  None of those uses I described can continue.  For example, you can’t have cross-semester discussions or public galleries, because students in one semester of a course can’t know the identities of other students who had taken the course previously.

Seymour Papert coined the term constructionism to describe a setting for constructivism to occur.

Constructionism–the N word as opposed to the V word–shares constructivism’s connotation of learning as “building knowledge structures” irrespective of the circumstances of the learning. It then adds the idea that this happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it’s a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe.

Constructionism relies on the fact that the entity being constructed is public. The public nature influences the student’s motivation for doing it and doing it well. If it’s not public, it’s not constructionism. We can no longer have students construct public entities on the Web anymore for education at Georgia Tech.  It may be that FERPA demands that no school can use the Web to post student work publicly.

November 15, 2011 at 10:57 am 64 comments

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