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ODU education prof shares project at Digital Media and Learning Competition Winners Conference in Washington

Jennifer Kidd, a lecturer of teaching and learning at Old Dominion University, was invited to Washington, D.C., recently to share the results of grant she received last fall from the Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Advanced Collaboratory (HASTAC) and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Kidd and other members of her team attended the Digital Media and Learning Competition Winners conference May 12-13 and were invited to participate in National Lab Day events at a Washington elementary school and an Alexandria, Va., high school. National Lab Day, a grassroots effort to bring hands-on learning activities to thousands of students, was launched in response to President Obama's call to raise American students to the top of the pack in science and math achievement over the next decade. (In the accompanying photo, Kidd is pictured at left with children from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary.)

Kidd, one of 19 winners in the 2009 Digital Media and Learning competition, received $87,811 for her project, which develops support applications to facilitate the creation of student-authored textbooks. The competition is part of the MacArthur Foundation's $50 million digital media and learning initiative, which is administered by HASTAC, a virtual network of learning institutions. The initiative helps determine how digital technologies are changing the way young people learn, play, socialize and participate in civic life.

Kidd's project, called WiTTIE (Wiki Templates Tansforming Instructional Environments), utilizes a Wiki application and a suite of teacher-friendly tools that support a student-centric approach to learning. Using WiTTIE, students in Kidd's Foundations of Education classes (ECI 301) create their own textbooks, choosing the content, writing the text (assigned papers for the course) and serving as primary evaluators of the texts they create. The students' papers are augmented by videos, pictures and links, which make the text a more interactive, multimedia experience.

The course is designed for pre-service teachers - students who plan to go into the teacher education program. ODU education students had been creating their own textbooks since the concept was introduced in 2006, but the process was too code-intensive. With the grant money, Kidd developed a process to make it easier for the students to contribute to and interact with the books. Assisting her were two developers outside the university; two consultants, ODU doctoral graduate Patrick O'Shea and ODU Professor Emeritus Dwight Allen; and two ODU graduate students, doctoral candidate Pete Baker and master's student Cady Pinell.

"For several years, we hosted our course textbook on Wikibooks, a sister project to Wikipedia, but it had some drawbacks. Everything had to be done in Wiki code, and not everyone was comfortable with it. It was frustrating and stressful for the students," Kidd said. "My idea was to develop the tools that would make the process of creating the textbooks and using them easier and more pedagogically powerful."

She also added tools that allowed students to offer feedback, within the textbook, on the papers their peers had contributed. "That way, the students can actually rate the articles right within the textbook and decide whose articles were effective and why," Kidd said.

Students write on 60 different topics in their textbook. The best of five articles, or papers, in each subject area is carried over for inclusion in the next semester's book.

Kidd believes that having a student-created text is helpful in the learning process. "Maybe it is a little bit crazy, but we feel it's a good pedagogical practice to get students involved. This way, a textbook's not sitting on a shelf collecting dust; the students are actually writing it and reading it and interacting with it."

In an experiment to determine the credibility of this notion, in 2008, Kidd had one of the sections of her class use a traditional textbook, while the other section used the student-authored Wiki text. The two sections scored approximately the same on general-subject-matter questions, but students in the Wiki text section scored higher than their counterparts on the test questions that were specifically related to their individual texts.

This was actually one of three WiTTIE pilot projects undertaken by Kidd. She also developed an "In Our World" project, which encouraged teachers to create their own Wiki book chapter featuring contributions from their students, who were asked to describe their local community.

Participants in this project included a freshman composition class at ODU taught by Kidd's husband, David Kidd; a class at a technical university in Chile; and a middle school class in Needham, Mass.

The third pilot project was called "Schools We Can Believe In," a title that plays off of President Obama's campaign slogan, Kidd said. For this project, selected classes of students from elementary and middle schools in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Washington, D.C., and Canada, shared their visions of the ideal school. Two classes were selected as having the best visions: Meredith Sutton's second-grade reading class at Ghent Elementary in Norfolk, in the younger division, and Jane Richmond's ninth-grade English class at Queen Margaret's School on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, in the upper division. Both classes will receive a prize of $150 and be featured on the WiTTIE website.

The three WiTTIE pilot projects were showcased in a three-minute video, which Kidd shared at the DML Competition Winners conference. The video can be seen on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IyEybrOx6X4). More information about WiTTIE can be found at www.wittieproject.org/wiki/Main_Page.

Kidd noted that Cathy N. Davidson, co-founder of HASTAC, plans to mention WiTTIE, as an example of an interactive textbook currently in use, in a book she is writing, tentatively titled "Now You See It: The Science of Attention in the Classroom, at Work, and Everywhere Else" (Viking). It is scheduled for publication in summer 2011.

Kidd holds both a master's degree in general secondary education (1999) and doctorate in urban services (2006) from ODU. She has taught at the university full time since 2007, and said she came to the university to work with Dwight Allen, eminent scholar emeritus of education reform. As a graduate student, she was the main author on a $1.4 million grant Allen received for preparing teachers to teach utilizing technology.

This article was posted on: May 21, 2010

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