Interpreting PBWorks Data

I had an interesting conversation with a colleague yesterday that turned into something interesting and interpretive.  We were having one of those “If I was King of the Education World” conversations.  We were talking about the use of technology along with other things in the classroom.  One of the things that we talked about was the design of the day.  We have this notion that tradition rules and that we teach during the day and students do homework at night.

There are a couple of challenges with the model.  One is that textbooks might be at home when they should be at school or they’re at school when they should be at home.  At home, homework is done in isolation and at school, often there’s enough time to get started with homework but you have to pack up and move on to the next class, only to pick up later on.  In terms of technology, this is where we see the big digital divide (real or imaginary) where some students have computers at home and varying levels of internet access.

So, we hypothesized, why not turn the tables around.  Issue students a textbook if you must, on the first day of school and have them take it home and leave it there.  Change the day so that homework is done at school and students do their reading for the next day at home.  In terms of technology, that way you could even the playing field with everyone having access to the same level of access.  More importantly, the students would have access to each other for collaboration and for work.

But, it’ll never work.  Students don’t work at home.  Or do they?  Are we making assumptions here?

Our conversation turned to the use of wikis.  In our district, this has been the Doug-declared “Year of the Wiki”.  This tool has sprung up like wildfire and amazing things have happened.  While there is some use of other formats, the wiki of choice has been PBWiki (now PBWorks) for us.

In good tracking fashion, every change to a wiki page is noted in the page history.  You can scan the list and you get a feeling of when students are editing their pages.  When you look at the comments area, you also get a sense of when comments are made to comment.  But, it’s just a feeling.  As I looked up and down the history, I thought “There’s got to be a way to present this better”.  I found a way, it provided some interesting insights and I want to share it with you here.

So, first I go to the page that I’m interested in and display its editing history.  I’ll show my history because the name of the editor is collected as well.

Once I highlight the text that I want to analyse, I’ll just copy it to my clipboard and I’ll open Notebook and paste it.

It’s kind of rough but there.  As I look, the data is all separated by spaces.  So, I’m going to do a search and replace.  I’m going to search for a space and replace it with a comma.

The times are a little odd as they’re separated by colons.  I’ll do another search and replace to change the colon to a comma.
This is interesting because I’m going to save it and then bring it into Excel as a CSV (Comma-separated value) file.  In that format, each piece of information will be in its own separate column.

In cell O, I’m going to do one thing.  I’d like my report done by the hour so I’m going to use the CONCATENATE function to concatenate the hour with the appropriate am or pm.

Now, I’m going to select the entire spreadsheet and copy it and create a new collection of cases in Fathom.  (I could do the next step right in Excel but I wanted to work Fathom into it!

So, open Fathom and drag a new collection to the workspace and paste the data from above.  Drag out a new table and drag out a blank graph.  All that I really want to do now is plot Column O.  My desktop looks like this.

For truth value, I’ve actually switched from MY data to a student data.  So, just what are we looking at?

We’re looking at a graphical summary of when this student edited and made changes to the wiki.  Look along the horizontal access.  How much work is done at school?  How much is done at home?  When is it done at home?  What is this telling us about student desire?  Does the student think about wiki changes on the way home from school and immediately hop on the computer?  Or, does the student wake up with some new inspiration and just have to make a change?

Now, we might not be able to change the world and turn everything upside down overnight.  But, let’s not underestimate kids.  With motivation (in this case working on a wiki), amazing things can happen.

I’d be interested in hearing other thoughts and interpretations about my little exercise above.  If your students are creating wikis, this might be an interesting activity for them to go through to see just what their engagement in wiki work and design and collaboration is all about. Does this help build the case for why you want to use wikis or any other online tool in the classroom?

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6 thoughts on “Interpreting PBWorks Data

  1. I haven’t had time to share this with the kids, but I’m sure they will find it just as interesting. Love to see the chart for the other three of the “special four” we discussed yesterday


  2. Hey Doug,

    Wow, that is so cool! I love the visual of the graph showing when the editing is done. Very interesting.

    I also like this:
    “Change the day so that homework is done at school and students do their reading for the next day at home. In terms of technology, that way you could even the playing field with everyone having access to the same level of access. More importantly, the students would have access to each other for collaboration and for work.”
    Great food for thought.



  3. Pingback: An Amazing Class « doug – off the record

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