Friday, 20 August 2010

Blogs and wikis as research tools

My previous post on blogging as a substitute for essay writing got me thinking:
  • Blogs, because of their linear nature make great tools for recording events and as such are excellent for keeping a record of things done as in a lab notebook or field notebook
  • Wikis are better for recording ideas, notes and readings because you build the structure around them, as in this example, which incorporates notes and links to useful resources
In short wikis act as a sort of digital common place book but one in which you can link things together and build relationships between bits of information.

To explain, thirty years ago I was very interested in optimal foraging theory and group dynamics, and I had amassed a large pile of individual bits of information as notes in books and on 6x4 index cards, and I had trouble getting my head round all the facts such as seed choice size among various types of foraging desert rodents etc etc.

So one afternoon I sat down with several sheets from a big drawing pad and started writing facts in little blobbettes and then drawing arrows between them. This let me work out how all the material related - basically mindmapping. Wikis let you do the same, one note or theme to a page and then you build your own set of relationships.

Blogs on the other hand let you record what you did when. It would be easy to imagine using a blogging tool to write research notes in a library session, but in fact any sort of text editor would do as all you are doing is collecting information. Organizing it is something else.

However, blogs are easy and there is a trend to use them as a form of reflective learning, which is fine, but it's no real substitute to learning how to do research, which is fundamentally based around synthesizing information ie organising it and structuring it to give insight - as in this example I put together a few days ago.

The question is then, how do we teach the skill of structuring information ...

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