Thursday, May 29, 2008

Citizendium and Eduzendium

The medium of innovation: Citizendium and Eduzendium

Robert L. Fielding

With almost universal access to the Internet comes what may be described as the ‘democratization of access to information’ – access to information once confined to specialists has now become available to anyone with a connected computer.

Sites such as Wikipedia proliferate, and although some are devalued, others such as Citizendium and its sister site, Eduzendium are striving to maintain credibility with users.

Co-ordinated by Dr. Sorin Matei, Associate Professor at Purdue University, Eduzendium seeks to provide high quality English language entries for Citizendium. It invites university instructors ‘to include the crafting of an article for its pages into an assignment.’ In other words, it is starting collaborative educational and knowledge generation initiatives with higher education institutions such as ours.

Working from the notion that anyone who struggles with the meaning of fundamental concepts regularly (what teachers do every day) turns them into competent authors. As educators, we all know that to be able to teach something, you first have to fully understand it – put the other way round, if you fully understand something, you can teach it and also write about it.

And while it is admitted that teaching a subject is entirely different to writing intelligibly about it, it is surely true that a good working knowledge of a subject is a prerequisite to writing about that subject.

Now, while we might all claim to know our subject, how many of us would feel competent writing it all up? This question brings me to another one: Why do we expect our students to write about something about which they may know very little, and struggle with the nuances of the language at the same time whilst simultaneously admitting we are not always comfortable doing it?

Citing the two sites: Citizendium and Eduzendium, what I would like to suggest is that we as educators ‘go back’ to basics for a while by going through some of the steps required to write a readably informative article for such a site.
Even writing about something as familiar to us as our own life events, we would be faced by such considerations as coherence and cohesion – two aspects of writing, that while being essential to something we refer to as being ‘well-written’, are often given scant consideration in the language classroom, particularly when we are overwhelmed by those monumental areas of students’ errors in writing: grammar, punctuation and spelling..

In laymen’s terms, we may speak about whether an article is readable as well as delivering the amount and kind of information we expect from it. Everyone has had the experience of plodding through some densely worded academic apotheosis at undergraduate level, only to discover later that its content never deserved to be clothed in such fine linguistic raiment.

‘Keeping it simple’ might well be frowned upon by some in their ‘ivory towers’ elsewhere, but the ability to write sentences that are succinct and economical is a skill that needs practice. Here, in Eduzendium, is a means of learning that skill.

If, as said earlier, the world-wide-web is a force for the universality of knowledge, then the language used must be accessible. Just as a CEPA question for candidates to answer must be to the point whilst staying within the specified corpus of words, so must an article hit the target of the audience at which it is aimed.

The rewards for writing an acceptable piece for inclusion in such a site’s pages are immediate: seeing one’s words ‘out there’, as it were.

Of course, the process of creating something worthy of such inclusion may be a fairly long one – hopefully, not longer than a semester, and after all, a great deal of learning would take place in the meantime, would it not?

And, as the authors of the site say, ‘writing a high-quality encyclopedia article requires, and trains, a specific sort of effort or discipline.’ Connecting a plethora of facts into something that can readily be understood and even enjoyed is a skill that stands anyone achieving it in good stead for a life in the modern world, replete with the need to successfully and quickly decode or encode messages.

University students are surely the lucky ones – they are taught how to do this before they face it in real life situations in the workplace. The rest have to muddle through where success or failure can mean the difference between having an occupation that is satisfactory, in every sense, and one that is not.

At the site ( ), Dr. Lee Berger provides advice to instructors that have made the decision to use the program in their courses. No particular, specific expertise, it claims, is required to join a collaborative effort. Guidance is comprehensive and the journey so guided will certainly be an enriching one – educationally and spiritually as a confidence-building scheme.

Citizendium offers a wide variety of stimuli and support to educators and would-be contributors, ranging from blogs to writing competitions – one such is the ‘Monthly Write-a-thon’, as well as a competition to write the 4,000 highest priority articles.

Forums on actual policy making decisions are linked on the homepage, as are Workgroups, organized in six categories: Natural Sciences, Arts, Social Sciences, Humanities, Applied Arts and Sciences, and Recreation. The site provides users with the opportunity to request new Workgroups, illustrating an openness and a willingness to incorporate work on all areas of knowledge.

In the Social Sciences, Workgroups on the following areas are included:

Ø Anthropology
Ø Archaeology
Ø Economics
Ø Education
Ø Geography
Ø Law
Ø Linguistics

Within Humanities, Workgroups exist in these areas:

Ø Classics
Ø History
Ø Literature
Ø Philosophy
Ø Religion

Within Arts:

Ø Architecture
Ø Music
Ø Theatre
Ø Visual Arts

Applied Science Workgroups include ones in the following areas:

Ø Agriculture
Ø Business
Ø Computers
Ø Engineering
Ø Food Science
Ø Healing Arts
Ø Health Sciences
Ø Journalism
Ø Library and Information Science
Ø Media
Ø Military
Ø Robotics

From Recreation, there are Workgroups centred around:

Ø Games
Ø Hobbies
Ø Sports

And in the world of the physical Sciences:

Ø Astronomy
Ø Biology
Ø Chemistry
Ø Earth Sciences
Ø Mathematics
Ø Physics

Within the pages provided b y the Computer Workgroups, there are 367 articles of varying lengths on subjects such as Podcasting, Phishing and Piazza Telamatica, and about such items as Artificial intelligence, Akalabeth, and Assembly Language.

In Journalism, articles are already provided on Editing copy, Copyrighting, and Citizen Journalism.

The breadth and variety of articles already provided online and growing in number daily should ensure that students’ attention is riveted, particularly when getting involved in writing entries for existing workgroups and initiating new ones is possible. What this project amounts to, in not so many words, is a people’s university in which students and teachers can become both writers and editors, as well, of course, as readers wishing to further their knowledge.
Robert L. Fielding

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Genres: who wrote or said what?

One event – six accounts – but who wrote what? How can you tell?

1) Around midday yesterday, two men were seen climbing up Burj Dubai. They reached the 13th floor, where they hung a banner reading, ‘Keep Dubai green!’ Both men were later arrested and charged with trespassing and behaviour likely to endanger life.

2) We saw two men climbing that tall building in Dubai yesterday. It was around lunchtime. They hung a banner out but we couldn’t read it from where we were standing. I did see them being led away by the Police later though –strange!

3) Well, we did it – we actually managed to climb up and hang our banner. The cops got us later, but we expected that. It was a great feeling and we got on TV too, which was the whole point of the exercise!

4) “We’d just stopped to have our break when two heads came over the edge of the scaffolding. It made us all jump, I can tell you. They rushed past us up to the next floor. I think they were protesting or something. Anyway, next thing we knew was when we saw them on TV – being marched away by the Police.”

5) We were proceeding in a northerly direction along Sheikh Zayed Road, between Intersections 3 and 4 when PC. Ahmed saw the suspects climbing up Burj Dubai. The time was 11.57am. We arrived at the scene at 12.01pm and apprehended the suspects as they reached the 13th Floor. When asked what they were doing, Smith replied, “We just wanted to enjoy the view, governor.”

6) Top of the hour news tonight – two men were arrested half way up Burj Dubai today. A Police spokesman said the men were supporting ‘Greens’ in Dubai. Next, sport…

Robert L. Fielding

Punctuation: the colon and how to use it

The colon – the introducer
Robert L. Fielding

Hi there, I’m a colon. I introduce words – I introduce lists of things, and clauses and phrases introducing or illustrating what has just been written.

I sometimes have to direct the reader’s attention to what is called an appositive, like this – The question is this: What are we going to do next?

I can be used to separate titles and subtitles of books – The History of Russia: The Days of the Czar – like that!

If you see me between spaces, I am marking out things that are being compared or contrasted – The land is useful : it is often abused.

I punctuate at the beginning of memos – like this – Dear Mrs. Smith: - To whom it may concern:

And while we’re on memo writing, I appear in places like this

And I identify the writer or typist’s initials in the identification lines of business letters – like this – WBC:jmd

I separate carbon-copy or blind carbon-copy from the names of people the cc is sent to – like this – cc: Alan Smith – bcc: TFL

And remember, no space goes before or follows me when I am used between numerals – like this – 8:30pm – a ratio of 2:1 – or lines of identification – TCP:jg – but put one space after me in your emails – cc: Terry Smith

A lot to learn – just remember this page: read it several times and then stop and think whenever you use a colon.
Robert L. Fielding

Punctuation: the apostrophe and how to use it

The Life of the Apostrophe


Robert L. Fielding

Hi, I’m an apostrophe – the little punctuation mark that looks like a comma, except I don’t sit down on the line like a comma or a full stop. I stand on the shoulders of the letters next to me – usually an s – as in the boy’s shirt or the man’s hat – and that is my main use – to indicate the possessive case for nouns.

The trouble begins when plural nouns are involved – the boys’ shirts – means the shirts (plural) belonging to the boys (plural). If a name ends with an s, writers have trouble – Dickens’ pen, not Dickens’s pen – the pen belonging to Charles Dickens – only one of him, remember!

Next, they use me to show a letter is missin’ – see, that last word should be missing – the g sometimes goes missing – but never in good English. Still, in regular English, letters do get omitted on purpose – I’m – I am/You’re – You are/It’s – It is – a funny thing here – Its doesn’t have an apostrophe yet it’s a sort of possessive quality about it – Its fur – the fur belonging to it (it = an animal).

I get used to mark other omissions too – like numbers – the class of ’96 – meaning 1996 – be careful here – 90’s or nineties but not ‘90’s – don’t overuse me.

In English, numbers can sometimes become verbs – The manager 75’d my suggestion. – where 75 is a procedure that everyone in the office knows – it’s a kind of shorthand, and plenty of people, mostly Americans, say things like The boss OK’d the plans.

I can be used to add er to an abbreviation – He works for the BBC – he’s a BBC’er – understand?

Last but not least, I can be used to form an abbreviation - M’boro for Middlesbrough!

An apostrophe’s life’s a busy one, isn’t it?
Robert L. Fielding

Poetry Night on Women's Campus

Poetry Night
Wednesday 30 April 2008

‘Bliss it was, in that dawn, to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven.’

Starting with the thought that ‘writing is life’, demystifying perceived barriers to effective production; encouraging students to tap into life’s experiences and imagination to respond to prompts and writing tasks; Razak opened the first ‘Poetry Night’ in the Writing Centre on Maqam Campus, our students showing their prowess at poetry.

Mary Donnenworth got things moving with a poetry writing game with teams given a set of words and a few minutes to come up with a poem, which they did. The appreciative audience judged by applauding and winners received prizes.

Next, several poets read out their poems to the crowd, again to mass applause and appreciation. Prizes were presented to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places and then activities recommenced.

This time, Basila Jello recited a line from a poem, the ending being the starting point for the next line – called a "Musajaala". Everyone thoroughly enjoyed this activity and teachers and students recited together as well known lines were remembered.

Earlier, in the Writing Centre on Men’s, a similar event took place and prizes were also given and poems read aloud. One student staggered everyone by reciting his long poem without needing to look at it on paper. It sounded almost like the ‘lyrics’ from a rap. The twist at the end brought loud cheers. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out what it was. Poetry affects us all, but the young most of all. As one teacher said, “I saw our students in a totally new light tonight.”
Robert L. Fielding