Using blogs and wikis as teaching tools

Associate Professor Philippe Caignon uses innovative methods to instruct and inspire his students
February 26, 2013
By Phillipa Rispin

This is the second in a series of 13 profiles of some of Concordia’s leading instructors. Here, NOW profiles Philippe Caignon, associate professor and chair of the Département d’études françaises.

Philippe Caignon is a man alert to the pedagogic possibilities of blogging, wikiing, Moodling, and other online approaches to blended learning. An associate professor and currently chair of the Département d’études françaises, Caignon makes blogging a major feature in his advanced terminology course.

Caignon’s advocacy of blogging arises from his definition of an effective teacher: someone who can transmit his knowledge to students while ensuring that the students appropriate that knowledge. But the teacher is not someone who only acts; he also inspires his students to be proactive and acquire knowledge from him “or any other source that can complement his knowledge.”

Philippe Caignon has received a Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence. | Photo by Concordia University

“I don't use blogs as a gimmick,” Caignon says. “I use them as a pedagogical tool.” The blogs are presentation and discussion tools, evolving throughout the term as his student bloggers formulate ideas, receive comments, discuss, adopt and adapt concepts, and are inspired to explore and explain related topics. An individual student’s blog (with commentary restricted to classmates and teacher) is a way for Caignon to see how the student thinks, develops and presents ideas in response to assignments.

Just as important, the student enthusiastically enhancing a blog with video or colour or innovative layout, looking for related information to present or discuss, is playing while learning and teaching classmates. That’s ludopedagogy: ludo derives from ludus, which is Latin for play or sport. Gamification is another word associated with the concept: games or game-like activities to encourage learning and problem-solving.

 “I tell my students that they are free to appropriate knowledge (with attribution) and play with it,” Caignon notes. “Be creative. Be demonstrative. Be collaborative.
It's so fun, sometimes it takes a lot of time. I had to teach my students the discipline linked to working with social media so that it doesn't become an impediment to their studies.”

Caignon finds that wikis are ideal for such tasks as arriving at a consensus on terminology. As he explains, “With something as adaptive as a wiki, we have a tool that allows collaboration at its maximum. A blog is personalized; a wiki is not.”

Caignon’s enthusiasm and devotion carry over into his availability to students. In addition to continually offering advice and encouragement on students’ blogs, he’s available more than half the day by email, telephone or office visit. “I have an open-door policy,” he says. “Anyone can come anytime.”

His enthusiasm and generosity have not gone unnoticed. In the 2006-07 academic year, he received a Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence.

Besides teaching his courses, Caignon is currently caught up in the Concordia Teaching and Learning Winter Festival, having been one of the organizers from the beginning. He’s delighted to have such luminaries as Eric Mazur, a pioneer of peer instruction, join Concordia’s own excellent professors in a month-long pedagogy fest. “There are a lot of effective teachers throughout Concordia, and this is what I like the most about the university,” he says.

Related links:
•    Département d’études françaises 
•    Concordia Teaching and Learning Winter Festival

Other profiles:
Jordan LeBel: “The makings of a great teacher” — NOW, February 20, 2013
Lisa Lynch: “Helping journalism students get in the game” — NOW, March 5, 2013
Juan Carlos Castro: “Social networks, social pedagogy” — NOW, March 26, 2013
Alexandre Enkerli: “Using technology to facilitate dialogue” — NOW, April 3, 2013
Arshad Ahmad: “Moderating MOOCs" — NOW, April 3, 2013
Mamoun Medraj: "Terms of engagement" — NOW, April 30, 2013

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