Wikis: A Home for Collaborators

Reflections on Learning

I was first introduced to the idea of creating my own wiki(s) in the summer of 2009. Certainly I knew that wikis existed and have used some of the more popular ones like Wikipedia or even the Internet Movie Database a lot over time. But the idea of making my own wiki was something that had not occurred to me.

Our prof for our Masters cohort setup a wiki for our group through wikispaces. For the past two years our class has used this as a place to share ideas, point out new tools, and to discuss our projects. Using this as a springboard, I’ve created wikis for both personal and professional use. I’ll expand on this more in the sections below.

As I have some experience with this tool, I wanted to concentrate my learning this week on seeing how other people use wikis and to see what new tricks I might be able to learn to enhance my own wiki experience. Secondly, I wanted to explore the issues that are fundamental to wikis, perhaps not resolving anything, but definitely finishing the week with a better understanding of the impact of this tool on learning.

The CommonCraft video makes reference to the messiness of email and how wikis can clean this up. One of the interesting things I’ve stumbled across during this course are the many references to Google Wave. I’m not sure if others have seen this as well, but this looks to be a fascinating look at how email and wiki knowledge could be combined.

The Personal Level

On the personal user level, wikis for me have been FUN and have saved me a lot of work! Even in the CommonCraft kind of way! I haven’t used them to plan a camping trip, but have definitely used them as a tool in my personal life. Our rec hockey team needs to keep standings and post schedules and results – we created a wiki for it. Now the league directors can log in and make the changes. Previously, this info would all be sent to me and I would alter the info. Now multiple people can contribute, the workload is spread out and is more current.

Our rec hockey team also keeps a personal website for people to poke fun at one another, share stories, collect funny articles, etc. Again, I used to manage all of this as a traditional website, but now we have set it up as a wiki where anyone on the team can contribute any time they like. It builds a sense of comraderie and at the same time spreads the workload.

I would submit some links here for these wikis, but one of the benefits we’ve taken advantage of with Wikispaces, is in keeping our wikis just for the users. I’ll list them here nevertheless, if only to demonstrate that it is a tool that is in use:

Personal Wikis: (my hockey team) (our hockey league)
Professional Wikis:

The Professional Level

My first foray into using wikis at a professional level began in the fall of 2008. We had just changed how we structured our Student-Led Conferences at our school and I wanted to get feedback on how everyone felt about the changes. Our next staff development day already had a full agenda, so I put forward the idea of having this SL conference discussion on the wiki. We gave it a try, had about 50% participation, I collated the responses and shared them at our next staff meeting. An item that may have taken 25-30 minutes to discuss was covered in 5 minutes. We’ve since used our wiki to discuss other items or as a follow up on discussions that didn’t seem complete.

I’ve since created a wiki for our school district administrators as a place for them to “play” and learn about some of the web2.0 tools. This wiki is in the newest stages of development (we’ll actually be doing a hands on presentation to our admin group on Thursday of this week) so it will be interesting to see how this evolves.

The real interesting uses of wikis I think are classroom based. Hans Huizing is a teacher at Hunting Hills in Red Deer. His Social30-1 wiki is extremely interesting. Again, this is a private wiki, but Hans has let me access it to lurk and learn. Students are posting incredible rants (a la Rick Mercer), having deep discussions on philosophy, and using it as a way to demonstrate their knowledge of current events. Other possibilities are only limited by the student and teacher imagination. A music wiki that allows students to alter music and share music theory, a children driven wiki on everything from the alphabet to bugs, a primary school that uses a wiki to have children teach other children the school rules, an economics wiki that is driven by AP students, and a new video sharing wiki that is designed for educators at

New Knowledge

Where last week I was a bit down on podcasting, this week I am very keen on wikis. I think they are a great tool for collaboration and even though they may be currently underutilized as pointed out by Davies and Merchant (p. 102) I do think they are a tool that will have their day. This is not to say that however, that wikis do not come with some issues attached.

As I explored wikis this week a couple of key questions kept occurring to me. It is here that I would like to focus the attention of this week’s blog. The first thing that occurred to me I’m going to call “stale-dating”.

For me this is when a wiki has not been used enough to show it’s worth. Posts are old, have lost their relevance or there has simply been a lack of participation. Will Richardson talks about this on pg. 62 of his book, but is optimistic that will change and imagines the possibilities if it does change. From my own experience and from exploring the trailfire again this week, he might be a bit overly optimistic. Many of the wikis I explored had some of their last entries in 2008 or even 2006, leaving them looking like an ambitious project that has just been left sitting there.

I’ve experienced this too with my own wikis. A seasonal activity like hockey attracts people at only certain times of the year. They stop visiting this little space on the web and break a habit and suddenly a vibrant place becomes stale. It will pick up again, but will need some nurturing. A separate but related concern/experience is with my school-based wiki. When I created it I envisioned this place where people would contribute and create, posing thought provoking discussions and sharing resources. For the most part, it’s pretty much been driven by me and the last thing I want to create is some top-down, make work project for teachers. I still think this has potential but won’t take off until teachers/users discover intrinsic benefits.

A second major issue surrounding wikis is the notion of authorship. Both Richardson and Davies & Merchant explore this in depth in the texts. Authorship of wikis often flies in the face of traditional referencing particularly in the academic world. The most important lesson however, as Davies & Merchant point out on p. 96 is that using wikis creates an opportunity to teach students about the importance of critically examining all texts that we read carefully. This was highlighted in our class’s online discussion last week, where we all wondered about the authenticity of the web. Rather than lamenting that nothing is trustworthy out there, we have the opportunity and responsibility to teach children to be critical thinkers.

Finally, I might be getting a little bit ahead of myself here, but I found it interesting that many people use Wikipedia as a source for current events and news. The examples cited in the texts on the Tsunami in south east Asia and the London bombings were an angle that I had not thought of previously. What did occur to me was a question. I found myself wondering if a tool like Twitter might eventually surplant this in the realm of “citizen journalism”. An even more instantaneous way of sharing what is happening. More realistically, I’m guessing that twitter will eventually just feed info to the wiki and the tool will be combined.

Finally, finally, I found a very interesting article at
. Here the author highlighted some of the issues of wiki use in all arenas.
They see the wiki as a great way for people to deal with multiple projects and initiatives, but caution that the challenge is in getting people to abandon current habits and integrate the wiki into their daily work. As I’ve mentioned above, this is definitely a common experience in education. What was also very interesting was reading the comments section that followed this article where it was pointed out that in the business world the wiki might be useful in the idea creation phase or brainstorming phase, but as an overall tool for getting the job done, the wiki was found to be lacking.

Taking all of this into account, for me, the wiki still remains a very effective collaboration tool. I too have experienced the fact that the job doesn’t necessarily get done on the wiki, but I can say that wiki does do a good job of getting the job started and creating discussion.


Davies, J. & Merchant, G. (2009). Web 2.0 for schools: Learning and social participation. New York, NY: Lang Publishing.

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Mercer, A. (2008). The wiki website in music education: A new collaborative medium. The Canadian Music Educator, (49)4.

With info from:

Bailey, M. (2009). Classroom 2.0: Technology engages student learning. Education Today, 21(1).

McPherson, K. (2006). Wikis and student writing. Teacher Librarian, 34(2).

Bells & Whistles III

Podcast embedded

Bells & Whistles II

Struggling getting the podcast to work. Here's the link for now. I was enjoying other everyone's podcasts and noticed that I interpreted this assignment quite differently. I hope mine isn't too LAME (get it?)!

Listen to Podcast

Bells & Whistles

Reflections on Learning

I can think of a number of things that I own or use where it seems that I only scratch the surface of their potential. Many of these things are in the realm of electronics or technology. For instance, I know that my PVR (which by the way may have been the greatest invention of the past decade) can recognize my favourite shows and record them for me whenever a new one comes on. I know that my Blackberry can be used as a GPS device and that there are a multitude of “shortcuts” that I have yet to use. I know that the smartboards in our classrooms can be used to take attendance and do our announcements. All of these functions, all of these bells and whistles are things I have yet to explore. Perhaps it’s because of time, perhaps because I’ve tried it once and have forgotten the concept.

The Internet in general and Web 2.0 more specifically are like this for me as well. There seems to me, to be an entire world of add-ons and features that exist out there that I know very little about. In one way this is exciting because there is so much to learn. In another way, it’s intimidating and at times a barrier to entry. Why even try because I’ll never be able to figure it all out?

For me, podcasting is one of these things that I’ve heard lots about, but, for a variety of reasons, have never used it very often. My goal, in this section of the course then, was to learn as much as I could about podcasting and see if it was a tool that I could integrate more into my online existence.

The Personal Level
One of the strangest things that has happened to me as a personal user/learner on the Internet is that more and more of what I do is text based. As a kid I would watch all the sports highlight shows, now I’d rather read about it. If I visit a sports news site or a blog and there is an opportunity to click on video or listen to an interview or podcast, 99 times out of 100, I’m only going to read the text.

With this in mind, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks clicking those links I wouldn’t normally click. Listening and viewing things, I normally would not have listened to or viewed. My conclusion, based on this really simple sample, is that I’m not sold on it. I think this has more to do with my own personal learning style. I owned a walkman once back in the day, I’ve tried to listen to books on tape, my wife has an iPod, but I’ve never used it, I run 30 or 40 km a week and never listen to music.

On the personal level, I’ve actually find myself migrating away from websites that have moved more content from text to audio or video files. I think there are some reasons for this and I’ll explore these more in the final reflection portion. My research this past week thought does indicate that I am probably a dying breed. One that will have to face the reality that more and more content is going to be presented in this way and that I will have to adapt my ways to keep up.

The Professional Level
Will Richardson’s section on podcasts is on the surface another example of this overwhelming barrier to entry. His book is filled with suggestions of radio stations to re-enactments that can help bring the classroom to life. Many teachers however, know very little about using their email properly let alone start manipulating MP3 files in Audacity.

This combined with an ever-expanding curriculum that many of us struggle to complete each year, makes the time constraints of the learning curve even more daunting. I think ultimately, it is this barrier, TIME, that is the number one factor in making people slow or non-adopters of new technologies. It probably also speaks to my apprehension (or maybe it’s laziness) in investing a pile of time in creating a podcast, when I could write it down or explain it in person a lot easier?

At some point though, I have to challenge my own bias. The easiest way for me to do this is to break it down into more easily manageable entry points. I’ll refer to these in each of the following sections.

Just to show that I’m not just some teacher opposed to change, in the early 2000’s my grade 5 class scripted, acted, filmed, edited, produced and published online 6 videos of Jacques Cartier’s arrival in Canada. One group, chosen by the class, acted and filmed the raw footage. We then partnered with a nearby high school CTS lab where 6 groups of students each manipulated the raw footage into their own 3 to 5 minute “commercial." Each commercial was to be based upon the Canadian history vignettes on and on television. The end result was outstanding (I have them on DVD somewhere and will try to upload one to my blog). The flip side of this was the time commitment. We spent weeks (if not more) on this and while I can justify all of it as being linked to the curriculum, I did feel that I was crunched for time in other areas.

The key to success of ideas like podcasting will be in how we can integrate into the other things we are doing and how we can use it to enhance children’s learning. Todd Diakow is Technology Lead teacher in the Lethbridge area and he offers a presentation on “Do I Have to Write Another Essay?” This speaks to the notion that many students learn in different ways and that podcasting might be a way to allow students who are more verbal an opportunity to better express themselves.

A final driver of this for teachers will be how they are able to incorporate this into a routine. Doing a podcast for the sake of doing a podcast is not something that works at my school. There needs to be a meaning behind it and a reason for existence. There also needs to be an opportunity to try something more than once to better learn the tool and to improve on previous work.

One of the real benefits of this course for me has been the ability to find ides that I can incorporate into our schools library. I “stole” the idea of the video book review from another librarian when we did the video-casting segment. This week, I really enjoyed listening to the students in the “Good Master’s! Sweet Ladies! readings. I definitely want to do something like this to promote reading with our students.

I’ve toyed too, with the idea of doing our morning announcements through our school’s website. Teachers could turn on their smartboards, click a link that plays the national anthem and listen to any announcements for the morning. If anything this will be a fun project, however, I wonder about it’s longevity? Theory is one thing, getting people to hand in announcements on time to produce a podcast is another!

As always, the biggest implications here are for students. Ultimately, the success of these and similar tools is going to rest on the ability of schools to build on prior learning. A grade seven teacher is going to have an easier time integrating podcasts in the classroom if students come to it with experience. If teachers feel that they are constantly re-teaching they will likely avoid the idea all together.

A second consideration is the technology itself. In clicking through many of the links of the Education Podcast Network I saw a lot of material dated from 2006, 2007 and 2008. I was left wondering if podcasting had suffered a bit from the fad effect. It became popular for quite some time, but people have moved on to other tools. I don’t necessarily have anything quantifiable to back this up, but just a pattern I noted.

Reliability is another concern here. I was unable to listen to many of the podcasts I came across. Sometimes these were software glitches, sometimes links had expired. One the trailfire websites for instance (EdTechTalk) never did work for me. We’ve all been to those PD sessions where the technology failed and we were left frustrated and the presented was left flustered. I am nervous about that with our students because it seems that as we move into some of these tools, the potential for glitches is magnified.

New Knowledge

My tone this week has obviously been a bit negative with regard to podcasts. While I do want to explore this more, I still have some concerns about the cost/benefits in terms of time.

Having said that, I know that I have knowledge this week that I did not have before, so clearly there must be value in this. If you check out the link you can find some very good links to screencasts which are pretty much the same as a podcast. In the most recent one, Shaun LeBleu does a great job of showing teachers how students can “sign in” using the smartboard. A unique touch, done in about 10 mintues. Clearly he put some work into putting this together and those watching received some real benefit. But is everyone willing to do the same?

For me, I obviously need to spend more time playing with this tool to either better understand it and refute my bias or secondly to be able to provide an educated perspective on what I perceive to be the limitations of podcasting.


Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Without info from:

An Acquired Taste

Reflections on Learning
I have a colleague that I’ve coached volleyball with and against over the years and seemingly in a previous life. He and I have joked about putting in an entry for the reality show “The Amazing Race”. Each of us would bring our own set of skills that would match up well to the challenges on the show. My colleague’s skill is one I definitely do not possess, but one that is absolutely essential to success on this show: The ability to try eating anything (at least once).

In a previous, previous life I was a golf pro. I was at the CPGA buying show in Banff and someone ordered a meat platter for our group. It had everything from venison to wild boar pate. I like meat, but I starved that night, because I couldn’t look at the platter let alone eat it.

As I approached social bookmarking, I was nervous that my picky eating habits were going to kick in. I’ve looked at sites like in the past and from what I could see on the surface level it seemed, well…lame. Joanne’s words in her discussion post about social bookmarking seemed to reconfirm this for me.

I responded to her post by thanking her for making me not feel guilty for not liking a tool (is that a double negative?). My goal, as I stated in my post, was to give it a try, but I didn’t expect that I’d like it or find any value in it.

While it is early (I’ll explain what I mean by this later) I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this tool. I’m committed to using social bookmarking through the timeframe of the course and I don’t think I would be surprised to use it beyond that as well.

The Personal Level
On the personal level, I’ve never been a big user of bookmarks. It isn’t necessarily the way that I personally navigate the Internet. I tend to have a lot of sites that I visit regularly, but most of them I simply know the URL and go directly to it. Every once in a while I will stumble across something I like or search for something specific and add it to my “favourites”. Not necessarily because it is a favourite, but rather because I don’t have time to read it right now and I want to come back to it later. Often times, if the thing I find is in a pdf format, I’ll simply save the file to my hard drive.

What I have noticed is that when I do look at my favourites, two things stand out. First of all, they are very disorganized because no thought has gone in to putting them there in the first place. They are generally there chronologically and for the most part haven’t been looked at in a long time. The second thing I notice is that for about a quarter of the bookmarks, I can’t remember why I saved the site in the first place. Some favourite that is!

Exploring delicious allowed me to revisit (and delete in many cases) each of the websites I had bookmarked on my computer. The tagging process and the refining of tagging was interesting (I’ll touch on that more at the end). What was really interesting for me was the addition of the tag button to my toolbar. I tried to make a point this week of tagging sites I visited (personal and professional) to just get in the habit of tagging, bookmarking and cataloguing. One can easily be surprised by the eclectic nature of their bookmarks.

I mentioned earlier that I’m in the early stages of this. I’m most interested to see what this looks like at Christmas time and whether or not it will be a habit for me and ultimately something that I rely on (perhaps the true measure of any good tool).

The Professional Level
Reading chapter 6 in Will Richardson’s book made me wish that I had explored Diigo rather than delicious as it seemed to have enough unique twists to make it worthwhile in and of itself. However, my goal going into this was to go deep with a tool rather than skim the surface of a bunch. I know there are trade offs to this and that I will likely have to come back some day to check out some missed tools.

Richardson is very big on creating a community of researchers and I think this could apply to teachers, librarians and students. I’d like to break my discussion down into those three categories.

From professional development to using it as a teaching tool or as a way to start having students think about referencing, social bookmarking should be an important classroom tool for teachers. Teachers can collaborate on projects with one another, set up networks within school departments, within school districts or around the globe (ie. The benefit being that they can quickly tap in to resources that other people have found useful.

Social bookmarking is particularly useful for reference librarians. Funk (2009) notes that some reference departments maintain a network of Delicious accounts. This allows their reference librarians to see each other’s collections easily. In fact some writers are pointing out that it is librarians who are really taking charge when it comes to social bookmarking. Stephens (2007) says that many libraries are establishing protocols and encouraging others to get involved in tagging collections. There are obviously drawbacks to this. Librarians have long established protocols for how to catalogue books and much if not most of what you will find on social bookmarking sites is far from protocol. The Dewey Decimal system it is not! However, this does not mean that librarians, at the local level, cannot take charge of their own networks. It is exciting to see that many have.

I can think of many ways that this would be a useful tool for students. As Fontichiaro (2008) notes, many students have a difficult time keeping track of where they have been on the web and where they retrieved information. A social bookmarking habit would allow them to easily keep track of their sites. These could then be easily viewed and evaluated by the classroom teacher. If criteria were setup regarding references or visiting sites, students could easily demonstrate that they have done this. I like Richardson’s idea in chapter 6 of having students simply put their name or a code in their tags to link their bookmarks together and give the teacher a sense of how well the students have done.

From a collaborative point of view, a group of students can establish a network whereby they can share the research they have found. Since this information is all shared in a web-based setting, students can then work on this information from any user station in the school, from home or elsewhere.

New Knowledge
Much of the writing in the articles I researched, the ones provided to us in the readings and on the trailfire highlighted many of the same benefits. Social bookmarks allow you a web-based system of organizing your bookmarks. You can access them from any computer, you can share them with friends, you can use key words or tag to search for websites that other people deemed interesting. Ultimately, it is supposed that this could provide better information because it is a human rating the site rather than some bot (Richardson, 2009).

In contrast to this, others feel that this might not necessarily be a benefit at all. The problem with folksonomies being that not all “folks” are necessarily equipped to properly catalogue websites or books for that matter and one could end up with a mess of information and poorly chosen key words (Bates, 2006). Add to this, simple errors such as spelling mistakes and controlling singular/plural words (Rethlefsen, 2007) or more malicious problems such as spam (Bates, 2006) and you might end up with a series of tags that are not all that useful.

Interestingly, once I tagged all of my bookmarks, I actually went back and edited many of my tags. I found that I used words like “tool” and “tools” almost interchangeably, when I meant the same thing. Seeing each of my tags appear in my cloud tag on my blog, allowed me to focus in on redundant tags and clean up my own labeling system. My guess is that the more time I spend working on this the better I will get at it. I’m also predicting that I’ll start to notice what key words others are using for tags and mimic this.

So far, wild boar pate it is not. I’ve had a taste, a nibble if you will, this past week and have enjoyed it enough to order some more. I’ll keep you posted on whether it becomes an acquired taste, a mainstay of my diet or something that was simply a passing treat.

Bates, M.E. (2006). Tag- you're it! Online, 30(1), 64.

Fontichiaro, K. (2008). Using social bookmarking to organize the web. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(9), 27.

Funk, M.E. (2009). Testing the web 2.0 waters. American Libraries, 40 (1/2) 48.
Rethlefsen, M.L. (2007). Tags make libraries Library Journal. Retrieved 10/02/09 from ProQuest Journals,

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2nd ed., p. 90). Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Stephens, M. (2007). Tagging & social bookmarking. Library Technology Reports, 43(5), 58.

With info from: