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:
Icehogs.wikispaces.com (my hockey team)
Recleague.wikispaces.com (our hockey league)
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 www.watchknow.org.
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 http://www.gantthead.com/blog/Project-Management-2.0/1560/
. 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).
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