This week I decided to create a Wiki for the Don Ross Secondary School Outdoor Leadership class’ annual fundraiser. This Winter Gala is the major fundraising event for this class of 26 students who spend their entire semester outdoors; cross country and downhill skiing, learning about avalanches, snowshoeing, building snow caves, orienteering, rock climbing, kayaking the sunshine coast, and hiking the Juan de Fuca trail. Most importantly though, they learn about becoming leaders in their school and community and raising environmental awareness for the amazing area in which we live. This is the seventh year of this special teacher designed program and it would not be possible without a successful fundraising effort. In the past, the has generally raised around $7000.00 to cover the cost of the trips, guides and equipment incurred in the courses. The winter gala fundraiser is generally organized by a committee of parents and the two lead teachers of the program. It involves several months of careful planning and a virtual avalanche of email communication in addition to the face-to-face meetings. I am hoping that by creating this wiki, I can improve the communication and organization for the event planners and contribute in some small way to this amazing endeavor since I am on a leave of absence and unable to be on the organizing committee this year.
The Wiki can be found at https://donrosssecondarywintergala.wikispaces.com/
Reflection on the process of learning about the tool
The word ‘wiki’ is a short form of the Hawaiian wiki-wiki, which means ‘quick’ and I found out this week just how quick and easy it is to design and edit a wiki website (Richardson). Once again, I found Will Richardson’s book and excellent place to start learning about wikis. Upon his recommendation, I went to wikispaces found at http://tinyurl.com/293h9a and signed up for my own site simply by giving a username, password and email address. I choose a wikiname (no spaces allowed) and I was set up quicker than you can say ‘wiki-wiki’! I like how the opening page of wikispaces has a very comprehensive tutorial of how wikis work. I must admit that I didn’t finish the entire tutorial however, because I was anxious to just get started and try it out. With a click of the ‘edit’ button, I wrote a quick introduction on the home page (which I’m sure one of the teachers of the program will edit and alter soon). The only thing that I was unsure of at first was that after I hit the ‘edit’ button, my computer had a rather long pause before allowing me to write. I wish the response time was a little ‘wikkier”. I found that it was incredibly easy to add pages and sub pages. All I had to do was type the page name “Advertising”, highlight it with my cursor and click on the link icon on the toolbar. When the dialogue box popped up, it was already in the ‘Link Text’ and ‘New Page Name’ spaces. As soon as I clicked ‘OK’, the new page was produced. I easily organized the wiki site with various pages for advertising, ticket sales, sponsors, concession, entertainment line-up, set up and take down duties, as well as a list of committee members. When I set up the wiki, I had an option of whether or not I wanted the site to be protected or open, and I have chosen protected for now, so that only the invited members of the committee can made changes. Inviting them was incredibly simple as well; all I had to do was click on ‘Manage Wiki’ and ‘Invite People’ and type in their email addresses. I was planning to embed a calendar from Google calendars, but have not yet heard back from the teachers on specifics for meeting dates and a general outline for when specific duties had to be done. I am hoping that in time, the other teachers will also be inspired to add photos of the students in the program, as well as advertise the sponsor logos. The beauty of the wiki is that it is ever evolving as the planning progresses.
Wikis as a tool for my own personal learning
I tend to use Wikipedia a fair amount for my own personal use whether it is to find the actor in a certain movie, look up a new sailing term or find out the most recommended varnish for refinishing my furniture. Already this week I’ve used wikirecipes to find a chicken pot pie recipe, wikiquotes to find a quote from a movie I’d watched and wikiquestions to figure out how to install the block heater on my car. Wikis are unquestionably a fantastic online resource for looking up these random bits of information. However, even though I’ve found it useful personally, I still had this nagging distrust in the site as an educator. It’s hard to get past the bias that it is ‘unreliable’ because so many different people are contributing to this wealth of information and yet, I have no idea of their credentials. After reading a few articles this week, I am starting to change my mind and realize the impact and important role that wikis can serve. It was encouraging to me that wikis are starting to be critiqued by scholars and their positive endorsements are heartening. I read the article mentioned by Will Richardson called “Grading Wikipedia” and in it, several Colorado scholars were asked to review entries on several topics and rate them. Four out of five agreed that Wikipedia entries are “accurate informative, comprehensive and a great resource for students” (Booth, 2007). The fifth scholar found some details to be “inaccurate by omission” (Booth, 2007). I am starting to become less skeptical about Wikipedia, but I still believe that it should be used as a starting point for research and that the hyperlinks listed in the references should always be evaluated and critiqued carefully.
An interesting thought occurred to me as I was setting up the Winter Gala wiki, and that was although I am an avid user of the wiki for personal reasons, I have never contributed to one before. The whole concept that wikis and Wikipedia in particular are there for “the collaborative construction of knowledge and truth that the new interactive Web facilitates” had escaped me until now (Richardson p.57). The main rationale and principle behind the Web 2.0 technologies is to collaborate and contribute - whether that is to a class or a much larger, global audience. I readily share ideas and collaborate with my colleagues, but why I have never collaborated on a larger scale before? Why have I only been a passive recipient of this type of information? This has made me think back to the blog I wrote on social bookmarking. At the time I was exploring that Web 2.0 tool, I was also starting to wonder if my students not only communicate differently than I do, but actually think differently too? If this is the case,then communicating in an online format is like any other skill – it needs to be practiced and developed to become inherent and effective. I am still not at that stage yet with my blogging, as it is not yet incorporated in my daily life. I am interested to see if the wiki will be an easier platform in which I can collaborate and communicate.I am hopeful that as this course progresses and my comfort level with these tools increases over time, I will have fewer, and hopefully no, hesitations to contribute my own knowledge and information to various wiki sites.
Using Wikis as a tool for teaching and learning
As teachers we all know too well that students eagerly use Wikipedia when starting their research on the computer. As the old adage goes ‘if they are going to be doing it anyways, we might as well teach them the proper and safe way to do it’. Why not use Wikipedia itself as a means to teach students to critically evaluate websites? By getting them to check the hyperlinked references at the end of each page, it not only encourages them to research further, but also allows them to gather information, compare accounts, gain more background information and evaluate the site critically (Davies and Merchant, p. 92). It can also be used to teach students the concepts of community collaboration, and respect for other people’s ideas (Richardson). Most importantly, it can help teach collaboration and negotiation skills and allow students to teach each other and share what they know with a larger audience (Richardson, p. 60). The possibilities for class wikis are almost endless and FUN. Students could create their own virtual textbook. As they progress through the year, small groups could be responsible for updating the wiki on a weekly basis with the topics they’ve been learning and add relevant links, photos or presentations (Hudson). Students could also explore Omnictionary or another book-related wiki and then be challenged to create a wiki for the book they are currently reading in class (Hudson). They could add information about the characters as they develop, or add biographical information about the author. Foreign language teachers could also use wikis as a way to organize vocabulary words by theme or unit of study. That way kids have quick and easy access to an online dictionary customized just for their class. They could also use their wiki to link to places where the language is prevalent (Hudson). Socials classes could also use wikis to follow current events since they allow immediate publication of events as they occur (Davies and Merchant, p. 91).
For teachers, the use of wikis can be very creative, but also very functional. Wikis could easily create a portal for lesson planning and sharing to occur, as demonstrated by sites like wikibooks (Richardson, p. 63). Wikis for teachers could also decrease disruptions of instructional time by posting daily staff notes on a school wiki instead of putting them in daily announcements over the public address system (Nielsen). Another potential benefit of a teacher used wiki could be to make meetings more efficient. All team meetings and planning can be coordinated right on the wiki, giving staff and administration an opportunity to see what is happening in other departments around the school. This wiki could also incorporate discussion boards for conversations to take place outside the meetings (Nielsen). Wikis could also be used to enhance professional development, by putting up any important materials being use in seminars to one wiki site. Again, discussion boards could also be used to elicit feedback and keep the conversations going afterwards (Nielsen).
In the library, wikis can be a useful way to manage knowledge. When I started at my school as the librarian, no information had been previously documented on the use of the computer system, the department routines, standard operating procedures, or the organization and collection policies. There was also no anecdotal information of best practices from the previous librarian. I simply had to start from scratch and it was incredibly frustrating. Over the years, I have documented everything that I do in my role as librarian and the binder of information has become rather large. Since I am on a leave of absence this year, I passed on what I affectionately call the “library bible” to my successor. I can now see that a much more efficient way to share this information and knowledge would have been to create a library wiki. This way, the teacher librarian this year could also add her own knowledge to the framework that is already there. As noted in the article “Wikis in the Workplace”, having a wiki to manage knowledge of this type “can help improve efficiency, accuracy, and consistency of information use within the organization” (Kille, 2006). In addition to our school library, having a wiki or knowledge management system that is similar could “help libraries remain competitive in an era of constant change by facilitating the rapid transfer of knowledge” (Kille, 2006). Once again, the benefits of creating a collaborative system of sharing information and knowledge cannot be denied.
Although the use of wikis for class projects may present some challenges for evaluating work done in a collaborative fashion, I still see the potential uses for wikis as being truly astonishing. I am curious to see how the Winter Gala wiki I created this week evolves and changes as the event is being planned.
Davies, Julia. Merchant, Guy. (2009) Web 2.0 for Schools: Learning and Social Participation. New York, NY: Peter Lang
Hudson, Hannah Trierweiler. (Sept/Oct. 2009) How to Teach With Wikis. Instructor. Vol 119, Iss 2 Retrieved from: http://login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.login.ezproxy.library.ualberta.ca/pqdweb?did=1873816451&sid=1&Fmt=3&clientId=12301&RQT=309&VName=PQD
Kille, Angela (March 2006). Wikis in the Workplace: How Wikis Can Help Manage Library Reference Services. Library and Information Science Research Electronic Journal. Vol 16, Iss 1. Retrieved from: http://libres.curtin.edu.au/libres16n1/
Nielsen, Lisa. (July 2009). Eight Ways to Use School Wikis. Tech & Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.techlearning.com/article/22064
Richardson, Will. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press