Thursday, February 15, 2007

So who uses these things besides us?

Two kids were talking in my period 4 class today. One of the students had created his own wiki on wikispaces and was using the laptop to show two other members of his group his work: a wiki page for his band.
"Why not just put it on Myspace?" a female student asked him.
"I have one there, too" he said as he continued to scroll through his pages of pictures.
At this point, I was close enough to chime in and jumped at the chance to generate more enthusiasm for embracing these flat world tools, ignoring the fact that they were off task.
"The wiki can be a useful resource for your band, maybe not with all the visual elements of a Myspace, but it's great for sharing information and collaborating with others, especially if more than one person is adding ..." By this time I've exhausted the 15-year-old limit for syllables in a row from an adult, and I see her eyes losing interest.
"It's just kind of funny," she said. "I mean who else is doing this besides us?"

Who else is doing this besides us? What's she talking about? I know who else is doing it. Here is one of my new favorites: Mrs. Caldwell in Alabama who provides comments to students on their drafts with her wiki. What a great use of the tools.

But then again, I know this, but she doesn't. None of my students probably do. It got me thinking about how these tools - wikis especially, but also blogs - are being used in the real world, outside the classroom. An afternoon of mulling her comment triggered in me where I first glimpsed the potential for wikis and blogs in the classroom. It was a New York Times Magazine article from Dec. 3, 2006 (not freely available online, but archived her for subscribers) that described how if American intelligence agencies had effectively used such collaborative tools in 2001, we could have averted 9/11. Pretty heady stuff.

Then I came across this in InformationWeek on the use of wikis by corporations. The article makes the case for wikis as an effective project management tool in the business world. There is an interesting anecdote about how the LA Times put up a wiki soon after the Iraq War with an editorial on it. As a way to spur discussion of the war, the paper asked readers to revise the editorial as they saw fit. However, vandals flooded the page with so much profanity and pornography that the paper took it down in three days. The moral of the story? "Perhaps the Times expected too much; perhaps it misjudged the juvenile capacity of some Web users. But the real problem with the wikitorial was that the Times sent a wiki to do a blog's job.
Wikis are structurally capable of handling conversation, but it is not their forte; instead, wikis excel at collaboration. They are intended to maintain a series of unique documents as their content evolves and to provide an organic means of organizing that information."

Maybe that's where I am now. My frustrations about the wiki stem from its apparent inability to effectively extend the discussion beyond the classroom walls, which is something better handled by a blog. Although I certainly have seen the discussion move beyond the classroom, it has fallen a bit short of my - too lofty? - expectations. It may be time for me to shift a bit. I need to view this wiki as a tool for collaboration and organizing the information students are inputting. That will be where its greatest power will emerge. I have more work to do.

And finally, if I'm going to respond to my students who rightfully want to know who else is doing this, then I have to take advantage of its possibilities. Encourage and promote collaboration through my assignments and class expectations. It sounds so simple. Is it? Who else is doing this?


Clay Burell said...


This post may point you to resources. See the first few minutes of the outline--links to "who's doing this stuff."

Keep it up--I'm enjoying the thinking.


Clay Burell said...

Oops. Here's the link:

If you double-click and copy it, you'll get the whole link, even if it runs off the page.


Mr. Miller said...

Clay: As always, thanks for the input. I checked out that site. I especially agree with the ideas about moving from "individual teachers pioneering in isolation to systemic, school- or district-wide change." Our district is currently beginning a new mission to align district goals and efforts to 21st Century skills and I am eager to play a role in that. However, I don't know if I'm ready yet to go out and be the teacher leader necessary to spur such meaningful professional development. Teachers in our building consider themselves quite progressive (and we are for the most part) so the next step is to, again quote from your thorough notetaking, "create opportunities for colleagues experimenting with these tools to reflect socially and collaboratively--this can now be done globally via wikis, blogs, podcasts, etc--practicing the tools while reflecting on them." I'm taking the first steps...

Thanks again for all your efforts and interest in my work. I am watching and enjoying your work, too. I hope some day to join up and collaborate with you and your students. Thanks again.