Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sharing the treasure--Welcome to Wikiland

This assignment has been bubbling away in the back of my mind throughout the course. I've been looking at the systems in place at school, the technology that is used regularly and creatively, and the places where it is just plain avoided. One thing I notice is the wide range of interests and abilities among the staff. At one end I see lots of teachers still struggle with the basics of using the First Class email system and the on-line databases. At the other end of the spectrum are the media teachers who are operating in another sphere entirely.

Since my own journey into techland only dates back to the start of this course, I know which group I will have the most impact on. I've been thinking about the best ways to demonstrate some of the possibilities of the new Web 2.0 technology tools, and how I might ultimately entice participation.

The web 2.0 tool that I would like to introduce to staff is the wiki. Most secondary teachers operate in (relative) isolation. I can see different departments using wikis initially to share resources, to organize themselves, and to communicate. Of particular benefit would be keeping a log of departmental decisions and goals from year to year.

Based on my experience, I know having support, the opportunity to play, and the incentive to produce something useful is motivating. The way I plan to lure them into playing with the technology is to offer to set up a wiki for different departments. Some departments are full of teachers who are already technologically inclined, using the internet in many creative and powerful ways as individuals. I would propose a wiki as a way to bring some of these web adventurers together for collaboration and as jumping off points for departments. I think that the collaborative possibilities will appeal to these teachers and that will lead eventually to an interest in using wikis with students.

Scenario One

The science teachers (10) share an office. They form a cozy little pod unto themselves. They already share resources, ideas and technology as it applies to their area. They don't frequent the library, but they have already created a web of support for each other. I think this department could use a wiki as a place to:

• house information for new teachers and interns
• schedule use of labs
• gather useful weblinks by topic and grade
• store literacy techniques and practices
• share the most successful lesson plans, best practices
• follow breaking news science stories
• publish safety rules for labs

With this group, a conversation and a bit of planning with the department head, followed by a short in-service presentation during a department meeting, would probably be enough to set them on their way to successful wiki use. I would offer to create the wiki and enter some initial information, but they
are technologically savvy enough to take it from there.

In my presentation I would use the
Wikis in Plain English video and references from my favourite source, Will Richardson's Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms:
So let's take a minute and imagine the possibilities here. Your students, with just a little help from you, could create book report wikis, what-I-did-this-summer wikis, brainstorming wikis, poetry wikis, notes-from-class wikis, sixth-grade wikis, history of the school or community wikis, formula wikis, wikis for individual countries they might be studying, political party wikis, exercise wikis... you get the idea. And you could create similar spaces for colleagues to save research or do articulation or much, much more. Whatever topic might lend itself to the collaborative collection of content relating to its study, wiki is a great choice.

Scenario Two

The English Teachers have no common (physical) area to share, so the monthly departmental meetings are about their only chance to be together. The responsibilities of department head are shared by two teachers each year, and rotated through most members of the department. (There are a few lone wolves....) Full attendance is difficult since many teachers teach classes outside the timetable. They do some communicating by email, but this too, is a challenge for them. For the most part, these are not folks who enjoy using technology. Playing with technology will only happen under duress--- (and I believe duress invalidates the possibility of play!) These too, are creative people who would soon dream up hundreds of powerful ways to use wikis with students if their initial experience with wikis was positive. This is where I would bring my special gifts of empathy and gentle support onto the scene. I would offer to set up a wiki for them, and include some basic, useful information, like department literacy goals, which novels are taught to which grade, number of texts available, department meeting minutes, etc. Then I would spend time with each member of the group, exploring the document with the learner 'driving the mouse'.

My actions would be supported by the research we looked at on our wiki and by common sense. Just offering to check in with people as they learn how to use a new tool provides a bit of a safety net. I would never present myself as a tech-expert, but as a curious and interested companion for the adventure.

A final aside

There is a lot more detailed support for introducing Web 2.0 tools into the school that I want to gather and organize, but my time is gone, and I know that I'll never be finished. I resolve to take this next step of introducing others to these tools and concepts, sharing my (incomplete) knowledge and my enthusiasm. I know that by sharing I'll deepen my understanding, and by working with others intuition and synchronicity enter the equation and who knows where that will take us!

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