Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wikis... Keys to "Working Together" in the 21st Century
Coming together is a beginning.
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success.
Henry Ford, from

I don't think anyone would argue that Henry Ford got something right when he recognized the importance of "working together" to his company's success. After all, over one hundred years later the Ford Motor Company remains one of the top automakers in the world. Ford certainly didn't do it alone.

But does working together in Henry Ford's day look the same today?
I hope not!

You see, things have changed a little since 1903. 

I recently watched this TEDTalk video of Tim Berners-Lee, the MIT scientist generally credited with inventing the Internet, speak about "why" he invented it.  Listen to just these first 30 seconds...

Berners-Lee "wanted to reframe the way we use information, the way we we work together."  Did he accomplish this task?  Has the way we "use information and work together" changed since the internet came into our lives?  I hope so.

Old Ways of "Working Together"

First, let's look at the "old" way of "working together". Let's go back to 1903 when the Ford Motor Corporation was founded. I would suspect that "working together" in Ford's day was dependent on the success of the assembly line. Each person, with their own specialized job and knowledge, performing their job to the very best of their abilities, in sequenced isolation. Once every month or so, a meeting was likely held in which problems were addressed, fingers would likely be pointed, and everyone would discuss ways each other could improve their performance in an effort to improve overal quality and production. Likely one or two people helped to oversee and manage the process.

Hmm... I don't know about you but something sounds strangely familiar.

Education: The 21st Century Assembly Line?

It's a scary thought, but am I wrong?! Be honest!! "Joey" comes to me in Kindergarten where I teach him all that I know, to the best of my abilities, before he goes on to "Mrs. A" in grade 1 and "Ms. B" in grade 2 and so forth... Once a month (or perhaps once a week, if you are very lucky :)), everyone comes together in one meeting space, complains a little (or a lot), points some fingers and determines ways to "improve Joey'" before going back to their isolated work space. 

Chances are good that your school setting isn't much different than Ford's assembly line. 100 years later, not much has changed. The biggest difference is that we aren't building cars and trucks.  We are building lives and futures.  It seems unfortunate to me that Berners-Lee's vision of improving the way we "work together" has somehow eluded education.

Educators!!! It's time to say "goodbye" to the days of assembly line model of education. "As we move toward a world where everyone has access to ideas and where collaboration is the expectation rather than the exception," (Richardson, p. 59), let's abandon the factory assembly line model of learning for once and for all. Let's say "Hello" to new ways of working together. 

The 21st Century Model of "Working Together"

The bottom line... technology has drastically improved our ability to "work together" and I think that even Ford, the innovator that he was, would have jumped on board the 21st century model of collaboration.  We have the power to improve the way we share knowledge and ideas, collaborate, communicate, learn and teach!  Let's not wait for that staff meeting or PD session to occur to improve the quality of our teaching and student learning (and let's be honest, do weekly/monthly meetings improve the quality of our teaching and student learning?!)  Let's explore new ways of fostering the collaboration process: the 21st Century Model of "Working Together".

One such avenue worth exploring is the 'wiki'.

Wikis make working together easier. How? The word wiki comes from Hawaiian word for "quick" and although a wiki may not have the polished look of a published webpage, there is something to be said for technology that is quick, especially when it comes to the busy life of the teacher. 

Over this past couple of weeks, I have been thinking about the power and place of technology as simple as the Wiki... for me, my students, my library and my colleagues.  Let me begin.

Wikis... t'week'ed first for me!

One thing I have learned over the past two months or so is that before I can understand the collaborative process behind technology, I need to understand the technology for myself first.  So I set out to explore a personal use of wikis in my own life.  I went back to something I love and always want to learn more about... something that I know other people have knowledge about that will help me improve something I love, too.  Running.

The process:

Although I have collaborated with teachers and edited a wiki in the past, I had yet to set up a wiki on my own.  I was most familiar with so I wanted to try something new.  Wetpaint caught my attention after reading the section on Wikis from Will Richardson's book, so I set up an account and developed my first wiki, the Wiki Run Club.

Yuck! I found Wetpaint difficult, time consuming and not at all user-friendly. I was horrified that the ads soon took over my wiki (which didn't even feel like my wiki, but the advertiser's wiki).  Sure, an upgrade (about 20 dollars a month!) would allow me to remove ads.  Not acceptable, for me!  I discovered the education wiki option a little too late (which should apparenty remove the ads  Still, I just didn't like the way it worked.  Maybe more time is required with this space.. but for me I was frustrated with the navigation. Pages that I created moved into folders that I couldn't find... it was difficult to move the folders to new locations... After some frustration and anger, I abandoned Wetpaint and went on the hunt for something better.  My criteria... something with less ads, preferably none. And of course, free, please! I'm a student, after all!

To look for something better, I decided to do a search to compare different wiki hosting sites.  In my search, I found this comparison chart which turned out to be quite helpful. It led me to PBworks (a free, ad-free wiki) that I had known about, but not yet used.  PBworks turned out to be a much better option. 

Within a few minutes, my account was set up and my New Wiki Run Club was soon underway. 

PBworks (the PB stands for Peanut Butter, by the way stemming from the company's belief that making a wiki is as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich) turned out to be a great wiki hosting site. Very similar to, this web 2.0 tool was easy to use, and although not the most beautiful web space, a practical and quick way to dialogue, collaborate and share knowledge and ideas with other runners. I especially liked the ease of editing, and organizing the space (which is important, too!)  I turned to the User Manual to figure out how to upload pictures, which turned out to be a relatively simple process, in the end.  Just finding the 'upload' function was the hardest part.  The guide was a great resource though, and I wouldn't hestitate to turn to this resource anytime.  New criteria... something with a great resource (user manual) like this is a must.  It's important to remember that users of the wiki will have varying degrees of comfort and technology skill.  I know from experience that good ideas can quickly die if the comfort and easy isn't there (I"ll talk more about this in the professional learning section).

 I invited some of my running friends to contribute to get the ball rolling.  Hopefully, I'll see some new ideas in the Recent Activity section soon. 

Something worth thinking about... I absolutely love the fact that wikis
"involve the visitor in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the Web site landscape" (  This is what makes it so powerful, in my opinion.  The ease of becoming a creator and contributor (not just the factory worker)! I hope to learn more about the gear other runners can't live without, their favourite running events, books, questions and so forth.  Most of all, I hope that it will become a meeting space for all my running friends (make running dates, plan routes, just chat).  Wait and see!

One further note about wiki hosting farms. I explored Wiggio and Wikia.  Wiggio seemed to have some added features that I liked, a nice built in calendar and polling tool, but I couldn't see any way to allow easier access other than invitation through email. Wikia looks great, similar to both wikispaces and PBWorks.  I would definitely try it out next time.  Regardless, the tools are there and there are many that don't have the ads, such as Wetpaint. 

Wikis... t'week'ed for learning

With a little more comfort in using and understanding wikis behind me, I'm going to address collaboration using wikis as a tool for professional learning, classroom learning and library

Wikis for Professional development

As I mentioned earlier, I have been a contributor to a wiki.  A few years ago, our literacy professional development team set up a Professsional Inquiry Wikispace which we hoped would support and network teachers with diverse learning needs within the Professional Inquiry Model that we had established for teacher learning.  Of course, things didn't go exactly as planned. Lack of wireless networks in our meeting space, emails being sent to SPAM, and just general lack of teacher comfort in using wikispaces and technology, in general, soon made our wikispace nothing but a "make work" project for the PD leaders. Without the teachers contributing and collaborating, or even viewing, the wiki was soon abandoned. 

As I reflect on this, I still see great potential in the wiki as a teacher learning tool, especially in enabling teacher inquiry.  Now with new wireless access, teacher laptops and added teacher comfort in using technology over the past 3 years, I hope that leaders in our division would reconsider wikis and would help teachers set up collaborative learning spaces for the new inquiry model, Collaborative Inquiry Teams. One lesson, I would leave it completely open (no permission necessary to contribute).  Could there be drawbacks to the open access of this? Perhaps, but I have learned that the wiki is flexible, and can be bent back to the way it was if something goes terribly wrong.  I would worry far less about secure contribution today (unless there is secure information or student learning data being shared)!  My worry now would be empowering teachers to use it well, not preventing access from using it. Lesson learned!

For my own professional learning as I explore web 2.0 tools in the classroom, I discovered a wealth of great wikis.  Some of my favourite wikis to support my own learning include:

Wikis in the classroom:

I set off in search of best practice in using wikis in the classroom. First, I was amazed at some of the great wiki resources offering suggestions to teachers for classroom use.  I hope you have noticed that I see a lot of potential for wikis in the collaborative classroom.  If you are thinking about starting a class wiki, consider taking some time to view the following wikis and website which offer some tidbits of information that you might find helpful: A great first place to begin! A virtual toolbox of ideas for integrating technology into education.  Be sure to follow the wiki link. (A great wiki with links to classroom wikis.  Be sure to check out the section on Best Practices!) (Saskatoon Public Schools Online Learning Centre offers tips and links for integrating Web 2.0 tools into your classroom).

A few details educators should know are that wikis can be kept secure (inviting only those students and parents who would need access) in this situation, and that all will not be lost. Teachers should feel comfortable that wikis can be recovered to previous states if something goes terribly awry. 

Despite the potential for students to really become contributors to the wiki content, many of the class wikis that I viewed still used old ways of learning... the teacher created the content and the students viewed it.  Many of the wiki descriptions themselves gave away the underlying philosophy of the teacher as creator: "This wiki has been set up to help students...", "This site is all about biology", "This wiki is a one stop information site for my students", "This is a collection of resources and week by week outline" were just a few examples that show that the power of wikis is not completely understood.  Although I recognize that there is still good teaching behind sharing information on the web, to make wikis truly collaborative, we need to begin to let go of some of the control and allow students to build their own content and understanding.  As Will Richardson states, "the more autonomy teachers give to students in terms of negotiating the scope and quality of the content they are creating, the better." (p. 61) Yes, it means we may need to allow some "not so great" examples of quality.  Let's remember that students learn from these examples, too.

So...I set out examples of students collaborating, learning from each other while building the content themselves.  Some of the better examples I saw:
One final idea that I had for class wikis was that of the Class Scribe, an idea that was shared at a conference a few years back.  Students could have designated days to post a few of the big ideas from the learning for that day.  Other students could then add and edit, completing a better recap of the day's learning.  The added bonus: Students who were ill that day would still know what they had missed.

Wikis in the library:

Just as in the classroom, the library is a great place to use the technology of a wiki.  I see this as a great collaborative space to post links, questions, discussion and ideas, especially related to inquiry learning and information skills.

As well, consider using your wiki for book advisory, schedules, book suggestions (see the Webinar with a great How-To for this).

I stumbled upon this great webinar and its corresponding wiki site:

I also loved the Children's Book Wiki and think this is such an excellent way for teacher librarians to build their knowledge of children's literature.  Check it out at .

Wikis: the Key to "Working Together" in the 21st Century
In closing, let's learn to "work together" in new ways.  Let's abandon the old, assembly line model of "working together" in favour of something new.  After all, it's no longer 1903.  Explore a wiki today!

1 comment:

  1. "exploring new ways of fostering collaboration!" You've really hit it on the head. I love that Saskatoon has on-line tips for integrating web 2.0 tools in the classroom. So forward thinking compared to my district. Also, great human body example, 'codeblue'. I'll be forwarding the link to my grade five team as they're just about to get started on this unit.