Thursday, July 17, 2008

After A 4-Month Vacation

It's been exactly four months since my last post, at which point I was feeling like I'd lost my focus. Originally, I started this blog to figure out whether it was viable to use with my students. It was/is. Then, I joined in with others writing about educational technology. That still interests me but it's confining as I'm not really a tech person; I'm a teacher, and now I'm getting an M.Ed. in private school leadership. I can feel my role and perspective transforming daily.
I've missed my blog the whole time but also felt as though it had taken time away from some of the things that I love and need for balance, namely surfing. But the graduate program has helped me see blogging differently. And being a student again in a program that's condensed an entire year of course work into six intense weeks has taught me a lot about myself as a learner, and even more about being a student in the 21st century. Needless to say, I have a lot to talk about, perfect time to revive WatsonCommon.
Related to keeping this blog, what I know about myself is that I need routine and commitment. I can't just say I'll post when I have something to post. So my renewed commitment to this blog is 500 words (max), 4 times a week. We'll see how that goes…
I want to start today by relating one thing I've been experiencing as a student, and hopefully some of you (if you're still out there) will have some anecdotes to share too.
A few weeks ago, I skyped from Hawaii to Boston with my colleague as he was giving an introduction to web 2.0 tools during an edtech conference session. He wanted me to talk about my favorite web2 tool and give some examples of how I use it. I went with wikis because I think they're so flexible, easy, and secure. I talked a little about global collaborations I've been a part of, and I described how I'd started a wiki for my grad school cohort (the same 29 people go through all the courses and Plan B action research project together). I thought the cohort could share resources and notes, follow up with more discussion, and organize a resource to use forever. It' been a great exercise for me to see how students make use of the wiki. For the first five weeks (remember, only six), the wiki was me taking notes, occasionally somebody would send me something they thought would be worth posting, and I would post it. But late last week, and more and more this week, others are starting to post links and ideas. The lesson for me is that when I ask my classes to use wikis, which I've done a bunch of times, I don't really know what I'm asking them to do because I had never done it until now. Does anybody else have experience using a wiki? I think it's different than using it with a professional learning community.


Louise Maine said...

I have experience with a wiki as I used it practically to run my classes from simple assignments to collaborative projects. I spent time introducing skills, working together, etc., then specific wiki skills. My students loved the wiki and was their "tool" favorite. The wiki is here.

C. Watson said...

Louise, I've had similar experiences with wikis in my class. Although I'm not teaching summer school now, my wife is, and her class is using a wiki as a virtual class portfolio (more like a gallery, actually). Being in a lab school program, the students are able to get feedback from other teachers and consultants, and they love it. Within the feedback chain, there have been great teachable moments about digital footprints and productive use of commenting. I guess the issue I'm noticing is one of wiki ownership. I'm imagining a wiki as truly democratic, however, with my classmates in grad school and with my students, there's a sense that I own the wiki because I created it. I would love to know how you address and teach the collaborative "driving" of the wiki. I tried having two students in charge as their homework each day and rotating through all the class, and that kind of worked.

douglas said...

At Alan November's BLC conference this week, my former colleague Tom Daccord explained how he used wikis with his history class. He had kids use it as a place to post notes and additional resources related to the units they were studying. He would mostly be adding useful bits of information, and the kids would jump on the bandwagon.

About six weeks into the semester, he would have an open discussion with them. Has anyone been visiting it? How often? (He already knew these stats from administering the page, but good to hear the students talk about their use.) Did they find it helpful when studying for tests? Preparing for papers?

If the kids say that yes, we find that it's useful, he would then tell them, I'm giving this blog to you. Now you're in charge of keeping it up, since it's useful to the class. Then he would step back and let the kids take ownership of it. Invariably the kids take it on, and the wiki becomes a vital part of the course materials, only without direct involvement on the part of the teacher. On some level it gains in value because it isn't administered by the teacher; contributions aren't graded, and everyone pitches in to make it better.

You can see some examples of the wiki here.

C. Watson said...

douglas, I really like several things that the teacher you've described is doing. First, I love the use of a wiki for an encyclopedic purpose. Afterall, the ultimate wiki is wikipedia. I can an activity like that leading to those examples we've all heard about classes editing wikipedia pages when they find mistakes or something missing. Second, I love the meta piece and the handing over of the wiki once the kids themselves have identified it as helpful to their learning. It relates directly to our school's ongoing discussion of homework, and Alfie Kohn's argument about its design and worth.