Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dispelling 8 Common Myths for Educators Considering Launching a School Wiki

As the recipient of the National Silver Award for Best How-To Article for my article, 8 Ways To Use A School Wiki to Increase Communication, Collaboration, and Enrich Instruction, and as a wiki-aficionado who has helped countless educators set up their own wikis, I consider myself a Wiki Wizard. I was happy to learn recently that I was in good company as curriculum mapping guru Heidi Hayes Jacobs believes wikis are an essential educational tool of the 21st century. See her wiki here.

However, they still are a relatively new tool and the whole idea of collaborative writing, thinking, and learning is still new to a lot of educators uncertain about this brave new world of networked knowledge creation. When I suggest to schools that they can become more efficient, effective, and can grow their thinking by leaps and bounds, there’s sometimes doubt and trepidation about these uncharted waters. When I share they’ll never have to print another memo, school handbook, or lesson plan again and in general they’ll be able to save thousands by ditching the paper budget, I often have folks interested. When teachers learn that a wiki can eliminate the often intrusive morning and afternoon announcements that rob students of precious learning time, there’s also a lot of interest. When school leaders realize their staff will be able to engage in anytime/anywhere communication and collaboration, they know this is a good thing for their school and staff. When schools learn that they’ll save countless hours in collaborating on curriculum mapping and they’ll never lose (or have to carry a binder) again, well they’re usually sold. You can read how to do all those things in my article 8 Ways To Use A School Wiki to Increase Communication, Collaboration, and Enrich Instruction.

The benefits of using a wiki are endless and transformative. The downside is...well in my five years of using dozens if not hundreds of wikis, I have yet to see one, but, there are those who are fearful of the unknown. This post is written to help educators get past the fear and onto doing the work of meaningful collaboration that will ultimately benefit students, teachers, and leaders.

Dispelling the Myths of Wiki Dangers

Below is a variation on the sort of conversations I might have with a school who has concerns about launching a school wiki.

I followed your advice and created a free school wiki. I put up all our school manuals, set up a link for daily announcements, and created a page for every subject and every teacher. I was so looking forward to the creation of trusting and collaborative relationships between colleagues that do not normally have the opportunity to cross paths. A wiki would enable our staff to connect anytime/anywhere regardless of the constraints of schedules. I was so excited to ditch the paper and let the collaboration begin! No sooner did I get things started then my supervisor insist I shut it down because [insert concern below].

Here are ways to address those concerns.

Concern: Teachers could edit other teachers pages and we’re not comfortable with that.
Response: As with any traditional or new tool protocols and acceptable use should be put in place. If a teacher doesn’t want to collaborate or receive input from others s/he can indicate that in professional wording on the top of their page and set up a discussion tab for comments. If this were to happen however, a teacher could easily see who it was who did this. Address him/her directly about his/her preferences and revert to the previous version.

Concern: Everything could be accidentally or intentionally erased and gone forever.
Response: Nope. Not possible. You can always revert to an earlier version and you can see who made the unwanted changes and discuss the issue.

Concern: Everyone will know what everyone else is doing.
Response: Yep. They will. You want your wiki to be a place of sharing, collaboration, and celebration. All too often teachers close their doors and that’s it. Wikis provide an opportunity to take a virtual peak anytime, anywhere and learn from and discuss the nuggets you find behind those doors.

Concern: People could write things that are inappropriate.
Response: Yes they can and you’ll know who they are because the wiki lets you know in the page history. If you have a staff member inclined to engage in inappropriate behavior and they do so on the wiki, everyone will see that. Hopefully there can be a conversation so this is not an issue in the future. If this is a person truly intent no sabotaging the work of others, well 1) that’s a bigger issue, but 2) you can remove editing rights.

Concern: Resistant teachers who view technology as a burden will wish to continue excluding it from the curriculum.
Response: It’s important not to allow the luddites hold back the progress of those interested in enriching teaching and learning with modern tools. If there is a teacher or teachers who are not interested in sharing and collaborating, focus on those who are. If you work for an innovative leader like Jason Levy who uses wikis with his staff, there are expectations that the wiki is the place staff will go to gain and share information. All staff are responsible for the information.

Concern: A wiki can mirror inter-school politics if we let them.
Response: Just as in the physical school environment, it is important to set up protocols and respectable and acceptable use. Online interaction is an extension of what happens offline. Politics must be addressed in the same way whether virtual or physical.

Concern: There are people who shouldn’t see what we are publishing. Unintended viewers could be problematic.
Response: Wikis should have intended audiences. I recommend that schools set up an internal wiki that is private to educators and another public wiki that can be shared with students and parents.

To really learn how to use wikis best, you’ll need to jump in and start collaborating. Once you do, or if you have, please share any other concerns you or your colleagues may have about using this powerful collaboration tool. If there are, please share in the comments and I’ll do my best to address them. Until then remember to Wiki while you work and the rewards will come.
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