My last school required that all teachers have web pages in order to (at minimum) communicate the daily schedule to students and parents. I used it for my schedule, but also as a jump-off for online assignments.
My new school does not require all teachers to have web pages. Yet I enjoyed the benefits of having an online space for my class. I just had to have some online space for this year too. After a bit a research into what was and wasn't blocked by the school filter, what sites other educators have used, what features various services offer, etc., I settled on using Wikispaces for my new class website.
I began using my class wiki for the same things as my old static website: weekly agendas and a jump-off for online assignments. Since then I've slowly been increasing the level of involvement my students have with the wiki.
I'll go into specifics about how students are using the wiki in later posts. For now, I want to focus on a few observations and issues that have come up.
- Students realized quickly they could send messages to each other (and to me) through their Wikispaces accounts. Students send me messages asking for clarification. Students send each other messages asking for help or information.
Creating & Publishing
- I've only had one assignment that required students to create a wiki page (details in a future post), but we like that it's being published for everyone in the world to see. They like they can work on it directly from any computer in the world (though usually just the computer at their house).
- The scourge of digital assignments: lost files. My freshmen have next to zero experience saving files to a network drive. I can't tell you how many times students have saved a file to a computer's hard drive instead of their network drive, thus losing access to the file as soon as they log off that machine. The wiki creates a record of the page after each save. If somehow the contents of the entire page gets deleted (which has happened- thrice) they can simply revert back to the last version.
- I was a little nervous letting my students loose on the wiki. I really didn't think anyone would do something inappropriate, but I still worried. Luckily, Wikispaces (and many other wiki sites) create RSS feeds for page edits and discussion postings- both for individual pages and for the entire space. I subscribe to the feeds for all page edits and all discussion postings. It's an easy way for me to keep track of what's happening on the wiki. I don't want to be a wiki-dictator (wikitator?), but I want to be able to catch anything inappropriate before half the world sees it.
The not so good
- There's definitely plenty of personal messaging going back and forth in addition to the academic-related messages. I don't have a problem with this- if it's done in moderation. For 95% of my students it's not a problem. 5% would message people all hour if I didn't get after them for it.
What's the point?
- Roughly paraphrased, the student asked why we couldn't just do this on paper- wouldn't it be way faster? Sheesh. I wasn't ready for that one. I figured the relevance of publishing content online for parents, peers, and the world to see would clear that up. I figured the increasingly digital world we live in would make the point obvious. Obviously I didn't explain what wikis are or why we're using this particular tool very well. In classes with students who have very little computer experience (I had to show some students how to use Google), this stuff isn't obvious. They don't know what a wiki is, what it does, or why they would ever want to use one.
- Let's face it: Editing a wiki- even one that has a visual editor like Wikispaces- isn't always inuitive and striaght forward. There are certain quirks to it that take time to adjust to. It's trickier and less flexible than editing a Word document. Students who aren't tech savvy can quickly get frustrated with these quirks. I'm constantly finding myself saying, "Just be patient, everyone is running into similar issues, I promise it'll get easier the more experienced you become." These first few uses can be a bit trying.
Exemplars, tips, suggestions?
I'm coming to the realization that I really don't have good examples of wiki usage in a science classroom. I've done my research checking out several classroom wikis, yet I can't recall finding a single high school-ish science class' wiki. Anyone know of any?
I'm feeling a little frustrated that my curriculum doesn't seem to mesh extremely well with the use of a wiki. I could make the wiki a more prominent part of assignments and projects, but I'm wary of forcing the wiki into situations it really doesn't belong. However, I can't help but feel my lack of experience using a wiki in a science classroom and of exemplar science class wikis means that I'm missing some really powerful and obvious things that would mesh perfectly. I'm hoping when I revamp the curriculum next year to facilitate more project-based assessments these uses may spring up and smack me in the face like a garden rake.
Any tips, suggestions, or examples would be greatly appreciated. 😉