What is this madness?: Wiki Scouting Report

Hearing the collaborative potential for Wikis gave me an image of a democratic classroom’s, lead by a “facilitator,” collaborative search for knowledge and truth. After experimenting with the classroom use of Wikis and a “facilitator” instead of controller role in the classroom my hopes for the wiki’s teaching and learning potential have slammed into a formidable brick wall, more accurately described as a tangled-web-like mess of ideas. When I first began playing with the idea of wikis I had an interesting and pedagogical discussion with my school site’s somewhat skeptical tech integration teacher. His skepticism about Wiki is its lack of teacher control. Simply put, anyone can edit a Wiki. Before parting, he and I briefly discussed the Wiki’s potential to maintain content-specific integrity, more on that in just a minute. Right before we said goodbye, my tech specialist mentioned that he “would find out” if Wikis are a possibility on our tight school network. There’s the brickwall. I responded with how school districts pay a lot of lip-service to technology integration and then, when teachers bring their brilliant ideas about how to really, truly integrate, they hit brickwalls imposed by the district. I straight-up told him, “no brick walls.” He found me a site, Wikia, to play with. I think he secretly, smugly knew that he didn’t need to build a brick wall. Wikis offer their own sets of traps, the aforementioned tangled-web-like mess of ideas and pages and their countless revisions.

Wikis are essentially an interconnected set of web pages that anyone can edit. The initiator of a Wiki need not invite participants; participants invite themselves. Wikis maintain integrity because they are content based. People uninterested in the content that the established Wiki covers pretty much leave the Wiki alone. Individuals that are interested in the content work together to maintain the integrity of the content on the Wiki. For instance, perhaps an individual wants to track the progress of a job-related, collaborative project s/he can start a Wiki to gather, share, and publish ideas. That way all individuals can contribute, edit, and track changes to the project. This power to collaborative is Wiki’s greatest strength. Of course, there is a lack of security and control inherent in a Wiki design because on the internet anyone has access and anyone can edit. However, those Wiki participants who care about the content and the integrity of the Wiki can simply track changes and revert to the best, acceptable, version of the Wiki.

I began toying with the dialogic collaboration and wiki collaboration about the same time. My idea was to integrate a socratic method of understanding big ideas in cyber-place. Here comes the same ol’ misguided assumption: technology=student motivation. I assumed a Wiki format could offer a place for common, collaborative discovery to occur. I still think using a Wiki for this method has great potential for English language arts, but a teacher and students would need to invest in maintaining the project. Essentially, I’ve discovered again that technology doesn’t bring a learning project to life. Instead, the learning project brings the technology to life. The motivation to consider using a Wiki should comes not only from a teacher, but students.

Literary discussion circles online or E-Zines through Wiki offer a non-in yo’ face means for collaborative literary interpretation. However, there are some technologic things to consider. Wikis branch-out from a main page and you can add as many pages as you want. Just make sure that you’re going to use them because they will become dead (or unused, unvisited) weight on the Wiki and allow for readers (participants and visitors) to get lost in countless, useless pages. There is no changing your mind and erasing Wiki pages. You may not see them, but they always exist somewhere. Also, in secondary school there is definitely need for authority and control. During socratic seminar it was really hard for us (me, the teacher and them, the students) to decenter my teacher control. Any student that shared wanted my approval (a nod, a wink, a look) and spoke mostly to me outside the circle. Likewise, when the socratic seminar’s discussion began to lose wind, it was really hard for me to stand back and not throw in my ideas. Though ideal, because it introduces student to responsible and self-motivated learning, a de-centered teacher role is a very uncomfortable position. In Wikis the teacher has a similar, awkward position. The more a teacher tries alone to maintain the look and integrity of a Wiki, alone, the more frustrated they become. Similarly, in a Wiki the teacher can facilitate and introduce ideas, but has little control over the format they will take once the students start in with their own ideas. This technology is built for true, unselfishly motivated collaboration. Another issue I found with Wiki is that when students contribute to the same page or section simultaneously they can overwrite all the hard work that their peers are doing. Patience with the medium and a trusting view (trusting in that anything can and will go wrong with technology) can help Wiki users appreciate its uses for learning and its collaborative potential.

So to end this scouting report, the collaborative strength of the Wiki is promising. Not to mention that having all participants with same and equal power screams democracy. But really, the need for true collaboration is a necessity. Wikis are too much work for one person to be in charge. Also, many critics worry about security. Again, this is a collaboration issue. Those who are genuinely invested in maintaining the content and the integrity of the Wiki must work together to achieve that goal.

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