Sticky Learning with Wikis

About five years ago, I remember my first time reading the title of a presentation on wikis posted in the GaETC brochure and thinking that only people with a bizarre imagination could come up with a word like that. I had no idea what the word meant and how it could possibly be used in a classroom. I went to to the session to find out and was struck by the tool and its possibilities in learning. Will Richardson (2010) calls it a very democratic tool that allows people to collaboratively create knowledge, and I cannot agree more with his statement. Wikispaces is a presently used platform for collaboration in Forsyth County Schools, and every teacher and student has a private account under our own domain. Use of wikis is not in my future – it is my present. 

In our school’s future, I see wikis being widely utilized as a tool owned and driven by student curiosity, passions, and contributions. If “everyone together is smarter than anyone alone” (Richardson, 2010, p. 57), then teachers need to stop being gatekeepers of wiki creations. Let kids collect, show off, and share their knowledge in the way sixth graders do in Code Blue. Is it perfect? Does the teacher in me want to pull out a red pen and make recommendations and corrections? I know you’re nodding your head… But what matters is the process, the actual learning that takes place in that classroom. Locating, analyzing, and evaluating information for each doctor’s page involves reading, comprehension, and writing skills, and they are taught in such a relevant and purposeful manner. Maybe Thousands Project seems to be a simple list of items, but I urge you to think about the lesson kids acquire: learning is a collaborative process, and it should not be contained by classroom walls. The entire world is our learning community. If third graders in Let’s Go West are able collectively create a snapshot of US history, with links to additional resources and citations of images, then they will grow up to be valuable knowledge contributors of our society. 

Wikis make learning stick. They are not just an online publishing place. They are a domain of learning where each student is a digital citizen who plays a valid role of a contributor. As Vicki Davis said, learning with wikis introduces students to their future. As an instructional technology coach, I plan to integrate wikis into the process of collaborative unit planning with teachers and support them in implementation of this tool in their instructional practices. 

References

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Symptoms of BYOT Rush

Shiloh teachers spent endless hours preparing for the BYOT tour this Fall. The sense of urgency was immense, forcing them to embrace the change and turn their classrooms into a project-based environment in a very short time. With a peculiar mix of struggle and learning, teachers were able to show off  their best work, even though they’ve been exploring BYOT for only a few months. 

We sure looked great on the day of the tour, but teachers were stretched to their limits, stressed, and overwhelmed.  I watched them thrive, cry, get angry, give up, or simply reject the change. The transformation of teaching strategies that I call BYOT Rush affected teachers in different ways. As I watched them going through the growing pains of this change, I caught myself thinking that teachers’ reactions can be categorized into 4 symptoms of BYOT Rush. 

1. Turtoise-litis (slow-paced, but sure travelers; opposite of hares). These teachers embrace the philosophical principals of BYOT, slowly give up control, step away from lecturing and whole-group instruction, and watch students take over the learning process. At first, they feel overwhelmed by the number of directions one lesson can take, since instruction must be differentiated and individualized. These teachers learn alongside their students and are not embarrassed to say out loud “I don’t know”. Instead, they model how new knowledge can be born in collaboration and communication. It is very hard for them to let go of control and put more faith in kids’ abilities. But when the growing pains ease up, they discover that students work harder than the teacher, not the other way around! Some confess that occasionally, they feel like there is not much for them to do. They stop and watch kids becoming independent learners who don’t need a teacher to tell them what and how to do every little thing. Kids are in charge and deeply engaged. BYOT lives (not leaves!) in Tortoise’s room!

2. Spiderism (willing, but unsure travelers). These teachers agree with the philosophical principals of BYOT and will do everything they can….after anyone but them tries it out first, learns through their mistakes, and develops Do and Don’t lists. They want a just-right BYOT recipe for every lesson they’ve taught for many years to be placed on their web of teaching tricks. It takes forever for these teachers to realize that methods and strategies they use today are not enough to raise successful adults of the future. They hyperventilate just thinking about giving up control over their classroom and letting kids have choices. They work hard, much harder than their students! As a result, many of them break – giving up the idea, feeling as though they can’t reach the high expectations set upon them. After trying BYOT, they go back to old ways they knew, killing the spark without giving it a chance to mature into something bigger.

3. Show Horse Disease. These teachers have been playing school for a long time to know exactly what their boss wants to see. They try new initiatives and enjoy being the stars admired by their colleagues. They are masters of public speaking and love to talk about all the great things they do in their classrooms. Do they actually do it? Yes, but only if they know the exact time someone is visiting their classroom! Otherwise, they cut corners and prefer to stick with the good old plan rather than battle the growing pains of change. Their work is well planned, and they can talk well about what good teachers do, but they rarely walk the talk. These teachers do not care to hear constructive feedback and do not understand the true nature of collaboration.  

 4. Nemo Syndrome. These teachers listen, learn, and run with it! They are fearless leaders who are not afraid to push themselves out of their comfort zones and show how vulnerable they are in front of their students and colleagues. They see mistakes as a necessary part of learning. They embrace collaboration and value their colleagues’ opinions. They know that the only way to be successful in the teaching profession is to lean on and trust each other, and look for honest feedback. These teachers are unstoppable and hunger for finding ways to make their teaching even more effective. They think they are never good enough and credit any personal success to their colleagues, when in reality they are the best teachers and learners out there! 

Every school is full of teachers with these four symptoms, and I don’t think there is a way to change their personalities. All I can do is to keep my eyes on the goal – making BYOT an invisible and seamlessly integrated tool in a project-based classroom. Constant observations, peer evaluations, honest feedback, and focus on Nemos is my plan. BYOT tour is over, and now we have all time in the world! I am looking forward to taking a sure step towards successful implementation. I wonder if it’s possible to eventually merge all four symptoms of BYOT Rush into one strong and effective force of professionals. I know anything is possible…