from Technology & Learning
Wikis can be a multitasking administrators' best friend
The poster child for the Web 2.0 movement, the wiki, demonstrates the spirit of open content more clearly than any other application. Wikipedia, the most famous wiki and the world's largest encyclopedia, defines a wiki as a Web site that "allows visitors to add, remove, edit, and change content." And because Wikipedia is itself a wiki, people can read, click, and edit that article on wikis—or any other article on the site, for that matter. Even though it's a controversial information resource (if anyone can manipulate content, something incorrect is bound to be included), the unique value of this and any wiki-based Web document is that the usefulness of the content comes from that community of contributors. It's an information source that respects its community of readers. It is, in essence, a conversation.
Certainly, a wiki is not a hammer that will drive any nail. They are not as good for publishing as blogs, nor are wikis the powerful idea-developing tool that discussion boards can be. Wikis are, however, the perfect tool for people who need to collaboratively develop and maintain useful documents. Many teachers have adopted wikis to provide their students with opportunities for collaborating in conducting research, processing what they learn, and expressing their findings to wider audiences. Some classrooms are even following the Wikipedia model and establishing student-produced digital classroom dictionaries.
Administrators are also realizing the benefits of this tool in helping them manage their schools, districts, and larger associations, utilizing what are emerging as three unique advantages of wikis as information tools:
- The practical: Wikis allow for community collaboration
- The political: Wikis democratize Web participation
- The timely: Wikis provide the most up-to-date content
Joe Poletti, director of technology for the Cartaret County Schools in eastern North Carolina, has adopted a range of emerging communication applications to facilitate both instruction and school administration. Wikis came in handy when a committee needed input from other professionals in the school district regarding their new five-year technology plan. The team produced a wiki version of their working document and then invited teachers and administrators from across the county to read the document, comment, and even submit edits to the plan. Poletti also advertised the wiki version of the plan in the local newspaper, asking for input from the community. As a result, their technology plan reflected a much broader perspective and included ideas from the entire range of school personnel and community stakeholders.
On a smaller scale, Oregon principal Tim Lauer uses Google Docs for recording notes at faculty meetings. Though technically not a wiki, Google Docs (formerly called Writely) operates in very much the same way, enabling a community of people to contribute to a single document. "At each faculty meeting a note taker opens up a Google Docs document and invites other meeting members to edit if need be," Lauer says. This use of wiki technology enables a consensus on the meeting, and enables Lauer to double check that his staff heard what he was saying.
Jeff Whipple, a technology mentor in Canada, reports that administrators in Fredericton, New Brunswick, plan to use wikis as a platform for teachers to share insights with administrators over documents, such as a proposed modification to the school dress code. It's a great venue for conversations. Each of these examples illustrates a school function that has benefited from collaboration, including a range of voices in an administrative conversation.
Sometimes additional benefits beyond collaboration can be gained by simply including in the conversation important stakeholders who are typically unheard. It reflects the input of a school, district, or education association community that has common goals and values contributions.
"The 'everybody has a voice' aspect of wiki technology has allowed for some truly rich visioning," says Mike Lawrence, the executive director of California's Computer Using Educators Association. Managing a large statewide association is a magnified example of the kinds of problems that face many geographically dispersed school districts. As CUE took the lead in planning a new administrators' conference, Lawrence was charged to include the wishes of three different convening organizations. Wikis enabled representatives from all three associations to work together with equal voice in the event planning, facilitating a sense of common ground and buy-in.
At Leo Hayes High School, also in Fredericton, administrators are developing wiki documents for parents and students to coordinate graduation activities, including prom, safe-grad, fundraising events, and the ceremony itself. The wiki idea exchanges were so helpful that Hayes is exploring other ways of involving school stakeholders in school decisions.
Perhaps the defining quality of a wiki is its ease of use. The inventor of the wiki, pioneer programmer Ward Cunningham, called the concept the "wiki wiki Web" (wiki wiki is Hawaiian for quick). This ability to quickly and easily update content on a wiki makes it ideal for publishing information that is continually changing.
Whipple describes plans among the Fredericton schools to take advantage of the quick quality of wikis. "Every year we hand out a student handbook outlining all the important things parents and students need to know," he says. "However, with well over 90 percent of our families having Internet at home, we are exploring the move of all these resources to a public wiki. This will allow parents to easily access this important information as needed during the school year, and the administration can update the information quickly and easily when changes are necessary."
Staff developers have also used Wikis as a way to keep workshop handouts up to date. California ed tech leaders Mark Wagner and Burt Lo use Wikispaces to post their workshop handouts and to continue to update the materials. Wikispaces also enables linking to social bookmarking sites, so that as Web sites are discovered and bookmarked by trainers, the sites automatically appear on the wiki handouts.
Spreading the Word
But the greatest benefit of wikis comes from the combination of knowledge-growing conversations and published content. Poletti's school exemplified this feature when his tech-planning staff published a wiki version of their technology plan (after the superintendent and the State Department of Public Instruction approved it). Administrators were encouraged to document their progress directly. Thanks to the power of the wiki, they were able to turn their achievements and strategies for accomplishing them into a district-wide conversation.
David Warlickis a regular techlearning.com blogger, author, programmer, podcaster, and public speaker.