The Strength of Weak Ties

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Monday, July 10, 2006

Choose Your own Wiki Adventure: Using Wikis with K-12 Students-NECC 2006

Dan McDowell
West Hills High School
Santee, CA

Presentation Website

Roughly 200 people were in the audience-30 had used wikis before and about the same were brand new to wiki technology. The presenter provided a nice, simple overview of wikis to provide the necessary background for the rest of the presentation.

The presenter mentioned that he always tries to “bring some technology into the classroom.” While this may have been a casual comment, it bothered me, as I think a comment like that continues to perpetuate the belief that technology is something that exists outside of what normally takes place in a classroom. The comment suggests that technology is nice to use when it is convenient but not necessarily mission-critical. Perhaps I’m being too sensitive about his perspective on integration….

Mr. McDowell explained that wikis enable anyone to make a Web page-again, I’ll take exception. I think that wikis should be defined within the context of learning. I’m not so interested that kids can make a Web page with a wiki tool, although I am very interested in a tool that can promote social interaction 24/7, where kids can collaborate digitally to create shared understanding. Perhaps my definition is a bunch of wordsmithing, but I think that wikis should be viewed as much more than just a simple way to build a Web page-view them as a tool that addresses a unique learning situation and that adds value to the learning experience.

I think that we should also become much more sensitive about viewing kids as technology know-it-alls. Let’s be careful about over-generalizing their ability to use technology, a belief that I believe is perpetuated by this digital natives thing. Not all kids have used wikis as the presenter suggested, and not all kids live in front of the computer 24-7 either. A survey of the kids in the schools I work in graphically illustrated that they did not know what a wiki was. Do they possess the comfort level and skills to use these tools when introduced to them-yes. But not every student knows everything….

The presenter continued by discussing the concept of control and the need for it. Mr. McDowell mentioned that “you wouldn’t want them building their own wikis.” Well, why not? Why wouldn’t you want them to learn the tool in school and then use it to develop content online that is meaningful to them? Isn’t that the point? Can’t we extend this kind of learning experience as a methodology to address the issues surrounding content development in MySpace and the immediate need to help kids understanding how content is created in a community?

Now I will agree that wikis need to be monitored in an educational setting…no problem there. I even like the password and invite thing….

But probably the most troublesome part of the presentation for me was the introduction of a matrix of wiki design patterns such as a micropedia, an FAQ, a consensus document, a branching story, a tree simulation, and an ant farm (?). The presenter does have some association with San Diego State, so developing a matrix might be predictable-it looks very similar to the attempt to categorize WebQuest types. Why categorize at all? Why is that necessary? Go back to my definition-it’s a place for kids to create collaborative content in response to an educational need or learning objective. Why do we have to create an ant farm? Perhaps this is an attempt to force wikis into a familiar and comfortable teacher zone….

The presenter mentioned that kids had issues with others editing their content. He asked them: Is it better? They said yes, so he responded by saying “get over it.” We’ve seen the same thing in our district-it’s a new way of writing, a new way of collaboration that kids are initially uncomfortable with.

Mr. McDowell then demonstrated the Holocaust Wiki project, where he provides the framework for the investigation, the wiki construction, and the 200 links to resources for their investigation.

As you can tell, I disagree with the interpretation of the educational application of wikis that Mr. McDowell has, although I think that anytime we introduce a tool like a wiki is generally a good thing. However, I think that the categorization and control of the learning process associated with the wikis as described in the presentation extracts the true spirit of what a wiki is and should be.

Tags: necc necc2006 necc06

2 Comments:

  • At 11:25 AM , Blogger dan said...

    Hi David, I felt I needed to respond to your commentary. Sorry if it ends up sounding defensive - perhaps I am a little defensive, but hopefully my post will explain why.

    My response is at my blog.

     
  • At 8:02 PM , Blogger David said...

    Dan: well said, an outstanding reply. You did not sound defensive at all, and given my post, you had every right to be. You articulated your points very well. Everyone should read Dan's post-it is reflective of a teacher who wants to do the best for his kids and school, and understands the reality of the situation.

     

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