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August 20, 2007


Damian Bariexca

The more I read your blog, the more I'm convinced we share a brain. I was planning on using a wiki as the spine of my Sophomore English course this fall, with students working in teams to add to it periodically throughout the semester (block scheduling, classes don't run all year). I don't have any lessons learned yet, obviously, but I can share a bit of my thought process, just for comparison.

I'm thinking of moving more in the direction of using the wiki as a class portfolio of literary analysis, creative outlets (e.g., dramatic readings-as-podcasts), discussion of key points, and most importantly, research to demonstrate the connections between the literature and my student's lives, as well as the larger society in which we live. I guess I'm thinking of it like a digital bulletin board.

Like yours, my wiki is not intended as a replacement for more traditional forms of teaching & assessment; I just wanted to add a new dimension to a class I've been teaching for going on 8 years, several sections per year. I also like the idea of having this one project act as a "backbone" for the entire course, helping the students to draw connections across texts.

I really like wikis, and I think they can be valuable educational tools, but one must always be careful not to try to shoehorn every potential assessment into a wiki-shaped hole. With that in mind, I think my goals here are less tech-related than they might appear - I want my 15-year-olds to work well with one another. There's such a strong culture of competition at my school that I want them to be able to put that aside, at least temporarily, and work together toward a common goal. You don't need a wiki to accomplish that, but that just happens to be one of many tools I'll be using.

Sorry this was so long; I actually cut quite a bit out. Looking forward to comparing notes with you as the year moves on!

Carolyn Foote


I'm going to play devil's advocate here.

To me part of the value of using a wiki is the power of negotiated content, and student contribution and ownership--that's what can make it different than a website.

So, within the parameters that you've defined, what about a group of scribes (would you call that a flock?) that work together to post the content? The group can rotate weekly.

Even if you want to control the editing, that allows for the real force and power of the collaborative wiki page to emerge.

I have to say also, there's a part of me that wishes you were letting all students edit.

We've had very positive experiences at our campus with doing that, once they understand the use of the wiki. When we did ours(which admittedly was for one project, not the entire year), a group of students each had a page they were "in charge of." Seeing the group dynamics as they worked out responsibility for that was fascinating, and their ownership was evident.

Just some ideas to stir the pot a little ;)

Good luck!

Bill Seitz

The only thing that smells wrong to me is #3 because it takes away any refactoring that someone might do (e.g. edit multiple pages to use a new WikiWord relating to a theme that cross lots of pages).

Christian Long

Damian -- Many who have met me may advise that you not lay claim to the 2 of us sharing a brain (he smiles). Have to nod in the affirmative, however, that we seem to be swimming in similar idea waters, esp. with the clear connection course-wise.

I'll undoubtedly be borrowing your phrase: "backbone" for the course to better describe what I intend for the project to be from now 'til summer.

BTW, I really appreciate that you are focused on collaboration, not technology. The point is to use a wide range of tools from the traditional to the front-edge. No doubt the work you and your kids will do will be outstanding...and I'm definitely looking forward to working with you -- from afar - as time unfolds.


Carolyn: No need to play devil's advocate; we are actually thinking the very same thing!

Agree with you that the power of wiki's lies in the collaborative relationships and the "negotiations", as you described. And in an ideal world, this would be the starting point for my project (very much in 'beta' form today).

The reasons for not (yet) allowing mass/individual student editing are as follows:

1. This is a supplement to the course, not the primary vehicle or even a major assignment at first. Consider it merely an 'archive' at first with the opportunity to expand it over time in terms of 2-way authorship.

2. At this point, wikis are not part of the common tool set here at my school, which I have come to understand from a wide range of perspectives. Until we demonstrate a solid project in traditional terms, I'm not interested in 'change agency' for the sake of 'change agency'. Once the students and I begin to say, "Hey, would this be possible?", then we can expand our sense of how to author it. And then we can enter the 'edit' question with regards to getting buy-in from my colleagues and also the kids' parents with regards to the presumption of potential issues re: editing/access/passwords.

BTW, the "scribe" idea is being tested via having kids submitting their daily "big picture" ideas. Once they see the collection over time, I suspect that they will begin to consider quality and the larger pattern of ideas. Today, we have to work on far more than establishing what a wiki is, so I'm being patient...but having it part of our daily practice even if at only a fraction of what it can do.


Bill: No doubt that we'll miss the opportunity for "re-factoring" (as you said) with regards to tracking changes, but early on the point is not to validate the technology. Instead, it is to test the waters in a more traditional manner, explore the what-if's, to support what the kids need to know with/without the wiki, and then in time to talk about how 'editing' and collaboration begin to change the way we think, reflect, and produce work.

Keep in mind, what I described in my post is only the first step...but the horizon line remains in the corner of my eye at all times!

Carolyn Foote


I don't think of using a wiki as using technology for technology's sake, but more as the transformative power.

I understand the parameters you are working with or how you want things to unfold.

I also wanted to add, that I did wikis with teachers before anyone on our campus knew what they were. We just "did it" and then I publicized it once it went well.

And this year, after some collaborative ones, our staff use is growing by leaps and bounds. So I just wanted to throw out there, that one possibility, even given the staff, is to try it, and then take credit for it once it goes well ;)

HOpe you don't mind my comments or thinking through this aloud with you!

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