Are wikis really scary, or are we forgetting how we should teach?

I’m sure this sort of thing has been posted a million times in the Edu-sphere, but I’ve got to add my tuppence worth of amazed shock. I’ve been at some interesting discussions over the last few days about a new county-wide initiative, and about my new role as an SSAT Lead Practitioner.

At both I’ve been faced with gasps and horror when I suggested that we might like to use blogs and wikis with our students. In today’s meeting a senior, experienced and genuinely ‘learning focussed’ consultant asked me ‘why would you want to use a wiki with students?’.

This wouldn’t have been such an odd question if he wasn’t touting something quite as state of the art as he was (more details later I hope) in terms of educational technology. It was also shocking because his opposition was entirely based on the fact that ‘the students can put anything they like on there’.

I kinda thought that was the point – that they can direct and inform their own learning journey. I pointed this out, and the fact that students who used the tool inappropriately can easily be tracked and their privileges to use it withdrawn. The discussion moved on, and I thought I’d made a good point.

Tonight though, after some thought and a discussion about the wiki work I’m doing with Jane Shuyska on her research into the use of wikis in the classroom, I think there’s more to it – it comes down to pedagogy. Not merely the high falutin stuff about constructivism and enabling students to ‘name the world’, but the plain old fashioned stuff like designing suitable activities and tasks, feed back on work done, and last but not least, classroom management real, or virtual. Kids can write anything in a wiki. They can also write ‘anything’ in their exercise books, or on textbooks, or on the walls of your classroom, but we don’t let them. Neither should we allow ourselves to be in the situation where we’ve devolved so much responsibility for learning to computers, that we have no influence over the behaviour of our students online.

This means having new in-class routines such as; having offline work ready for those not co-operating or misusing these opportunities; asking students to log in as they arrive but then to turn off their monitors so that they can engage in a starter; or developing key-phrases that ensure attention is diverted from screens so that whole class teaching can continue.

It also means new forms of activity that don’t merely end up as glorified ‘webquests’ that students can ‘get on with’ as you mark work at the front desk. Online learning could be the starter, it could be a way of communicating between groups, it could be a away of refining and recording in a plenary – now that more and more computers and computer like technology is finding its way into ‘normal’ classrooms, we don’t have to justify a trip to the computer lab by making the lab-rats sit at their screens for the whole lesson – we can plan to use the ict when it’s most appropriate.

This, of course, means that each of us will plan different activities, with as many models as there are subjects and topics in the field of human knowledge (a few then). It does mean though that we must plan. Working with a temporary wiki might provide great opportunites for students to learn about factors in the development of medicine, or that doing a voice over for a video about the execution of Charles I, but each of us, individually, is going to have to work out for ourselves and our students what these opportunities are.


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