Using a Wiki to Promote Educational Blogging
Steve Hargadon is a man with a mission. A blogger, computer entrepreneur and parent of four school-aged children, Hargadon recognized the potential of blogging as an educational tool, yet worried the hype over sites like MySpace was scaring some teachers away. So he decided to launch a website called SupportBlogging.com - and he’s using a wiki to allow educators to collaborate on it.
What is a wiki, you may ask? A wiki (the Hawaiian word for “quick”) is a type of website that allows anyone on the Internet to edit the content published on it. I don’t mean like a blog, where readers can submit comments. Wikis allow you to go alter all of the content that’s already on the website - edit it, add to it, even delete it.
On the face of it, wikis may sound like a publishing company’s nightmare - why on earth would they want to allow the public to alter the text of something that’s already been edited? Well, that’s because a wiki is intended to be a collaborative workspace - a place where a group of people can go online and work together to craft new content. The first person visiting a wiki may create an initial draft of a text. Subsequent visitors to the wiki can then read the original draft, comment on it, edit it, improve on it, or create new articles and pages of his or her own.
Wikis are often simple places where a small number of people are working collaboratively on a document. The other extreme are mega-wiki sites where thousands of people work together towards a common goal. The most famous example of this is Wikipedia, a project where people from all over the world are working together to create a multilingual online encyclopedia. (There’s so much to say about Wikipedia, I’m going to bite my tongue and save it for next week.)
In Steve Hargadon’s case, he’s embraced wikis as a way of putting together a website of educational blogging techniques and best practices. Yesterday he explained to me how he was inspired to create the site:
I was on a walk one night, thinking about the dialogue I had been reading about educational blogging and what a difference it has made to some teachers, and the reaction of those teachers to DOPA [the Deleting Online Predators Act) - scared and upset. I thought, what might really help is a site that thoughtfully describes the benefits of educational blogging that also respects the fears that parents and legislators have about the read-write web, and that could be contributed to by students, teachers, parents and others. And the phrase “supportblogging” came into my head. The next day, a Saturday, I reserved the domain name, set up a wiki on Wikispaces (worth a plug), and spent a few hours when I should have been doing yardwork just fleshing out what I thought would be a good structure for the site. I emailed a few folks who I knew who might be interested in contributing, and thought I’d just get the ball rolling. This was my way of contributing, since there are many others who are actually in the trenches and doing great work in the classroom and I could provide a vehicle for exposing that work to those who aren’t aware of it.
What I love about wikis is the fast and collaborative nature of building a website….There are also are many, many great teachers who are using blogging as part of their instructional work, and I’m hoping the site becomes both a place where they contribute by showcasing what they have done and to helping others get started. I’m also hoping some non-educational bloggers catch the bug and promote the site. They, more than any group, will have an understanding of how important it is to talk about the use of these technologies in education, since they use them so effectively in the “real” world.
For Hargadon, it’s important for educators to address blogging now, particularly given all the political pressure teachers are beginning to feel in terms of Internet safety and the appropriate role of online social networks.
I think we are at a crossroads with the read-write web and education. So much of significance is now happening in the blogosphere, and will be happening in the wikisphere, that we are going to want to make sure that these are tools our children are fluent in using, while at the same time respecting the dangers of the internet to children. I don’t think it’s a simple choice between turning the read-write web off or on for kids at schools. We have to realize how important it is to have the read-write web turned on for them for them to learn how to participate in these technologies in college and in the workplace. So if we can show, for example, how important blogging is as a technology and what a great difference it can make in helping students learn to write and to want to communicate effectively, then we can figure out how to do so while protecting them from the aspects of the Internet that concern us.
Even though SupportBlogging has only been online for a couple of weeks, it’s already got a surprising amount of information on it. Volunteers have started working on documents explaining educational blogging basics, tips on how to get started, testimonials and blogging resources. And because it’s a wiki, it’s always a work in progress. For example, if you go to the resources page and realize that a particular resource is missing, all you have to do is click the edit button and add it yourself. You don’t have to go through a bureaucratic process to submit the information - you just do it.
Of course, it’s no surprise that many wikis suffer from vandalism - and so far, SupportBlogging appears to be free of it. Fortunately, most wiki tools allow you to change your site’s settings so you can limit edits to a select group of people. But many wiki enthusiasts argue against this, saying that controlling who edits a wiki takes away from the collaborative, Jeffersonian nature of it. This has led to an online cultural debate where people try to balance freedom and collaboration with quality, verifiability and trust. Next week, I’ll talk more about this as I take a closer look at the mother of all wikis - Wikipedia.
Until then, I invite you to give it a try yourself. I’ve set up a wiki for learning.now readers to play with, using the free wiki tool Wikispaces. Try it out and see what it’s like - and let me know about the types of educational uses you can envision with it. -andy