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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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June192006

Using a Wiki to Promote Educational Blogging

Steve Hargadon pictureSteve 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

Filed under : Cool Tools, Websites, Wikis

Responses

I am a library science student & discovered your site (great work, by the way!) while taking an instructional technology class. I just wanted to let you know about a best practices wiki created for the library world that I have found to be a really rich personal, professional, and community resource. The wiki is called “Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki” & the address is: http://www.libsuccess.org (sorry I don’t know how to link here). I have not contributed yet myself, but am very thankful to all who have!
Good luck on your wiki endeavors and thanks for all of the great information.

I use wikis to teach extensively in my classroom and it has created a more exciting, stimulating environment. We have used the wikispaces environment also. Although we’re out for school, you can see our wikispace at http://westwood.wikispaces.com. The students love it and it is a great way to teach. (I talk about it on my blog.

Although I teach at a private school, I am very worried that such useful technologies will be blocked at our public schools just when we need tools such as this to stimulate engagement of students!

This is a great article and is very informational for those just learning about the technology. I have contributed along with Steve to the support blogging wiki and we appreciate your getting the word out! We have simply got to counterbalance the world of misinformation and scare tactics that could harm the future of education if access to these tools are limited.

One interesting observation I have is that we see knowledge being delivered to a users without the user’s requesting for it. One such technology is the use of Google Desktop which constantly display new information to a user.

There are wiki sites now which combined Wiki and Google Desktop, for example, www.wikiquickfacts.com,
provides Google Gadgets which will periodically displays short articles in “flashcards” format to your desktop. So that means that a user will receive a large array of categories of information without actively asking for them.

While I think www.wikiquickfacts.com
is a really useful tool for learning, there may be a concern where children will learn things that are not mean for them yet?

Your thoughts?

I think it all depends on how the tool is set up. If it’s just throwing out random facts, that’s not very useful. But if it’s very tailored to pull content specifically related to what a student is studying over a period of time, that could be a very powerful resource. But I haven’t studied this specific tool yet so I can’t really comment further just yet. -andy

Actually, WikiQuickFacts allows you to select specific categories and so people can pick and choose.

I do think that even random categories could be useful because you can broaden your horizon and learn things you never known exists.

But if it’s used in a classroom where a teacher has daily goals to meet, it could prove to be a distraction. It just depends on the context.

Just set up a wiki for my high school classroom. Edutopia had a great article about the uses of wikis in education. The article can be read online @ http://www.edutopia.org/php/article.php?id=Art_1756&key=137
Enjoy!!!

I’d like to use Wikispaces for a collaborative project with 4 classes of about 25 fifth grade students in each class but I dread the thought of creating usernames ansd passwords for each student (100) to access my Wiki. Any way around this?

Hi Mary,
I’ve been using wikispaces for two years and their support staff have always been willing to set up accounts for all my students. Just email (help@wikispaces.com) them your preferred usernames and passwords in the required format (i.e. user1,password1
user2,password2).

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