Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wiki: A Tool for Collaboration

Photo via flickr by susanvg
A Tool for Collaboration
Collaboration is an important component of 21st Century Learning.  Organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA) and International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) have recognized the role that collaboration plays in the world today.  ALA's Standards for the 21st Century Learner, state, "Learning is enhanced by opportunities to share and learn with others. Students need to develop skills in sharing knowledge and learning with others, both in face-to-face situations and through technology. " and ISTE's National Educational Technology Standards include an entire standard on communication and collaboration which includes the goal that, "Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others."

Although many Web 2.0 tools support collaboration, wikis do it in a different way.  When I began pushing myself to learn more about wikis, I came across this helpful site-Blogs, Wikis, and Google Docs- that explains the differences between several collaborative web tools.  Ironically, it is a wiki and it includes example of each tool's use.  Although they each support collaboration, wikis seem to be the perfect tool for collaborative project work.

My Personal Learning
Once again, I realized that when it comes to certain Web 2.0 tools, I am much more of a user/consumer than a creator/producer. This is very true of wikis for me.  In the past I have used wikis sporadically.  For the spring library course I took, one of our assignments was to create a group wiki on a particular topic dealing with libraries.  I have read wikis, gathered information from them and played with setting up various wikis. But wikis have not been a tool that I have relied on for anything important.

After watching the Common Craft video entitled Wikis in Plain English, I took the idea of using a wiki to plan a group trip and created one for our family in order to learn first hand how a wiki works. So, my husband and I created  
Our "Attractions" Page

A wiki made sense for this upcoming trip because the group of us that is going on the trip is spread out--my oldest daughter is away at college and her good friend (who is away at another college) is also joining us. I also thought it would be a good way to see everyone's wishes/plans in one place.  We have been to Disney before and we all have favorite things to do. Since this will be a shorter trip than usual, we'll need to plan carefully.  So, the wiki made sense and since its creation, the family is using it well.  Some family members are using it more than others (my 10 year old is very active as you can see!).  I imagine we will all use it differently at different times between now and the trip.  The tool allows us to create in a way that you don't know who added unless you want to.  Anyone who is part of the group can add a page--I added a page of links when I realized I had a link to share and nowhere to put it.  My husband added photos to other people's thoughts.  I imagine as the trip gets closer, we will add a page with more of a schedule--when do we want to do what, what are the reservations/times we have, etc?  I can also envision us using it after the trip to share photos, etc. although a Flickr group might be better for that. 

I do not see using a tool like this often in my personal life but I am glad that this project forced me to take a look at the ways I could use it in my personal life. By creating this wiki, using it myself, and watching my family utilize it, I learned quite a bit: 

*I learned that after a few days, you really couldn't tell who added what. This is an important component of this tool. If we are working toward true collaboration, no individual should "own" any part of a collaborative project. The whole group should feel that it was a joint effort.  This tool allows for that--we could add our names when and if needed but we didn't need to.

*I also learned that the users of a wiki need to be knowledgeable and willing to use a wiki. A wiki is only useful if the entire group is committed to it. Otherwise, the collaboration component is missing.

*The thing I learned that I am enjoying about the wiki is that it can become whatever we want or need it to become.  We can add or change the page based on our needs.  It is merely a place for us--a group of people who don't live in the same place--to collaborate and connect to plan.  It is meant to be changed to meet the changing needs of the group.

*This "History" piece (below) is a nice feature on wikis.  I know several teachers who use wikis because of this feature alone-they can go back and track students' changes in writing pieces. As a personal user, the history pages gave me a quick look at how people were using the wiki. I could see that this would be more important if the group were larger.

The "History" shows when and by whom changes to the page have been made.
*Wikis seem to be best used for short-term projects. I can't imagine using a wiki for a long period of time but it seems the perfect tool for a one-time collaboration. Planning a trip, planning a wedding, sharing ideas, designing a project all seem like great reasons to use a wiki but they are all short-term projects.  The wiki's purpose would be finished once the project was completed.  

My Professional Learning
As I reflect on my professional use of wikis, I tend to again be more of a consumer than a creator.  One of the first wikis that I ever spent much time with was Elementary Library Routines Wiki.   I loved the idea that many people had input into this wiki and that there were so many ideas from so many people around the world. I have always been hesitant to add to the wikis that are "open". I have worried that I am not truly an invited contributor so I just gather information and think about the things I would add if I thought I could.  After learning more about wikis and the reasons people create them, I realize that my fears were unfounded.  One of my goals is to add content to the webs that invite others to contribute.  It seems a bit more responsible now that I understand that wikis are truly designed in order to invite collaboration and contribution from multiple sources.

I also spent some time looking at wikis that went along with professional presentations that I heard over the summer. I had avoided looking at these for a while because I hadn't had time and figured they were only worthwhile if you had missed the sessions.  I was able to hear Kathy Cassidy at BLC10 in July but had never visited the wikis she shared along with her presentation.  I had expected the wikis to be a repeat of the presentation but was surprised to find that they seemed to create more information--or more information than I was able to remember from the presentations.  In Let's Do It:  Planning for Technology in the Primary Classroom, the three presenters collaborated to create a wiki that would support participants following the workshop. I was thrilled to not only see some of the content of the presentation but also links to the many tools that they had discussed.  I had visited their Slideshare of the workshop but the wiki contained the slides and so much more.   On their Reboot the 3 Rs Wiki, the links to tools and the embedded student samples were invaluable.  I realized, long removed from the workshop, how valuable these accompanying sites are as a participant. Going back to such detailed pieces of the presentation now, when I am using the information, was critical for me. The notes I took could not capture the things that were captured on the wiki.

This gave me many ideas for ways to begin to use wikis in my own professional work with teachers. I can see huge value in using a wiki to plan workshops collaboratively with others.  So many times when planning with colleagues, we chat over the phone and in passing and forget half of what we had planned. A Wiki would be a great place to collect and share thoughts in the planning stages and then support participants after the session.

I also see the benefits of a wiki for committee work. Whether working on curriculum planning, event planning, problem solving, book talking or data collecting, a wiki would give committee members a place to collect, share and collaborate. I am planning on suggesting a wiki for a committee I am on that plans an annual conference for teachers.  It would make sense to have a space that the committee can all utilize as both a consumer and contributor.

What Does This Means for Elementary Schools and Libraries?
Finding examples of wikis that share true collaboration was not easy. Wiki tools are being used for a variety of reasons but most seemed to be a collection of individual work for the purpose of sharing. The most common reason that I found for wikis in education was to share information with others.  Initially, I worried about the lack of true collaboration I was seeing on wikis.  However, I quickly realized that even if they wikis were used as  more of a sharing tool, they are incredibly valuable. As William Kist says in his book The Socially Networked Classroom, when discussing the value of literature circles and online sharing, "One of the main comments was that the 24/7 nature of the assignment allowed them to have time to think and craft their responses less quickly rather than try to come up with a meaningful comment in the middle of a hectic classroom period."(p. 86)  After reading this, I realized that the collaboration supported by having a site for 24/7 response invited a deeper kind of response from students. This would be true of many projects that utilize wikis.

One example of a wiki used to share information across spaces was the Global Read Aloud Project Wiki.  I had heard about the Global Read Aloud and had heard that there was a wiki about the project so I took the time to see what the group had been up to.  A wiki made total sense for this project as schools from around the world shared a read aloud book (The Little Prince) and also shared their responses.  The project intrigued me when I heard about it but since I didn't have a group of kids to participate with, I had lost track of it altogether. I took the time this week to see how the project had progressed and to see the types of things groups contributed.  From my exploring, it looked like people were more engaged with the wiki during the beginning of the book. The page in response to the first two chapters was my favorite.  There was such a variety of ways that classes shared their responses that I imagine conversations around each contribution were powerful.  I think the possibilities of a conversation via wiki are clear by looking at this particular page of response.

I also found several wikis that act as websites. I had thought that using a wiki as a website went against the purpose of the tool but then I read Carl Harvey's thoughts in The 21st Century Elementary Library Media Program, "Blogs and wikis might also be a format to consider to use when setting up a library media center website. The ease of use and ability to quickly update them could make the format a great choice as the set-up for a library media center web page." (p. 34)  One of my favorite uses of Wikispaces for a library media website is the Allen Centre's site at the Outram School.  I had used it as a website, learning about all of the great things that happen in the library. But I had never really considered the use of Wikispaces as the tool. After looking at it and understanding the tool a bit better, it makes perfect sense to use it to design a library website.

Kathy Cassidy designs wikis with her first graders. She created a wiki to gather ideas from other primary teachers on their use of Web 2.0 tools. I had heard about this site but had never taken the time to explore it.  This week, I spent time looking at the examples of the ways primary students were using wikis to support their learning. Most were submitted by Kathy Cassidy but there were a few examples from others.  The collection is a good one to see different ways that young students can use wikis in authentic ways.

One example of a wiki from her collection that shows true collaboration is a story that first graders wrote and invited others to contribute to as well. "Our Hockey Story" is a story in which students created one story together.  The other wiki that seemed like a great use of the tool was a wiki about a city called Geelong.  The site is a collaborative project by a group of 3rd and 4th graders to share their learning.

Looking at the student samples helped me to see the possibilities for our students.  

Before taking the time to think about the use of wikis and to look at examples of wikis, I thought I understood all they could do.  However, I am now able to see how many options wikis provide both personally and professionally.  They seem unique in several ways but the most important way is the way that they support true collaboration.  In Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching in a Digital World by Pam Berger and Sally Trexler state, "What sets them apart form other Web-Based tools is the potential they provide for collaboration. Content Is usually created by a number of authors, providing a variety of perspectives on the topic addressed. Wikis focus on authoring content, rather than just downloading existing content on the Web." (p. 96)

 I keep thinking about one of my favorite quotes from Dixie Lee Spiegel in Classroom Discussions--a quote that helped me realize the bigger goals I had for book talks and literature circles.  She says, "If talk is not collaborative, then it is not truly a discussion. It is reporting, with each participant presenting ideas without reference to the idea of others.  Discussion involves sharing ideas, listening to and and taking into consideration the perspectives of others, and working together to build meaning."  (p. 13)

For me, I wonder if wikis can do for online production what Spiegel's allowed me to do with talk.   The tool is built to invite true collaboration, not merely the sharing of content.  The act of creating a wiki together--contributing, revising, and producing content--can teach kids about collaboration in ways that other tools cannot.  If we truly believe that collaboration is an essential 21st Century skill, we cannot ignore this tool.


  1. I never thought about the collaboration piece before, but it would be a great way to write together. Several students this year are writing sequels to each other's pieces. Since the wiki is already in place, why not use it?

    Lots for me to think about. Thanks.

  2. I too enjoyed reading your piece on collaboration. Learning about these web 2.0 tools has shown me different ways collaboration can manifest and the power of it. It is amazing how connected we can be even with others accross the world! Thanks for adding to my thoughts.

  3. Franki:

    For sure wikis for collaboration--I see it as a powerful tool for literature circles--even at the elementary level. What a great way to keep dialogue going among students in an asynchronous means. Cheers!