The definition and background information on wikis I read with mounting excitement. I had not realized that our coursework was formatted in a wiki, but had several times wondered exactly what name the coursework’s form does have, as it is so perfectly suited to delivering the material–so when I learned its wiki identity, I was already inspired before I began, and nothing I read moving forward did anything but increase my enthusiasm. Especially exciting was the History factor, each previous version waiting there behind the most recent edit so the progress (or regress) of the collaboration can be followed…even watching the little demo about the camping trip was making me say, “OK–I see what this is for and how it could be used to great advantage, in school and out.”
Now I will be very harsh and judgmental, however: while the concept of wikis in the abstract was inspiring, actually looking at my quota of five wikis from the list dampened my enthusiasm considerably. I still find the concept to be full of potential. But when I viewed the student-driven wikis, my old fears about web 2.0’s potential pitfalls were awakened all over again.
In a nutshell: most of the spaces I looked at (and I know I need to read more and more wikis to make any sort of informed opinion–this is just at first blush, for this assignment) suffered, in my opinion, from a lack of teacher collaboration and bar-setting–i.e., kids left on their own had slipped to a level that didn’t continue to maximize the potential of the medium. I will give three examples–and in each case I emphasize that I think the IDEA for the wiki in question is wonderful, and that the teachers in question thought up imaginative and educationally-sound uses for the technology. Yet somehow, the result did not seem to me to live up to each wiki’s potential:
Discovery Utopias: This is an amazing idea–members of a sixth grade class work individually and in collaboration all year on what a utopia might be like, and also examine philosophical questions brought up by the concept of utopia. Some of the discussion at the outset is outstanding–growing, presumably, out of classroom discussion (and I would love to know if their teacher taught them Descartes, or if they simply arrived at Cartesian conclusions through their own mental investigations!). But as things went forward, the discussions sorely required a moderator. The last thread I read before sadly turning away was a discussion of how great it would be to set up a situation where their various utopias could vie for supremacy, with the winning utopia in any conflict taking over the defeated utopia…and since this is utopia, after all, you could have AS BIG AN ARMY AS YOU WANT! They finally agreed to limit their fighting forces to 1,000,000 soldiers per army, and may the best utopia win. There is no student malice here, no effort to undermine the purpose of the wiki or of the learning…it’s just a bunch of sixth graders needing an adult to to step in and explain why a utopia would have no need of an army. An adult post that suggested that students might want to do some investigation of modern-day attempts to create utopias, such as eco-villages, gated communities, etc., received not a single reply, while fighting-utopias comments had hundreds of hits.
Greetings from the World : This absolutely marvelous idea is, in fact, doing much of what its creator envisioned (furthering understanding by inviting students from all over the world to make representations of what life is like in their country), and it is not the wiki itself that I take issue with here–it is the “glogs” (web-created “posters” of digital information) that I have a problem with. I went to the link Glogster that allows you to create glogs, and was not moved or impressed–in fact, the opposite. This is the tool I like least of everything we have seen so far, simply because it seems to me that form so completely outstrips function–the sample student work on Glogster seemed 90% show and very little content, and it also seems that the form itself invites that–very small space, lots of bells and whistles, much ado about nothing. This seems to me to carry a seductive and undesirable message about the relative value of content and presentation. To me, this is technology that gets in the way of a good educational outcome.
Thousands Project: Another masterful idea–a “great question” posed to the world each month all year by a fifth grade class, seeking 1000 answers each month. But it would be REALLY REALLY GREAT if something in the form prevented the (eventually) numbing redundancy. Lists in answer to the question “What are you thankful for?” began thoughtfully, but soon were just one list after another repeating Godfamilyfriendshomefoodfreedomhealthpets, etc. Perhaps part of the power is just seeing that all people everywhere value the same things? But the few lists where people (adults) had taken the time to be more specific were so refreshing (“How my fish wiggles really really hard when I walk by, to remind me to feed him”). I am sure that a little more willingness on the part of the wiki’a creator to shape the accepted method of responding would quickly yield more thoughtful results–but that kind of shaping just seems to be taboo in web 2.0!
There just seems to me to be a flaw in the whole ethos of this work, which is the bedrock notion that student users of web 2.0 must have full ownership of their web 2.0 work. In a sense, I see that that is the point, and I also see that students must learn their standards through trial and error to some extent: i.e., if you and your friends make a wiki to study for your Scarlet Letter test and everyone gets a C- on the test, then it is probably self-evident that the wiki was ineffective as created, and they will work harder next time or else suffer the same fate again. But I also worry that there is an undercurrent in what I hear teachers saying about web 2.0 that implies that the simple fact that the students are collaborating is an end in itself–that buzz in the halls about history and math projects via web 2.0 is the desired outcome. I am just not there yet! The desired outcome is intellectual growth at a deep level, and mastery of material and skills.
At this point, I would say that I am completely convinced that a wiki can facilitate this, but have not yet seen an example of one actually doing so–and in the cases where it misses, I fear that the lack of growth and mastery may have actually been caused, or at least masked, by the excitement of the use and corollary mastery of the web 2.0 skills being employed.
Sorry! I sound like the naysayer of the summer, I know–but I do have growing ideas on how to use this technology at my school. Next blog!