SLF08 – Wikis Part 1
Some of the slides I used are available on Slideshare, and the audio will be available soon on the Learning & Teaching Scotland site so I hope you’ll be able to get a flavour of what my session was about.
The full title of my session was: Using Wikis to develop the four capacities of A Curriculum for Excellence and improve literacy — an ambitious sounding title, but I have been impressed at the focus that wiki use can give to pupils’ writing. I also need to state that wikis are not the answer to everything, but are a very effective tool to enhance classroom opportunities.
I opened by using my Four Slides entry (slides 3-6) as it is (I hope) a great way of giving a brief background to who I am. I also hope it shows how one can tell a lot of information in only four slides… and as such, might be a good classroom exercise for pupils.
With the introduction to me over, I outlined the Learning Intentions (slide 7) and Success Criteria (slide 8) for the session (once a teacher, always a teacher). I used a graphic from Vladstudio which I think is a fun indicator of the AifL traffic lights. I then followed up by giving a very brief history of communication leading up to the exponential boom in technologies for communicating. The graphic I used is taken from a slide that Hans Leganger of Stovner School used at last year’s eLive07 event in Edinburgh. My version is slide 11 on Slideshare (above) and my ‘live’ version has 1742 moving parts! What I hope the graphic shows is that, not only is the rate of change increasing, but the ways and means we communicate is also changing: as such, our traditional definition of literacy needs to be looked at very closely.
The Networked Web2.0 Teacher
This is the idea I addressed with Alec Couros‘ excellent slides of the teacher network and the networked teacher (slides 14 & 16) that I used to illustrate the difference between Web1.0 and Web2.0. In essence, as teachers (and especially English teachers), we are interested in how language is used to communicate. We look at how language is constructed to convey meaning, emotion and ideas. Hence the reason we look at poetry and prose and drama and non-fiction texts. What has profoundly changed is that everyone can now have a voice. This blog post is not really a single statement: it is an invitation for discussion. Wikis are a collaborative statement which allow lots of people to work together as a means of communicating. I have come to realise how they can be an immensely empowering tool for pupils. They are given the means of communicating with — not just their peers and the teacher, but — the ‘real world’ as well.
One aspect of Alec Couros’ slides that should make most teachers wary is the one-way nature of ‘Curriculum documents’. In Couros’ slides, these are one way for the teacher network as well as the networked teacher, however, I believe there is an encouraging transition taking place in Scottish Education. A Curriculum for Excellence has had the most extensive and open consultation of any curriculum documents that I have encountered in my 17 years teaching. Indeed, right from the outset, ACfE has invited classroom teachers to seize the initiative and has gone a long way to allowing them to try new things and set the agenda. This is an unusual place for many teachers to be. They have had years of being told what to do, so it is perhaps not surprising that so many are reluctant to grasp the opportunities and the initiative…
Wiki! Wiki! Wiki!
Having illustrated the phantasmagoria of Web2.0 tools that are available, I started to focus more clearly on wikis by talking about the wiki that most people have heard of: Wikipedia (slides 18-24). Earlier this year I was on a training course and, when one of the trainers mentioned Wikipedia, another attendee remarked loudly that Wikipedia was inaccurate and therefore worthless. This comment always annoys me because it demonstrates a real lack of understanding of how Wikipedia (and wikis in general) work, and it also demonstrates an acceptance of the printed word that is, quite frankly, unwarranted. Nature magazine carried out an accuracy comparison between Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. The results showed that there were no significant differences in the two sources… but more importantly, they great strength and beauty of wikis is that they can be edited. What my colleague failed to realise is that, if he spots an inaccurate entry on Wikipedia, he can fix it. This is one of the key strengths of wikis and one that I and my classes exploit when we are working online. I try to encourage the pupils to see themselves as editors. If they spot a mistake, they can fix it. I always try to remember that we learn best by doing and so encourage the pupils to read and correct others’ writing as well as their own.
I was lucky enough to attend Yasmin Ashby and David Miller‘s seminar on Literacy and English within Curriculum for Excellence on Wednesday. Quite apart from David’s superb Active Poetry lesson, Yasmin highlighted the definition of Literacy from the Literacy and English cover paper 2008. I used this as the basis for slide 25, and drew particular attention to the notion that literacy is related to language that “society values and finds useful”. Put simply, Wikipedia is a source that is obviously valued and useful, hence its web ranking. As teachers, we cannot afford to dismiss Wikipedia but we should be teaching pupils how to read it and cross reference it and edit it if it is found wanting.
This lead me into the real meat of my seminar, namely the wikis being produced by the pupils in my school. I explained why we were using Wikispaces (simple to use and advert-free for K-12 education), before quickly looking at the four capacities (slide 32) of Curriculum for Excellence. After that, it was time to go online and see what the pupils have been doing.