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SLF08 – Wikis Part 1

September 28, 2008

I delivered my first seminar at the Scottish Learning Festival this week. It appears to have gone down well, and as promised, here are my thoughts on what I said.

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.

Learning Intentions

aifltrafficlights.pngWith 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.

literacy |ˈlɪt(ə)rəsi|

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.

End of Part 1 – Coming Next -> Wiki examples and thoughts…

Feel free to post comments and thoughts

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Dorothy permalink
    September 28, 2008 9:38 am

    Great slides Neil. Looking forward to hearing the audio. I wish I’d been at your session instead of the one I chose! Big mistake!

  2. September 28, 2008 9:52 am

    Thanks Dorothy. You’re not the only one waiting to hear the audio… not least because I always worry I might have said something I shouldn’t have! 😉

    I’ll get part two up later today, but I’ve got to go to Kirkaldy for a rugby match first!

  3. September 28, 2008 12:00 pm

    How do you see this developing with the onward march of GLOW into your authority Neil ?
    Are they complementary or will they clash do you think, or can you use the best of both worlds?
    I saw the Finns using uch the same approach as you – would you have your wiki’s displayed as web pages in your GLOW groups perhaps ?

  4. Sarah Duffy permalink
    September 28, 2008 1:17 pm

    Sounds like you did yourself proud and gave wikis an excellent promotion. I must get blogging again and put out some of the ideas that I have been having whilst out my daily walk. With regards to Jaye’s comment can you confirm or quash the rumour that P and K are not signing up to glow?

  5. September 28, 2008 1:19 pm

    Sarah- all 32 LA’s are now signed up to GLOW ! at last…

  6. September 28, 2008 4:07 pm

    @Jaye: Definitely best of both worlds for the time being. It’s a fairly open secret now that Glow2.0 is being discussed and, based on some conversations I’ve had with people who know about these things, there is every likelihood that Glow2.0 will have a wiki engine built in. I for one hope so.

    There is always going to be room for different tools. One thing I am keen to develop is the use of wikis for more international collaboration (Sarah Duffy has already made some steps in this direction), and this may be a place where Glow will be unable to help. Any form of Wiki engine within Glow will, by its very nature, be unavailable to anyone without a Glow login… but I may be wrong about that. Interesting thoughts!

    @Sarah: As Jaye has already said, we are definitely signed up. The PKC mentors are getting their training in November, and then it’s full steam ahead…

    BTW: Get ready to have burning ears as I’m going to have to say really nice things about you in part two of my write up!

  7. September 28, 2008 5:56 pm

    This looks great Neil – really looking forward to the audio. Great to see you last week. Ollie

  8. September 28, 2008 6:48 pm

    Thanks Ollie,
    The real interest is in the online stuff that I’ll be covering in part 2.

  9. September 28, 2008 11:27 pm

    Neil, excellent seminar. Loads to think about, in particular, where I can support staff that could use wikis. Best presentation I saw at SLF08 by far.

    On the other hand, I’m assuming that my authority filter will have blocked all of the possible wiki sites.

    And while it is horrible standing up in front of your peers, your enthusiasm was so infectious that I believe everybody actually enjoyed themselves!

  10. September 29, 2008 5:28 am

    @Jen: Your best bet is to try out the wiki sites. They are still not as blocked as you might think (though it does vary from authority to authority). This is the point I was trying to make to the Cabinet Secretary in my question to her, and will be the subject of a future blog post!

    And thank you for the comments on my performance… it’s one thing to think about speaking in February when we put forward our proposals. It’s quite another to find yourself standing outside a hotel in Hope Street looking for wifi at 4:30am because you need to download some images for your presentation because the wifi in your own hotel isn’t working… Next year, I’m not changing anything in my presentation in the 24 hours preceding it!

  11. Ailsa permalink
    September 29, 2008 8:40 pm

    I really enjoyed your presentation at SLF 08. I have already set up 2 wikis but with different things in mind. Look forward to hearing what Sarah is up to re. international links, as one of my wikis links pupils on two remote Orkney islands.

    Since seeing what your pupils have been doing in their wikis, I am now about to launch a simple Minibeast adventure story, where pupils write the story collaboratively. If we get very carried away, we’ll have options, just as you had in the Caves Of Mull.

    Thanks for inspiring me – can’t wait for Part 2 to be posted.

  12. Jen permalink
    September 29, 2008 10:24 pm

    I manage the school blog and it was blocked recently, to my horror. To be fair, a new filter was being tested and it was unblocked quite quickly.

    On the other hand, the filter’s reason for blocking the site was “social networking”, which suggests they’ll block anything which allows two way communication really. has been blocked for ages.

    I will try the various sites on Tuesday though, cos I’ve got a few ideas. Just need to persuade the teaching staff!

  13. September 30, 2008 3:43 pm

    @Ailsa: Part 2 is up… hope it gives you things to think about. Please ask any questions you may have, I’m always happy to answer.

  14. September 30, 2008 3:45 pm

    @Jen: Good luck! I ended up finishing my next post by pointing out a discrepancy in our approach to filtering. This is an issue that just keeps recurring…

  15. October 1, 2008 4:00 am

    Neil … wonderful ideas and a gorgeous slide deck. You are doing some excellent work, and thanks so much for sharing it.

    All the best!

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