Creating Authentic Learning Work Products — Wikis in the Classroom
Last year my Classical World (ancient Western Civilization) course was a 1:1 pilot class. My idea for authentic learning was for the students to add content to a Wikispaces.com wiki which shows what one will learn and do in the course. At the end of the course I was going to give the URL to our Counseling Services personnel to be included in next year’s Course of Studies so that kids interested in Classical World can see what happens in the class.
This is an authentic work because they are writing for a real audience with a real purpose — which also allows us to teach one of our major objectives with the 1:1 pilot — positive interactions on the Internet which lead to the development of a student’s own PLN. It also allows them to showcase their creativeness in unique and different ways. It’s a project I will be pursuing again in the future.
I wasn’t able to get it 100% off the ground last year through no one’s fault. In the first growing pains of the 1:1 project there was A TON of learning to do on all parts — and having never taught this technology before I had alot of personal growth to do. But, those awesomely exciting and very anxious days with this new technology and these new tools made teaching fun and allowed me to interact with my students as a student. They know just as much about this technology as we do, and many times they know more.
Suggestions for You
Creating a class wiki is cool and exciting. In fact Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers writes about it in his latest post “How to Do 11 Techy Things in the New School Year” What I took away from the experience is this:
- Try out wiki services that are out there to see which one you like. (Wikispaces, Wetpaint, PBworks are some that I am familiar with using)
- Discuss with school administration or your supervisor the district’s regulations/position on making wikis open to the public vs. keeping them closed and private. This will have to factor into what you plan to do and what your students’ final products will look like.
- Once you decide which one you are using, determine what you want to do with the wiki or what it’s purpose will be — you need to do this because it will guide you on how you lay it out.
- Physically, on paper, sketch out the structure of your wiki (whether it’s a drawing, word web type graphic organizer, an outline, etc.). Once you conceptually see this on paper it may be easier to assemble it and decide what students (or the public) can edit and create. BUT, if you don’t operate this way then skip this step.
- Put some content or samples on the wiki so that your students have a guide as to what they may be doing.
- Stress to the students that your example is just that — an example. Point out the essential features of your example that they must include in their work and use your best judgment in tightening or loosening the restrictions on how they accomplish your task.
- Before they log on or create accounts:
- Set the ground rules. A good rule of thumb is to tell them that the rules they follow on campus, etc. must be followed on the wiki. You will need to check with your school district administration or supervisor before you get to this step. But, it’s the most familiar framework for your students.
- Set guidelines for user names. I tell my students that their user names on a site that is going to be potentially public should in no way identify them as individuals. And you need to tell them that they have to be “school-rated”. Also, your student may have user names. It’s up to you if you want them to create a new account — but before you do ask yourself if it truly matters that the kid have another account unique to your class.
- Find out who does not have Internet access at home. If a student does not you will need to work out something with him or her which will allow for participation on the wiki.
- Plan to spend at least 1-2 days just teaching the technology. Inquiry based learning and project based learning lends itself to less is more. And for the kids to ultimately be successful and enjoy the project they have to be comfortable using the technology. Think about what your reaction would be if someone quickly went through a new tech tool and then told you to produce your magnum opus on it!
- BE FLEXIBLE, BE FLEXIBLE, BE FLEXIBLE.
- REMIND STUDENTS TO FREQUENTLY SAVE THEIR WORK! Sometimes 20 minutes worth of work can disappear if they accidentally hit “Back” in the browser or navigate to a different site. I’ve seen it happen, and it’s not good because there’s nothing you can do about it.
- Learn with the students, and use them as resources to help their peers with the functionality of the site. Students are eager to assist, especially when they realize that the teacher-student roles have switched.
- Have clear expectations for what their work process and work products are. Evaluating their process and product formatively is also highly recommended in my experience.
Please feel free to comment on what I have done and on my suggestions. By no means do I have all the right answers, and if you disagree with anything I have to say I am very interested to hear and learn from you.