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Using Wikis in U.S. II for the Interwar Period

October 19, 2010

As I work with Web 2.0 tools more and more I am learning more and more about them.  I am learning how to use them.  I am learning how to teach with them.  I am learning how to teach how to use them.  All of it is hard work, all of it seems daunting but in the end all of it is turning out to be worth it.  🙂

Here is the project sheet.  It may be long and wordy because I am still new to the project myself and quite possibly I need to see my thoughts on paper to best communicate to myself and my students what is going on.

Between the Wars

At first I was trying to just figure out where to begin.  What do they have to know in order to be able to create and shape this project with minimal frustration.  After some serious thought I felt that I would first introduce the project, their topics, research expectations and requirements and take their questions.

Second step was to explain to them how they need to create works that were not just plain encyclopedia articles, rather they were creating work that was interesting to read, had lively and interesting diction and incorporated media and images which enhance their work.  I left it entirely up to the group to democratically decide how the work would be presented on the Wikispaces page.  I am seeing some great things so far.

Third step was to allow them to do research, keeping track of where they were getting information so that it can be cited later.

Fourth step was to enlist my friend Marci Zane (mzane on Twitter) of the Instructional Media Center at Hunterdon Central to teach about copyright, Creative Commons, fair use and public domain.  We found that the best approach was to team teach it so it didn’t look like her instruction was separate and apart from mine, and that it carried as much weight and authority as my instruction does.  Marci created (and we used) this link as a learning aid.

The World of Copyright HCRHS Instructional Media Center

We started with Kid Rock’s PSA on stealing music (the first 25 seconds of the video is NOT classroom safe! You have to explain the gist of what he says in the first 25 seconds so the rest is in context.),  and it generated a great conversation.  We started with the question “What is Kid Rock saying?” and it went from there.

This experience was an eye opener for the students, for me and for Marci.  It was also enlightening for our staff and it’s going to be the genesis of some discussions we are going to have at school regarding instructing copyright.  Most students don’t fully understand copyright and what it means — and not because they don’t care — it’s because they haven’t been taught before.  Our discussions about Disney, downloading music, using file sharing services, etc. made us ALL realize how much copyright touches so many parts of our daily lives and we have to be educated on how to use works created by others.

Step 5 is where we are today.  After they got more research time and have some information and copyright safe/acceptable media it was time to populate the wikis.  So, last evening I sent the invitations to the students’ school issued email accounts and had them create the new accounts today.  We went over our school’s expectations for maintaining a safe environment on the Internet and the students used those guidelines to create appropriate screen names.

Here’s where it can get overwhelming.  Once they got in I had them tilt their laptop screens down to about a 45 degree angle and look at the LCD screen where I was working.  I walked them through the basic layout of the home page and then only showed them three things:

  1. How to create a new page.
  2. How to add and edit text.
  3. How to add and edit images.

It doesn’t seem like much when you look at that list, but it’s just the right amount when you are teaching a new tool.  And we often times assume that kids know how to operate in a wiki and make content, but in reality they don’t have those skills yet because their social media experiences are more on Facebook and Twitter — interfaces that you cannot change and create in the same way you can on a wiki.

Once I did that I had them get into their groups without computers and discuss the actual layout of the wiki —  how many pages, what is the structure going to be, etc.  I told them that they can have as many pages as they want but that they have to keep elements of good web design in mind:

  1. Integration of text and media for a pleasing appearance and in a good balance
  2. Good color tone to the text and background
  3. Pages of appropriate length
  4. An organized structure that isn’t too deep or complex

Then, I let them go.  As they were meeting I passed out paper copies of my How to Use Wikispaces guide to them for their reference.  My goal for them was to get text and images up on a page by the end of the block.  Next week we will learn how to link pages together (again seems so simple but you have to be careful not to overwhelm) as well as how to use some of the more advanced functions on the tool bar.

I am really excited to see how this turns out.  It’s been a learning experience for me and it will inform my practice of teaching in the future.  Through past experience with wikis last year and earlier this year I think I am starting to develop a smooth technique for teaching all of this.

As always comments and feedback are welcome!

Between the Wars Wiki Project Rubric

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