On a chilly morning in December, I met with Marsha Pritchard, Jennifer Glanfield, Jessica Garvey, and Rachel Telzer via Skype. This team is responsible for the JourneyofaTshirt wiki, an online unit that they built to satisfy a pair of assignments from two classes at their Teacher Education Faculty in Hamilton, Ontario. Despite their busy end-of-term schedules, they were able to squeeze in a little time to discuss their wiki and share their views on the developing role of Web 2.0 in social media in education.
This is a fragment of that interview. You can find the rest here.
What were some of the other options you looked at, and what made you decide on a wiki?
Marsha: When we were given the assignment of creating a Social Studies unit, there was no requirement to utilize Wikispaces for its final presentation; this was simply a paper assignment. However, as we began to work on the project, we needed a way to share ideas, and work on pulling the assignment together without meeting in person as we all lived a distance away from each other. We began by using Google Docs as a way to collaborate on the lesson plans, and even considered submitting our assignment in this form. However, we ran into problems of formatting, and decided that Google Docs was not the most professional and effective way to share our unit with other educators. With some encouragement, we decided to try out Wikispaces, and were immediately pleased with how user-friendly and professional it was. We had also considered using our personal blogs, however we found them restricting and they didn’t meet the “self-contained” layout that we desired.
Jessica: We also looked at using our blogs to post our unit but found it wasn’t a great way to organize the information. That’s where Wikispaces stepped in. It allowed us to look professional and organize our work collaboratively. We also tried using our faculty’s learning network but found that was again an unideal environment to share the work. We wanted to reach more educators than only those in our faculty and within the first week of our unit being posted, we had other universities’ and your own recognition!
Once you did get started, what obstacles did you run into? How did you overcome them? How did the finished product differ from your original plans?
Marsha: Since our original project was just to be handed in on paper, the final product was vastly different than anything that we could have expected. With the tight deadline that we had to complete the project we had to work efficiently, and I think that this is what we can attribute the simple yet effective nature of our Wikispace to.
Rachel: I think our biggest challenge was that it was new to all of us. I have to admit that when it was first suggested to put our final product on Wikispaces, I was a little apprehensive. I just thought we were creating more work for ourselves. However I quickly discovered that Wikispaces is very user-friendly and we were able to post our entire unit plan very quickly. We had originally planned to include an interactive ebook in our wiki, however we encountered some difficulties when trying to embed it.
Jessica: We used a lot of trial and error and self-exploration in creating our Wikispace. For educators, this was something new we hadn’t been exposed to before, but as Rachel mentioned, we were really all quite pleased by the user-friendly nature of Wikispaces. It was easy to explore the options Wikispaces provided and it actually allowed us to enhance our unit in ways we never thought possible before.
What did you learn from the project?
Marsha: We learned so much for this experience beyond just how to create a unit of study. By jumping right in and being willing to try new things, we really discovered the value of technology in education and one’s own professional development. Now that we have each had experience with creating Wikispaces, we have been able to implement them in a practical way in the classroom and have experimented with its many uses.
Jennifer: Ultimately, we learned a lot about student potential. Many times we are told to consider whether an assignment or learning task is at level for our students and whether or not they would be able to successfully complete it. We looked at a lot of social justice issues within our unit and spent a lot of time talking about how we could get students at a Grade 6 level to understand and connect with these issues (such as child labour, fair trade). It is important to always think that your students CAN do it, with the right support and resources provided by the teacher, nothing is out of reach for them!
Jessica: Absolutely. We were able to cater “real-world” issues to our students. Using a backward design model and technology integration, we found we could truly engage and reach students at a more meaningful level. We have been taught that students need to be taught in ways such that they can recognize the capacity for their learning in the classroom to relate to learning outside of the class, and this unit has been designed to do just that. Hopefully, students will recognize their potential as advocates for greater social issues outside of the classroom as well — as the technology integration only engages our students and develops their skills as 21st century learners even more. Not having integrated vast amounts of technology before, we have realized its potential as educators through the power of collaboration and its use for professional development and its power for our students and their continued learning.
Jennifer: And I think, once we started doing it, and seeing the ways that we could approach these topics through hands-on learning and child-friendly technology, that it isn’t too much for them, and you can never push your students too far. They are capable of it, if you use the right tools and resources to get them there.
Rachel: And, just on a personal note from me, I’m probably the least tech-savvy of the group. And when it was brought up, I was like, “Oh no! More work!” But I quickly realized that it’s such a user-friendly way to get the information out there, and it wasn’t more work. It was quite easy.
Jessica: It was fun, and exciting!