Jessica Sullivan teaches high school Biology and serves as Science Department Head at Escuela Campo Alegre, the American International school of Caracas, Venezuela. Escuela Campo Alegre is a small (600 students) Pre-K through 12th grade English language international school primarily serving the children of expatriate families working for diplomatic agencies and international corporations. The students at Escuela Campo Alegre (ECA) come from 40 different countries and the teaching faculty represents 12 different nationalities. ECA is a one-to-one laptop school for grades 6-12, employs three full time curriculum technology integration specialists, and provides ongoing support and training in technology for the faculty. It also utilizes Wikispaces Campus service, a school-wide wiki solution providing wikis and accounts for teachers and students. Jessica has presented her work on designing course websites to international teachers in Venezuela and Argentina. In March she heads to Sao Paulo, Brazil for the Association of American Schools in South America to present Twitter Basics for Teachers: Using Twitter to Engage Students and Build Class Community. Follow Jessica on Twitter https://twitter.com/sullyteachbio!
Hello from Caracas, Venezuela! I teach International Baccalaureate Biology at Escuela Campo Alegre to a diverse group of students from around the world. ECA uses Wikispaces as our web platform to communicate with students and parents as well as our virtual learning portal during both planned and unexpected school closures. I began using Wikispaces in October of 2010 during my first year at ECA. Teachers at ECA had previously been expected to have a website for their courses, but there was not a common webhosting service or format required. As part of our transition to a more unified digital front and in preparation for anticipated school closures, we all moved to Wikispaces Campus during the fall semester of 2010.
I wanted to create an online space that was an effective communication tool with students and parents and a planning and organization system for myself. Through my own trial and error I developed a working infrastructure that supported student learning and made my life as a teacher a bit easier. Below I have outlined key elements of my Wiki organization as a tool for both my students and myself.
Effective Use of Homepage Prime Real Estate
Like many teachers, I didn’t know what to do with the white space in the center of my newly assigned wiki. I tried several different things at first and ended up going with the most important content (links to course unit pages) and the most engaging widget (embedded our Twitter newsfeed). Your homepage should engage your students and lead them right to the most important content – which for me is their class work and homework for the day.
Appropriate Use of Side Navigation Bar
I list links that students may need to access from any page on the wiki on the side navigation bar. These include links to General Resources, IB Biology Exam Preparation, and Advisory Information. Some teachers may prefer to include course links on the side navigation bar and put multimedia content in the main space of the homepage. That would work too – but for me I have found it easiest for students to navigate to and access content information in the center of the main page.
Course Organization by Unit
I began organizing my wiki pages by unit for each of my classes to decrease the amount of content on each page. Pages kept getting longer as I kept adding the day’s class work and homework. As I switched to organizing content not only by course but also by unit of study, I realized a few unexpected benefits. The main one was that the unit page became both a record and a template for lesson planning for future semesters. It also became a contextualized hub for bookmarking links, documents and animations. Seeing a list of units on the homepage overwhelmed some students, so just this year I began highlighting the current unit so the students know exactly where to go for their course information.
Tables, Tables and More Tables!
I found the insert table function to be incredibly valuable in organizing the content of my Wiki. By putting content in rows and columns I made better use of the space available across the wiki page. It is also much easier for students to located content in a table format. In fact, when I began working on my Wiki and before I sharing it with students, I asked my students which teachers had the best Wikis on campus. All of the teachers that the students mentioned had the daily class work and homework organized into a table. Now I use tables not only for the class work and homework calendar but also for organization of course units, links and IB Biology resources.
Favorite Embedded Widgets
My favorite widgets are the Google countdown clock and the embedded Twitter feed. I teach IB Biology which culminates in a series of exams for the International Baccalaureate diploma during May of the students’ senior year. I keep a countdown clock on the homepage of the wiki to keep students on their toes and focused on our goal…arriving prepared for the IB Biology exam!
The embedded Twitter feed keeps students engaged with the pictures, reminders, announcements and supplemental course links that I post via Twitter. Students are already inundated with social media notifications and updates so having all of my @sullyteachbio content in one place makes sure my tweets get to their intended audience in a timely manner.
As with all things in a teaching, wiki design is a work in progress – it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time, it just has to work a little better than what you were doing before. Keep making small improvements as you learn what works and your Wiki will evolve to be a helpful tool for both you and your students.
I hope this helps you in your quest to build a wiki that works for you and your students. Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or @sullyteachbio – let’s keep the conversation going!