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.
The Journey of a T-shirt team called in from Ontario, Canada, dressed in matching white T-shirts in honor of their completed project. I took the call in my San Francisco living room (in a green sweater, and feeling a little underdressed, considering.)
Note: Due to a technical glitch, I lost the recording of the first half of this interview. The Journey of a T-shirt team was kind enough to help me recreate the transcript via email.
Jennifer: The original assignments were from two separate classes, Technology and Social Studies, at our Teacher Education Faculty in Hamilton, Ontario. The first was a unit that was created using the Grade 6 Ontario Social Studies Curriculum, that focused on international trade, Canada’s links to the world, and Social justice issues within trade. We had to present this unit in an interesting way and were encouraged by both of our instructors to integrate the assignment. Our Technology course required us to present an ebook at first, outlining somewhat of a story using PowerPoint. We decided that presenting our unit through an ebook and PowerPoint did not fit what we wanted our presentation to look like, so we decided to use the wiki instead.
Was this your first introduction to social media?
Marsha: This was definitely our first introduction to Wikispaces and the notion of using forms of social media in the education profession. The four of us were enrolled in a “technology in education” course at our faculty, and this was where we were really introduced to Twitter, Wikispaces, blogging, and other Web 2.0 tools.
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!
I noticed that you went quickly from opening your accounts to announcing your completed wiki. What kind of planning did you do before you even started?
Rachel: As part of our IT course, we were all required to open Twitter accounts and we were encouraged to use it as a way to connect and collaborate with other educators. We were all very excited about our completed wiki so we decided to "tweet" about it. The fact that you found us through Twitter demonstrates first-hand the power of Web 2.0 tools and how effective they are for connecting and sharing with others around the globe.
Jessica: We were also on a time constraint to finish our projects. We had most of it completed in word processing documents and so it was easy to copy and paste our work and then simply re-work the formatting in Wikispaces. It really didn’t take us long to put it online once we did all of the hard work planning and creating the unit.
Jennifer: Our Tech instructor had a Wikispace already created as a course outline and online resource for assignments, so we had spent a lot of time navigating through her wiki to get an idea of how it could be organized. Also, it was a lot of trial and error that we had to go through, just to see how the Wikispace worked, what things looked like on the page and what we could include from our unit.
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!
Jennifer: We were all so excited, going through it: “Did you add this? Did you add that? Look at this, it looks so great!”
Jessica: “Did you see how you can embed this, and play with these fonts?”
My next question, which you’ve already answered a bit, is if you’ll be integrating wikis and Wikispaces and Web 2.0 tools in your own classrooms as you go forward with your careers?
Jessica: Oh, definitely, Yeah.
Do you want to talk a little bit about integrating technology in education, versus traditional educational tools?
Jessica: I think a lot of it is based on the school. It becomes really difficult when the school isn’t equipped with technology and when— if you’re in a community that is accepting of the idea of integrating technology, I think that that just allows so much growth for your students. I know that in the place where I’ve recently been in, a school in Oakville, they were fairly technology savvy, and I was able to use smart boards and integrate the Wikispaces. I showed Prezis in my class, as well as some other technology tools on the Web, and it just grabbed the kids’ attention like no other. It was incredible to see them so engaged — and fairly consistently, especially from grade 8 students, too, who might tune out after a while. It was really cool to see their level of excitement when something touches them, as a 21st-century learner, on their level.
Jennifer: And I think, too, with traditional education, when you think of online games and Web tools and, you know, doing things like this with technology, that it’s not “educational,” and that it’s more just fun, and you’re playing online. But we learned that there are tons of games and tools and resources online, and even just different technological tools that you can use in you classroom that are educational, depending on how you use them and what you want the kids to get out of it. And what we learned, most importantly, by incorporating those things, is putting them into practice effectively and with the right intentions, giving the student limitations and expectations of what you want them to use with it, and then it will be educational. It will benefit them. And it just makes learning fun.
Marsha: We also talked a lot about the practicality of doing this technology integration in some of the older schools. And, in an ideal situation, it would be amazing to have a classroom of students with laptops in front of them, with the technology right there for them to use. But what we realized was that, if that’s not there, if the teacher themselves is able to use the technology and enhance their own lessons using the technology and really get that up-to-date research or be able to pull in a projector for YouTube videos once in a while, that’s almost enough sometimes when you are just working with what you have.
Very cool. So, just to round it out, if there’s a piece of advice that you could give to other educational student and other educators out there about getting started with Web 2.0 tools and social media, what advice would you give?
Jennifer: Do it!
Marsha: Yeah! Just jump in.
Jessica: It expands, and grows. And if it’s enhancing your learning, it will enhance your students’ that much more. So if you’re learning from it and enjoying it, then imagine what the students will get from it.
Jennifer: This is the way that education is going now. Education is incorporating technology, and it’s current, it’s relevant, so it’s important to try. And you don’t know if it’s going to work until you’ve tried.
Marsha: And don’t expect it to be the same experience that someone else had, because you go in, and it’s all trial and error. Does this work, and does that work, and we found that the best way to learn was to play with things ourselves instead of having the instructor sit beside us and set everything up for us, it was so much more, “See what works for you.”
Jessica: Because not everything works in your classroom, with your kids. It’s not going to be the same everywhere, but there will always be something that you can use — something that will enhance their learning. I think those are some of the things we felt were most important for us.
Rachel: For some of the assignments she had step-by-step instructions for us, but I think we all found that it was easier to just get in there and experiment, rather than follow those steps.
Listen to the last half of this interview.