Business as a Classroom

Erin Connery joined the Wikispaces team recently as our Operations Manager. Be sure to tell him hello below and stay tuned for more thoughts from our new team members over the coming months.

I studied social innovation at Babson College and much of my education focused on entrepreneurship and social responsibility. After graduating I worked at a corporate social responsibility consultancy for three years. Our team comprised of entrepreneurs and academics and served as one of many parts working to improve the business practices of a multinational corporation (generating multibillion-dollar annual revenue).

The power in a large corporate checkbook was exciting to me; we’d tell them how to spend all that money and the world would become a better place! But I soon realized that while the corporate business leaders control a lot of money, and this money can purchase many things (our advice, branding, lobbying power) a large checkbook does not by itself create responsible leadership inside a corporation. Too often “corporate social responsibility” turns into branding and philanthropy.

This idea that responsibility wasn’t simply for sale, and couldn’t be purchased, resulted in a more serious lesson: creating a strategy to actually improve responsibility inside a large and complex company required focus that was deliberate and relentless. It required concentrating attention on the target with the power to implement change, which in this case was the managers and leaders inside a company.

When trying to figure out how to improve something without a clear definition of success, such as improve “responsibility” or “education” the business has to become much like a classroom. We spent much of the first year in conversation with their corporate team, listening and building personal relationships in order to discover how we might add value, trading role of teacher and student as we collaborated on ideas. This lesson about focus transfers to where I am today, at a company developing a digital classroom. A classroom is, by general definition, “any place where one learns or gains experience.” So how do you create “any place”—a digital platform that is customizable for a wide range of users (i.e. K-12 classes)?

Improving “education,” like improving “responsibility,” lacks a clear definition of success, and so requires the same rigorous focus. Unlike corporations, schools and teachers generally have very small budgets. The “education technology” field is full of companies designing technology to make these small budgets stretch farther. But great technology by itself cannot create a great education inside the classroom; it requires teachers. That’s what drew me to Wikispaces; this small company iterated its platform design based on the feedback it received from its users over the course of 10 years. This led to the simple and powerful objective it holds today: to help teachers help students.

It seems when the goal is to improve areas as complex and personal as “responsibility” and “education” there is no easy solution. The solution must be created, and we must treat business as a classroom in order to find the focus with which we develop that solution.

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Featured Wiki: “Anything is Possible” with Ray Mirhsahi’s Projects

Ray Mirshahi teaches at Timberbank Junior Public School in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is a regular Twitter contributor to the educational community. He teaches ICT / Media Literacy in the morning to the whole school and Grade 3 in the afternoon, and we were so thrilled to be able to sneak a few minutes of his time recently to hear all about how he has used Wikispaces Classroom.

Ray uses this education-specific version of to design an engaging learning environment for students, and manages several different wikis as the ICT and Media Literacy coordinator. One worth a deep dive is his teaching resource site. He also has a separate wiki for his schooland for his class, where he shares short and long term curricular plans. Finally, he has a wiki for his students where students post work, share feedback, and are assessed by Ray. By creating separate wikis, Ray allows himself to differentiate the content and permission levels he’d like for different audiences. We think it’s a great example, and encourage you to give it a go! Remember teachers, you can have unlimited wikis.

Take a moment, relax, and watch as Ray walks us through his ‘student wiki’ using Wikispaces Classroom:


Ray has shared more here and be sure to say hello to him on Twitter. Thanks Ray!

Setting Up Your Navigation

Many teachers use the navigation bar on the right-hand side of their wikis to simply list all of their pages. Ray took it a step further: he edited the navigation bar to include specific links to his different classes, and even for his archived alumni sites.

Create alumni links using "edit navigation" in the navigation panel

Create alumni links using “edit navigation” in the navigation panel

Want to try it? Click “Edit Navigation” at the bottom of the navigation panel– twice!– and then you’ll have access to that whole space in the side panel to customize. Enjoy!

Click on "edit navigation page" to customize

Click on “edit navigation page” to customize

Personal Spaces for Each Student

Ray says, “We use wikis to allow students to collaborate, as well as let their individual voices to come through,” and that’s obvious as soon as you see the individual pages he has set up for his students where they can post things that interest them. Ray adds: “Students need their own safe social media spaces where they can work and play, and Wikispaces in my opinion is the best platform for that.”

To set this personal space up Ray created a new Project and then created a page for each student. This makes it easy for him to check on students’ work quickly and give them feedback. It’s so easy to do, the principal even comes in and leaves comments, which naturally is super-exciting for students.

Screen Shot 2014-05-15 at 11.43.13 AM-1

One Project, Small Group of Students

This is a great example of managing small groups of students working together in your class. In this case, Ray creates Projects and then only adds two or three students to it. He has a collaborative page where they can work on things together, such as this awesome “Ghost Ship” story. Then, he creates a page for their own individual work, where they can easily leave each other feedback and ideas.

Ray creates Projects and puts several students in each to work together.

Ray creates Projects and puts several students in each to work together.

One Project, All Students

As Ray says, “It’s so easy!” He uses a variety of Project formats based on the lesson and needs of each of his classes. In the case below, Ray created a Geometry Project and he uses it as an “extension of the lesson.” For instance, he has his students go to the topic they are studying and add to his digital activity, such as identifying vertices on a shape using an animation and having discussions about it, right there on the “lesson page.”

Create one Project, add all students to it, and you've got yourself an interactive lesson space.

Create one Project, add all students to it, and you’ve got yourself an interactive lesson space.

One Project, All Students, Uploading Files

Another use Ray has discovered for the Project space is creating one Project and then simply instructing students to upload their files to that page. This creates a lovely list of files that you can actually comment and give feedback on right there. In this case, for his Audio Jam project, he had students upload their .mp4 files directly to the page and each is able to easily be commented upon.

Uploading Files on a Project Page

Uploading Files on a Project Page

Want to try it? Create ONE Project, and then simply put your instructions on the home page and have the students just “Add File.” Then, go to “Pages” and you’ll see them all waiting for you to peruse.


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Join Us! Research Q and A with Justin Ellsworth: Wikis and Professional Development Best Practices

As the end of the school year draws near for many parts of the world, many educators are taking the time (if they can find it!) to reflect. We hope you can find the time to think about what you have learned this year and hope to build into your professional development (PD) and learning in the coming school year. Justin Ellsworth took this type of reflection to the next level, making it the focus of his own academic student from 2009 to 2011, and recently published the results below. 

Justin EllsworthJustin, a former high school science teacher, is now an instructional technology coordinator at Farmington Public Schools in Michigan, where he focuses on the integration of technology in teaching and learning. From 2009 to 2011, he researched how to best design technology training practices and measured their effects on teacher learning.

His study finds that “participation in PD that is sustained, student-centered, participatory, and supported by adequate resources can have a significant impact on teacher learning and practice about specific technologies.”

Based on our experiences with students and teachers over the past decade, we strongly agree with Justin, and hope you enjoy reading more about his methodology below. Originally shared in the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Journal of Research on Technology on Education (JRTE) in 2012, we are thrilled to have permission from ISTE to share it here on our blog for wiki users to integrate excellent training in their schools and districts.

Give it a read and let us know what you think and any questions you have for Justin! Feel free to share with us on Twitter @wikispaces or with the hashtag #wikipd. You can also join our ongoing TodaysMeet board and post down your question or connection here.

Some guiding questions for reading the research:

1) What are you currently doing for teacher training and professional development in technology at your school?

2) What ideas do you have to enhance it for the coming school year?

3) As a wiki user, which skills do you feel are most important to help teachers and students learn?

4) What is one quote that really resonated with you?

Join Justin and Wikispaces on Thursday, June 5th, at 12pm Pacific/3pm Eastern. Register here and get ready to be inspired!

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A Big Wikispaces Welcome to Justin and Erin

Wikispaces has grown! Today we are excited to welcome to the team Justin Francesconi, our new DevOps Engineer, and Erin Connery, our new Operations Manager. Both started in the past few weeks and we’re very excited to have them!

Justin is a talented engineer who will be optimizing and supporting the infrastructure that Wikispaces runs on. Previously Justin worked at Eventbrite and before that TubeMogul. Outside work, Justin is a passionate chef. Every so often he donates his time as the stand in chef at a favorite local restaurant. Welcome, Justin!


Justin whipping up a pizza

Erin comes to us from The Hatchery, a coworking space for startups he helped launch in San Francisco. Before that, Erin worked in a corporate social responsibility organization. He has worked at several startups over the past five years and really enjoys optimizing teams. In his free time he is usually outdoors, either climbing on rocks or running up mountains. He swears he is smiling in the picture below.

Erin Connery

Erin smiling as he climbs some rocks.

Our team will continue to grow in May. We’re still on the search for fantastic software engineers to build and scale our quickly growing education technology platform. Please refer to our website for more information.


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Going Mobile with Wikispaces Just Got Even Better

“If I could kiss @wikispaces right now, I would! Have you looked at your wikis on an iPad today?”

We were excited to read @RhondaLuetje‘s response on Twitter and hope you feel the same! Our team knows how important it is to access their content from a variety of devices, and our most recent update has a few features that will change your mobile experience for the better.

1. Responsive Sizing

Websites sometimes look different depending on the device you’re using, and we want to make sure Wikispaces looks just as good no matter what you’re using. Now you should see much cleaner navigation with some awesome responsive sizing elements. For instance, you won’t see horizontal scrollbars on your phone and tablets while still maintaining a nice juicy large screen experience to your desktop browsers.

2. Improved Pop-Ups

Pop-up screens come up for a variety of reasons in your web world, and sometimes they can act a little funky on mobile devices. Now, with Wikispaces, they should act a bit more behaved for you on the small screen. Menus should appear and take up the entire screen, making it much easier to read, scroll, and make the customizations you need.


Pop-ups now take up the entire screen.

3. Larger Button Targets

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 1.26.50 PM-1Sometimes, when we use our fingers on our mobile devices, we feel like we’re mashing the screen with huge unwieldy mitts that never get those pesky buttons to do what we want them to do.

To help with this phenomenon, our engineers have made buttons larger so they can be more easily clicked with your finger. On the navigational menu, you’ll notice all of your buttons on the side and easier to press. Sadly, they still won’t work if your fingers are in a glove or covered in Cheeto dust, but we’re working on it.


Now larger buttons for your navigation menu!


4. Top Navigation

We’re nothing without our navigation – in fact, we’d be lost without it (nyuk nyuk). Now everyone gets a top navigational bar on even the smallest screens that incorporates menu items in one place. This saves precious screen space and lets you easily access all of the controls you need.

Let us know what you think at @wikispaces or because we’re always striving to improve your experience.

Posted in Wikispaces | 3 Responses
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