Wikis for Collaboration
Wikis can be like a big electronic playground of the mind. In this post, I’ll share how one New York State school has used a wiki to enhance already strong data based decision making and instruction practices.
Wikis were created as a way to share development of documents across a divide of time and geography, and certainly, they fill that bill. As I mentioned in the earlier post, most wikis now include at least basic editing capabilities, making writing very similar to typical word processing. More sophisticated wikis (or perhaps, the paid versions of wikis) allow uploading documents created in word processing applications with all the formatting intact. Even simple wiki applications usually allow cutting and pasting from word processing applications, although the finished product may require some tweaking to remove odd bits that show up on screen.
Wikis’ history feature allows writers to see where changes in the most current version were added, and which user added them. More sophisticated wiki applications also allow version comparisions.
All these elements were part of the functionality envisioned by the happy techies who first dreamed up the wiki concept. The collaborative functionality of wikis doesn’t stop with document creation, though. Wikis have become playgrounds of thought, planning, problem-solving and growth for all sorts of groups, even ones in close proximity to one another on a daily basis. One such example is provided by the staff of the Schlegel Road Elementary School in Webster, New York.
Schlegel staff take their responsibility to students very seriously. As a staff, they have worked to become knowledgeable and competent in the delivery of instruction that results in positive student outcomes. Because they’ve been successful in achieving good outcomes for ALL their students including students with disabilities, they’ve been recognized by the Supporting Successful Strategies To Achieve Improved Results (S3TAIR) Project, which is New York’s State Personnel Development Grant project. Schlegel staff have become proficient in gathering, analyzing, understanding, and using data about the success of their instruction and interventions, particularly in literacy.
As they developed these skills, the staff realized that having a data management tool was only part of the necessary supporting structure for collaborative data use; just as important was finding a way to capture and make universally accessible the collaborative process of analysis and planning. The tool they chose was a Wikispaces wiki. They’ve used the wiki to house data documents, which results in a “no excuses” understanding that the data are ALWAYS available to those with a need to know. They’ve used the wiki to capture planning across grades and departments, including minutes from planning meetings, the plans themselves, and record of progress made on the plans. Possibly as important as any other element, the wiki has become the institutional memory of their effort. No longer is it necessary to pore back over binders of minutes to try to locate evidence of past efforts and their successes – all these pieces are archived, right on the site. Of course, Schlegel has created security measures to ensure that the site is accessible only to those individuals with the “need to know”.
As with any innovation, some Schelgel staff were slow to warm to the wiki – and some still may depend on colleagues’ skills to access the information on the site – but in general, response has been good. The positive response is due in no small part to the simple expectation on the part of building administration that the site WILL be used. A positive benefit has been that some previously technophobic educators have begun the journey toward really appreciating the potential of Web 2.0 applications.
Anyone who is interested in reading about the literacy practices that led to Schlegel’s identification as an Effective Practice Model School is invited to visit the S3TAIR Project website at http://www.s3tairproject.org – Schlegel’s practice can be found at http://www.s3tairproject.org/node/235