I looked up "wiki" in Wikipedia, and it said, "You're looking at it. See "idiot." So I looked up "idiot," and it said, "You again?" - updated Steven Wright joke
As a teacher, I can remember when the word "Facebook" appeared out of nowhere.
I can actually recall the first student who said the word in class and my initial reaction: "Oh great, an online yearbook. Thank God I graduated from high school years ago."
I instantly hated the site, its name, and everything about it.
When I checked it out, I saw that all of my least-favorite people from high school were all over it. "It will never last!" I proclaimed confidently, before eating my weight in Twinkies.
Mock at your own peril, Larsen!
This year, for the first time, I heard the words "Google Docs" come up in casual conversation, oh...about 1,000 times.
Of course, I knew that Google Docs (Wikipedia link) existed, but like many Google products, it rolled out with great fanfare and then kind of vanished, until this semester, that is, when it came back with a vengeance.
I bent my wiki
Google Docs "is an online word processor, spreadsheet and presentation editor that lets instructors and students create, store and share instantly and securely, and collaborate online in real time."
Like, duh. This idea has been around for a while in "wiki" form. Though Google Docs and wikis are both collaborative online tools, there are some differences:
- Google Doc authors invite collaborators - with Google accounts - to edit documents, but wikis are open to anyone's views or edits, whether they have an account or not.
- Google Docs are built for simultaneous, real-time editing, but wikis are not.
- Google Docs are the online equivalent of Word documents, wikis are Web pages.
As with any group assignment, it always comes down to the last person with the document. If that person screws up, everyone gets screwed over, including the poor sap who has to read and mark it (sympathy for the Devil, anyone?).
A light at the end of the group-projects tunnel
My own experience with group projects is that I hate them - I've uttered, "Oh, just let me do it" to many a lousy group in my time, and I see the same thing go on in my classes every year - the old "one student coasting on the work of four other students" trick.
And, in this day and age, it's impossible to get anyone to cop to anything other than stellar work. The best you can do is, "I did everything I was told." Boo. Put me out of my misery, Soul Asylum:
But once students told me how they were using Google Docs to collaborate on group assignments, I saw a light at the end of the group-projects tunnel: what I had considered to be a step-by-step process, in fact, had become a real-time conversation/editing/learning mashup.
I had instructed the class to make sure that the last person with the project document was someone with strong writing and editing skills; in fact, I should've suggested that the students use Google Docs to watch and participate in the editing process, so that even weaker writers could learn from the process.
I resolve to build Google Docs into group assignments, effective immediately. And to go to the gym five times a week. And to grow my hair back.
50 ways to use wikis in the classroom
As Smartteaching.org points out, like Paul Simon leaving so many lovers, there must be 50 ways to use Wikis in the classroom, including resource creation, student participation, group projects, student interaction, and classroom resources.
Wikis for teachers
I must also mention Weblogg-ed writer Will Richardson's wiki prescription for teachers:
"Step 1: Put up a wiki page with a list of interesting tools that teachers might use in the classroom, fairly complete descriptions of what the tool can do, and a few links to great examples of (classroom) use. Ask teachers to read through the descriptions and sign up for the sessions that interest them.
"Step 2: When people arrive in the rooms where the sessions are scheduled, write this on the board: “YOU HAVE 90 MINUTES. FIGURE IT OUT.”