BCS Digital Tools Discussion

Today during a workshop I was at for the Buncombe County School District with Connie Prevatte, the issue of using wikis to facilitate Home Reading discussions and retelling was raised.  One of the problems with assigning reading at home, or any other homework for that matter, is the accountability.  We have no control over the student’s home life, Prevatte commented, and therefore, cannot penalize that student for not completing something that is potentially out of his/her control.

One of the ways that I have circumvented this in several instances is through the use of a classroom wiki.  For those unfamiliar, wikis are user-edited sites often used for collaboration and discussion.  Through a classroom wiki, my students had the opportunity to discuss and retell what they read throughout the evening even if they had no one else at home to communicate with.  I did not make this a mandatory activity due to the fact that not every child has internet access in the home.  What occurred was not only an archive of reflections and meditations on current texts the students were reading, but also a list of novels, short stories, and websites that students were motivated and inspired to check out.  The recommendations for “awesome” books did not come from an adult (who obviously knows nothing about what a kid wants to read), but from peers who were experiencing the same daily struggles and celebrations.

In my classroom, I have primarily used Wikispaces to set up classroom wikis.  Most students will need to have an email address to become members of the sites you create.  If your administration, parents, or school board do not allow this, Wikispaces will create student accounts if you send them a list of your students.  Be sure to do this well in advance of when you would like your students to actively participate on your wiki because it does take time.

While listening to some podcast conferences this summer (BLC08, NECC, etc), one presenter said that as long as you have an internet connection in the classroom, you are no longer the smartest person.  With that being said, here are some great links in aiding you to set up your own education wiki:

Education Wikis; Wikispaces; 20 Ideas; Setting Up

Very General Advice:

1. Make sure to educate your students on Digital Citizenship prior to collaborating online.

2. Distribute parent permission forms for students to participate.  Dr. Joyce Valenza has a great example.

3. Educate students on privacy and safety issues including not releasing full names, personal contact information, etc.

4. Set a purpose and establish specific guidelines for your students on that particular wiki.  Remember, they’re free so you can always make more!

If you have any comments, suggestions, or lesson ideas, please leave them in the comments section.  This blog is for me to learn as well, and by creating a collaborative community, we expand our knowledge base.

Who could say it better than George Bernard Shaw: “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”


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