Saturday, August 26, 2006

Exploring Wikis in Education with Vicki Davis and Adam Frey

Thursday night Vicki Davis from Westwood Schools and Adam Frey of Wikispaces and I explored the uses of wikis in education. I came away, again, with the conviction that while blogs are more immediately popular because they are easier to use, that wikis also have a tremendous place in transformative educational experiences.

Adam does a great job in explaining wikis in simple terms, and Vicki continues to amaze me with her ability to be both prolific and insightful. She is also an extraordinary organizer, as evidenced by her ability to understand, categorize, and then teach new technologies to her students. Vicki divided the use of wikis in education into two broad categories: organizational and educational. From the organization standpoint, she sees wikis as a high-tech "toolbelt" that lets you organize and present other material or media. As an educational tool itself, the wiki has five uses in her classroom:
  • Lessons summaries
  • Collaboration of notes
  • Concept introduction and exploratory projects
  • Dissemination of important classroom learning beyond the classroom
  • Individual assessment projects
As you listen to the interview, she discusses each of these areas.

For my part, I'm continually interested in my own response to wikis, which seem to fit my own work style so well. I joke that I have IIADD--Internet Induced Attention Deficit Disorder. I feel pulled in so many directions for so many years by email, instant messaging, and just the general availability of news and knowledge that I have to really work hard to block out extended periods of time for reflective and focused learning or tasks. But most of the time I am working on about 10 things at once, and using wikis as a respository for notes, ideas, and collaborative projects allows me to quickly and easily make small improvements or notes here and there without getting too distracted.

Some other insights that occurred to me as a part of preparing for and holding this interview:
  • Wikis are valuable because collaborative efforts are generally better than individual efforts. (One of my favorite books is The Wisdom of Crowds.) While I often think I know best, it always amazes me how other perspectives improve results.
  • Not only are wikis valuable because they are collaborative, but they seem to match some of the "continuous improvement" business philosophies that I was so taken with early in my career, when I was more focused on manufacturing methods. A wiki, unlike a blog, or even a regular "static" website, encourages and makes easy small, incremental improvements over the course of time.
  • I haven't been as excited about a technology as I have about wikis since I learned about relational databases 15 years ago. I remember staying up two nights in a row trying to get my head around Borland's Paradox relational database program, and I remember the sense that I was learning something that would dramatically change my ability to think about what I was doing at work. Not that it would just make my work tasks easier, but that I would do different kinds of work because of relational databases. And that was certainly true. I feel the same way about wikis. And already the ride has been fascinating. I had the idea for one night, registered the domain name the next day and spent two or three hours working on outlining and organizational structure for the site, and then watched several others pick up the ball to flesh it out (including Vicki in a big way!), and then seven days later having a national educational magazine call and interview me about the site. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience.
I hope you enjoy the interview. Please do note that we have started a wiki (of course!) at to start to build a resource for the use of wikis in eduation. Please contribute!