In the late 1970s, when the Apple II series appeared and technology first began to be introduced into schools, the attitude of educational leadership was: “Buy it and teachers will use it.” It was very quickly discovered that only the innovators seized upon the opportunities presented by this amazing new tool, the personal computer. The more techno-challenged among us had a very expensive paperweight that took up valuable desktop real estate. Eventually, education leaders saw a problem and began to invest professional development dollars in technology literacy training.
This cycle (purchase technology now, figure out training needs later) has continued over the last three decades as computers have rapidly evolved; the Internet has matured; and fiber, cell towers and wifi are creating a 24-7 connected world. In 1983, in was the Apple IIe — in 2011, it’s the interactive whiteboard, 1-1 laptops, iPod Touchs and tablets that are invading classrooms. The pressure on schools to “catch up” with the technology revolution has never been greater.
Meanwhile, many mid- to late-career educators who have not kept pace with the constant changes brought on by the digital revolution are hearing an increasing amount of teaching-and-learning talk that sounds foreign and a bit intimidating. Blogs, wikis, Twitter, Ning, Web 2.0 and “the Cloud,” Google Docs, back channeling, Creative Commons, transparency within the cyber-world, internet safety, digital citizenship – these are some of buzz words and phrases floating through the education world that can seem bewildering.
In her recent book, Wikis for School Leaders (Eye on Education, 2011), Stephanie D. Sandifer offers her perspective on these trends:
While it is nice to have administrative support for new technology purchases, a technology-purchasing frenzy is simply not the correct response to the realization that our schools are not doing enough to prepare students for their futures. This is about changing adult perspective and adult behaviors to create student-centered classrooms that exemplify research-based best practices around learning. (57)
The professional development programs that are essential today need to focus not so much on the hardware and software — what “cool tools” we can use — but on changing how teachers view themselves as educators. It’s not just about teaching the three “r’s” and the content packaged in textbooks. It’s about preparing our students with the skills that they need for the future within a new learning ecology. In a connected world, educators have to think and teach differently. This book adopts that attitude. Sandifer proposes that school leaders:
… take some time to begin discussions on your campus about how to transform your school into a place where teachers see themselves first as learners who are invested in improving their instructional practice through reflection and inquiry, and where students are more globally connected in a way that enhances and supports their personal learning. (57)
After reflection and dialogue one might ask, “Where to now?” One good answer: The Wiki.
The general purpose of the wiki is to improve the ability of a team or staff to collaborate on a variety of projects electronically in a more efficient manner than by using email or face-to-face meeting alone. Specifically, wikis are an excellent tool for mapping out plans, documenting work and processes, and archiving information for future reference. (7)
Why a wiki?
Through the use of a wiki, according to Sandifer, a “paradigm shift” can occur. The shift we are experiencing today challenges us to create an entire new identity (or definition) of “teacher.” Today effective educators are life long learners who guide students and challenge them. Educators, in other words, are a part of the team that is responsible for learning in the classroom. They can no longer be the sole voice of expertise and all knowledge, speaking from the scholar’s podium. The ease of knowledge transfer via Google and connectivity has brought a final and abrupt end to that era. It’s no longer just about what you know but how and where to find what you need to know and how to help your students develop these same skills, every day across the curriculum.
According to Sandifer, this tool is easy enough for even a novice to tackle and master. What’s more, the wiki provides a collaborative environment that can increase cooperation and collaboration. “Everyone can add to the collective knowledge base as well as plan and implement something new. In brief, it improves processes as well as individual and team productivity.” (17)
The added benefit to wiki use: as educators use the tool regularly, they grow in technical competency, and gain some expertise that many students do not have — thus allowing them to share their skills with their classes and gain some tech cred. And the extra benefit for students: Acquisition of the kind of collaboration skills wiki use promotes is essential as they venture out into the modern job market.
How do school leaders create a culture that supports wiki use? Sandifer suggests:
Create cheerleaders [among your teaching force] who will coach other professional learners and promote continual learning around changes in the world, economics, technology and workforce trends that have an impact on our work as learning professionals. (60)
As more educators explore and master tools like the wiki, it’s important that they begin to learn from one another. Forever gone should be the attitude of closing the classroom door and teaching. The classroom teacher and the administrator of the school should strive together to create an educational culture that accepts change as in integral part of what is considered normal. It’s a culture that seeks out those who are reluctant to change on an individual basis and supports them to become comfortable and competent.
Finally, as my blogging colleague Lyn Hilt, a public school principal in Pennsylvania, wrote recently: School leaders themselves must become tech-savvy. Wikis are a good place to get your feet wet, and Sandifer’s useful book can help you get started.