Learning with Wikis

This is a resource that I use with first-year students, new to the idea of working in wiki’s – with others.

It gives an outline of wiki spirit and suggested approaches to how to begin working with others, whom perhaps you have no association previously. I suggests some ways to engage others, and how to approach group work, beginning with the use of a wiki as individual workshops to research and collect ideas; then to move these to a group space for further discussion.

Students often find it difficult to populate the blank page (to be the ice-breaker) or to identify early-leaders in academic pursuit of the solution. We have to remember, that much of their informal use of technology is friend-based; not academic need based.

It uses some obvious project based learning approaches – and focuses on the metaphor of not having the group’s efforts stagnate or get stuck on the esculator. It is particularly important to break down the barriers between those who are natural leaders in such learning methods; and those who settle to follow.

Other references/resources that are of use: WoW Wiki’s statement about conduct. Wikipedia entry for [spirit].

I run a 40 minute lectorial around this handout. Most students are not prepared in this class for ‘tech’ learning; so paper gives them a common baseline. We talk about using mobile devices, third spaces and the importance of ensuring people ‘off the grid’ are included in inter-group discussions.

I use it to test for prior experience; and to draw out those in the class who like to lead, or perhaps will mentor others initially – and those who seem stunned at working in this way. There are always a few or each. You might find it of use; it is not particularly higher-education specific. The above video is the wake-up event; and I refer to it as a metaphor during the presentation and discussion of how to go about negotiation, collaboration and individual effort to achieve the aims of the group.

Thanks to @robynjay for her inspiration on including wiki-spirit over wiki-skills.


As if there was any doubt that information is increasingly heading into the Z dimension, Wikitree has gone open source – in response to a need to grow (pun) the solution. Wikitree is a 3D-Wiki plug-in on the virtual world platform, Second Life. Its a wiki, but creates the canopy of leaves represent the information, and versions of it.

Now imagine information is not in fact limited to letters, video, sound or images – but has three dimensions. Let me expand.

This is a Wikipedia page on a Spanish Galleon. I am sure with a little Google skill you can find a video or even a 3D render of one too. In wikitree, there would be a Spanish Galleon. You can rez it, move it, walk around it. With a little more imagination, the galleon is a fleet and the fleet becomes an Armada. Wikitree changes the dynamics of information because the things we want to describe and know about are multi-dimensional and spacial. But it’s not just a rezzer. You can vote, add, comment and do all the connected stuff that we love about wikis in the browser.

Look past the Second Life platform itself and picture this ability in high end game engines that already exist in MMOs and consoles. Imagine what happens when Porsche start releasing 3D information and you can take their prototypes around the track. Imagine when the school wiki – allows you to experience the syllabus in three dimensions.

Wikis are very powerful ways to create, share and store information – Wikitree is a further signal that what is currently in the browser will continue to be augmented by that pesky Z dimension. Perhaps most interesting to me is that it is considered architecture – not ‘media’.



8 months and 1 wiki? – what do we do all day

PLEASINGLY, after several months of persistence, I am finding a softening of academic suspicion over the word ‘wiki’. The Scientists, Computer typs and Educators have been dabbling with Wiki’s for ages of course (under the table) and haven’t really looked up. But, after 7 months of development Wikis are now available to some 2000 academics at an enterprise level. So potentially I’m stuffed if they all want one tomorrow! – But already interest is flowing in for using wikis as learning tools. I’m always amazed how Web2.0 moves once you get past the inertia period.

This is a presentation that I’ve used to prime potential groups of users.

I’d like to thank Tim Allen, who is leaving Macquarie for further study. Without his evaluation, research and attention to detail we’d have crashed and burned. It’s been a long campaign, but now winning more than we lose.

Did you get my email?

The more I work with adult learners, the more I realise how de-stablising social media technology can be. The skills learned though office automation; faxing; emailing; word processing; spreadsheets and presentation applications; were a means to an ‘end product’, now we are using technology as ‘live’ product, where nothing is ‘final’ or ‘missing’.

Email goes from one place to another, prompted by some imperative, with limited distribution, and with a limited useful life. We use it to organize and ‘wrap’ our work into parcels, As soon as we attach something to an email, we become less efficient, as we are halving the message and doubling the effort needed to interpret it. If working on a brochure, I’d email the ‘copy’ to the designer, and wait to get a proof back – by digital envelope.

Our social contracts change when the ‘work’ is being evolved in parallel with the discussion – in a wiki. Wikis are not challenging in terms of mastery, but challenge practices and beliefs. To use it, we have to unlearn the ‘netiquette’ of email and relearn negotiation, co-production and collaboration using hyper-dynamic media.  Learning to use a wiki (over email) is like having ice poured down your shirt. It is contrary to adult notions of ‘privacy’. Adults are simply not used to this two-way interchange in groups.

Wikipedia demonstrates the long tail of the internet. In an organizational wiki, the reality of ‘office life’ is played out much more visibly. Everyone can participate; everyone is responsible for the overall goal of the group. Leadership comes through participation, negotiation and added value, as judged by the whole group, which is great as no one person has to be ‘the leader’ or have ‘all the answers’. Initial approaches must assume we are digital-strangers, not native, and that this ‘group’ action, will be modeled though social behaviour and interaction.  Imagine how ridiculous it would be to suggest everyone who ever added to a Wikipedia page, emailed each other to discuss the page. Email, like everything else is converging, and wikis stand poised to be the organizer and communicator of future working practice.

Why have a ‘shared drive’ when you can have a wiki? What does an email do for a group that a wiki won’t do better? We are not going to putting emails into folders, because we are ‘tagging’ them with metadata, which aligns with our folksonomies and wiki taxonomies. This to me is the new literacy. Not to just use a blog, or a wiki – but to recognise how, in the workplace, we are increasingly moving from files, folders and shared drives to group negotiated taxonomies and organizational knowledge – in order to be co-productive, collaborative and co-operative – regardless of distance.

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I stared a blog post and discussion form on Classroom2.0 for this, which I figured was the best place to ‘go fishing’.

As a few of my friends know, Mr.7 is a kid with Aspergers. Not so much a kid with special needs, more a kid with special interests and a different perspective on the world. These kids simply learn in different ways and are often ‘above standards’ in their given year group, highly perceptive, but struggle to deal with implied meaning in language, social situations (especially new ones) and struggle to understand emotional decisions ‘neuro-normals’ make.

They will often have an affinity with technology (machines are more predictable than people), and have some kind of interest focus. This can be transient – with the interests moving over time, or a range of interests : Star Wars, Mythology, Cars – to more extreme single interests. I once met a child was only interested in cornices.

However, they generally enjoy maths and sciences – subjects which are are less interpretive.

There’s way to much to say about it from a medical view point here, but as a parent, the most significant issue is that their schooling is not inclusive – even though they attend an inclusive school.

These amazing kids often appear to be just like every other kid, their needs are often not explicitly addressed in school.

This is a great video, I love to share with teachers.

Simple things make a BIG difference – one way or the other. For example, moving from one class to the next is a very anxious time, yet schools will almost no effort to ease the transfer (they are busy). Putting kids into more general ‘funded’ groups is another. In my case, our kid is stuck in a reading group with a few other kids. He can read, and he knows the kids – and they are always the same kids. This is a waste of time and funding – yet try as we might, the teacher and school fobs us off continually over this.

I think the start reality is that the mass of information on kids with Aspergers concerns itself with medial and social (behaviour) issues. There really is little out there (or that I can find) that is hands one classroom advice.

So here’s my idea.

To create a wiki – Apsi2.0 – that:

  • Can be used by parents to give to teachers as a general resource with classroom activities they can use.
  • Practical lesson/learning activities that last about an hour – that specifically address their needs
  • Differentiated use of technology to engage them in the same ‘classroom’ activities as their peers – but approached from alternate, less confronting social situations. (Quest Atlantis, collaboration, peer review etc.,)
  • To allow parents to develop their own ‘life long learning’ wiki for their kid that they can give to teachers, as a resource so the teacher knows what the students engages with or dis-engages because of.
  • Allow teacher/parents to share pedagogical success stories (be them based on individual focus’)
  • Allow teachers who DO engage properly (no lip service laggards) to share interventions and learning approaches that have led to better learning outcomes
  • A resource for siblings to learn about their brother/sister – and help support them
  • A resource for parents (struggling with schools) to self-help learning
  • A knowledge bank of lessons/strategies/activities that can be used – right out the box – to improve the lot of our kids in schools.

I am not saying that the whole spectrum of Autism is not a major concern in inclusive education. But I am saying, that from experience, the professional development and ‘self’ development in teachers is just not there. I am sure there are amazing teachers, but a lot of the time – these kids struggle in school as they try and interact with other students and kids. They need to learn how to interact. An example of this could be, a new student joins a class. There is an established group of friends, and one kids has Aspergers. While the new kid joins the group, the Apergers kid will not understand why, and probably see it as a bad thing, as it disrupts the social balance. The immediate reaction might be to try and get rid of the new kid. That seems logical. It was okay before, now it’s not – what changed? Easy – get rid of the annoyance. They don’t understand that making friends is the way that new people enter a group. They have to learn it, while most kids will learn it by doing it. The danger is that in attempts to bounce the new kid, they are segregated from them, and most likely segregated from their friends.

The teacher doesn’t understand this, and indeed might have no idea that the kid with Aspergers is frustrated, anxious and burning up to understand why thier world is suddenly under attack, not just from the new kid, but from the teachers and their friends.

My point is, that schools are highly social spaces. Teachers need to know how to, and be seen to, use any funded time, spare time to create social learning opportunities. They often don’t, or won’t. It’s easier to get a reading group than it is to address their specific interests or needs. It means doing something different – which is not in their program.

You might tell me, yeah but there is an individual learning plan, there has to be. I’ll tell you that is all crap. There might be a piece of paper somewhere, but that is not the reality that parents know. We can’t be there all the time, we can’t negotiate the world for them, so we must advocate for them – as they can’t do it for themselves.

Here’s a couple of examples of the replies I got in Classroom2.0 – these are exactly what we need to hear.

I showed your post to my daughter and she suggested having a section on your Wiki for the siblings of children with Aspergers. She benefited a great deal when she understood her brother’s special interests and wanted to know ways to become closer to him. Our school system found simple ways to let her become a resource for my son during the school day without making her assume adult responsibilities. For example, the school scheduled their lunches so they could eat together. They simply felt like they were enjoying time together and never realized my daughter was providing a model of social interaction each day for half an hour. She never resented this time together and eventually my son began to sit with other students and interact successfully. Tanya Travis.

Here is one from a teacher, David Wees

I had a student with Asperger’s who spent every lunch hour reading by himself. His favourite thing? Japanese mythology and culture. So I introduced him to a collectible card game about Japanese mythology and then introduced him to some people he could play with. Now he plays cards at lunch time with his peers, interacting socially far more often than before.

How amazing would it be to hear things happening for my kid. So far this year, I have had nothing positive or volunteered by the school, yet have been ‘up there’ several time to get tea and sympathy messages – when quite clearly they are wasting his time and mine. It is all very frustrating for us, but easier to pass off than address by the school.

Critical, hell yeah! – but we want our kid to be in public education and to be included. As he goes through life (not in a wheelchair), the world won’t deal him a different deck, but the biggest need he has is to learn about how the social norms work. He won’t pick it up unless it is taught. We do it at home – but we want to see it in his school – and so does every other parent like me.

I’d hope that this something I can ‘teach’ parents in the future, as it seems to me to be a direct positive step.

So that’s my ‘new’ thing – if I have a ‘thing’. I’m over the apathetic approach, the light on pre-teacher preparation. Right now, as a parent, I think this is the ONE thing I can do for my kid. Have a resource that explains to his teacher how he has learned over his whole school engagement. I would love it if his teacher added to it – but it’s not likely this year. I think this every year, maybe I’ll get a teacher who ‘gets’ him.

A fresh approach to Higher Ed Course Design

There are times when you hear someone talk and you think, bloody hell! – that is going to change everything. Now it seems you only need to read 140 characters, and get the same reaction.

Howard Rheingold posted a link to his ‘social media’ wiki on Twitter.

It’s not the fact it is a wiki and not a course in Moodle, WebCT or Black Board that is impressive though.  HR has built a very sophisticated information architecture that is simple to get around (a massive step forward in itself) and packed it with language that leaves students in little doubt as to the how exciting, challenging and rewarding the course will be.

It’s not there to ‘inform’ in the way most online courses do. It’s not some kind of digital point of reference (though it does that superbly) either. It’s language advocates adoption, adaption and infusion of technology, as a transformational experience that will deliver life long benefits. In just a few pages – HR clarifies, engages and sets up his course as being something you just want to sink your teeth into.

For example: students will have practiced mindful self-observation of the ways they use their own attention. Increased facility at inquiry and collaboration are other meta-skills diligent students should expect to gain: the methodology of collaborative inquiry used in this course is expected to generalize beyond the classroom.

Another significant element of the site is the ‘How To’. He’s immediately set out his expectations, guidelines and criteria for success. He talks clearly about how that success will come about using a range of ‘un-passive’ technologies … but then immediately scaffolds them out of ‘entry’ level uses of technology with a self help guide on how to blog, make a wiki page etc.,

He’s not treating the method of evidencing learning as a separate ‘training manual’. The learning method for evidence is using the tools themselves.

This is the best and most influential ‘course design’ example I’ve seen – but I’m not surprised – as HR is just inspirational.