Why a Wiki?


Below you will find a more in-depth description of the learning problem in the TUHSD, and a discussion of why a wiki is a good tool to help solve that problem.

Learning Need 1: Teachers with little or no experience with Understanding by Design methodology need access to training and materials

Understanding by Design (UbD) and Schooling by Design (SbD) (Wiggins and McTighe) are frameworks for designing courses and units of study based enduring understandings ("40 year knowledge") that students should have after taking a course. It is based on the premise of backward mapping - beginning with learning goals, establishing learning indicators (assessments), and then creating learning experieces. The UbD framework adds the idea that real learning occurs when transference occurs - when students take skills and knowledge learned and apply them in new ways or settings. For a sample unit planning template in Word, click here..

Why a wiki? Teachers new to TUHSD always participate in training in the theory and practice of UbD framework, and work with their Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) mentors for two years on adapting and creating unit plans. Once that training takes place, however, there is not much follow up to provide new ideas, templates and information from the researchers. A wiki could easily act as a place to store that information. Templates, information and videos could easily be updated as needed, and accessed by all. The historical templates would always be there in earlier versions. Wikis allow for multi-media to be imbedded and easily accessible, and through the file upload feature can contain accessible documents, pictures and other artifacts necessary for the understanding of the UbD framework.

Learning Need 2: Teachers need a space to share the good work that has been done so far as well and also need a space to collaborate on and co-construct new curriculum

Over the years in the TUHSD, teachers have collaborated in groups to create courses of study documents that guide the teaching of a particular course. These courses of study actually are vague descriptions of what a course is, with little or no direction for teachers to follow. On the other hand, groups of teachers have worked to create units of study based on the UbD framework. These units are stored in department folders on the District server for any teacher to access. The collaborative work up until now has been done in person, and with the budget cuts we are facing, our already meager staff development days have dwindled to two or three per year.

Why a Wiki? The District server is mostly reliable, and is available through the Internet from most places with a login name. However, the static nature of a file sitting on the server does not allow for change and fluency, nor does it allow for teachers to collaborate and learning from each other unless they are sitting together. As it is now, Mr. Jones might find the unit on the server, look at it and see a place in the learning opportunities section where he can add a great video project he just designed to better help students achieve the learning outcome, while Mrs. Smith might expand the learning outcome to include a writing type, and tweak the assessment to suit that new outcome. Both teachers might indeed then store those revised units on the server, but now there are three separate renditions of the unit, making it extremely difficult for a new teacher to learn from her peers and to add to the knowledge base.

A wiki would allow for the learning to be fluid and developmental. Let's say the curriculum development group posted the original unit on a wiki. Mr. Jones might find it, see a place for his video project, and add it right in, including a link to the videos that his students created to serve as exemplars for other teachers. Mrs. Smith then adds the writing outcome and modifies the assessment, but when she actually goes through the unit she understands that the writing outcome is not appropriate. She can then, using the wiki function of saving versions, replace the assessment with the old one. Ms. Washington then accesses the unit on the wiki, tries it out, but has a difficult time getting through the video project. Using the discussion widget, she can begin an online discussion with her colleagues about how she could modify the video project for her students, getting ideas - learning - from her colleagues. She could even upload a video of herself teaching the lesson to get more explicit coaching about certain portions of the delivery.

Learning Need 3: Administrators and teacher leaders need to help facilitate and moderate so that the learning and sharing is appropriate and moving in the direction laid out by the District Office

As with physical collaboration, the wiki-based collaboration would have to be monitored, prompted and guided by both teacher leaders and administrators at the site and district level. In the scenario above, maybe a teacher leaders could have pointed out to Mrs. Smith before she added the writing outcome into the unit that it wasn't a good idea. Likewise, district and site administrators usually ensure that they support all teachers learning by planning professional development opportunities that ensure all participate.
This screenshot shows some of the ways in which a wiki can be managed.

Why a Wiki? The moderators of wikis have control over aspects of their use that would support the above learning need. Teacher leaders could monitor the changes in the unit to ensure that the course objectives were still being met, and could also monitor whether and how each teacher was participating in the collaboration. Features of wikis allow moderators to lock and unlock pages, tag pages, send messages to users, and add discussion widgets or even discussion pages. Anyone who is a member of a wiki can also look back at versions of the wiki to see who contributed and who made changes. If a particular teacher was always making changes that others didn't like or agree with, a teacher leader or administrator could use that information to coach that teacher about best practices. Moderators can always add pages, reorganize the wiki, pose questions, or otherwise guide its use.