Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Wikispaces who has always been a great supporter of wikis in K-12 Education giving away some 980,000 free ad-free wikis for classroom use over the years will announce next week that not only will it continue to support K-12 Education, but will also be opening up it’s free service to higher education as well. The features in these free educational wikis normally cost $50 per year, but are completely free for educational use. The announcemnent will be made on the wikispace blog next week. 

Last year at ISTE 2010 I led a discussion at EdubloggerCon titled “Are Wikis Dying” it was a great conversation and the comments on the blog post added some value as well. Adam, and the team from wikispaces, was there as we discussed the future of wikis in a Google Docs, sycrounous editing world. Wikispaces continues to add functionality and I do think there is still a place for wikis…..just not sure where. Personally I haven’t started a wiki or been involved in a wiki project for over a year. The wiki projects that I’ve worked on with kids have been about adding value to wikis and to the greater good. But then again my school has adopted Google Apps for Education and I think Google Docs and Google Sites has replaced much of the funtionality that my school use to use wikis for. This might not be true of all schools and there are still cases in which I think a wiki is the best tool for the task…..we just have more tools. I think that wikis are getting back to what their orignial purpose was…to create collabertive content. There was a time when we used wikis for anything and everything because they were easy to create and edit. Teachers used them as webpages for classrooms (and still do). We used them to plan sessions or take notes (and still do). But as the Web 2.0 world continued to develop other tools made for those specific purposes have filled those niches and we’re seeing wikis return to their orignial purpose…collabertive projects. So are wikis dying? No…their just returning to their orignial purpose which means we’re using them better and their purpose is becoming more clear…which in a connected world of infinite choice it’s good to see something become clearer.

Thanks Wikispaces for your continued support of education!

What I love about presenting is how themes emerge within my presentations that I was never thinking about before the conference begins. But somewhere in the process of doing 6 presentations at the EARCOS Teacher’s Conference a theme in my sessions emerged.

What is your container?

We talked in many of my sessions about having a container to house all of your web “stuff”. What that contain looks like really doesn’t matter as long as:

A. It works for you
B. It allows EVERYTHING to be embeded

When you create a “class container” think of it as not just a place to actually put stuff, but a place that allows you to pull in information from other parts of the web. It should allows you to the following:

1. Embed YouTube Videos
2. Embed RSS Feeds
3. Embed Slideshare Slides
4. Anything else that has a standard embed code.

Using the above criteria your container could be:

1. A Blog
2. A Wiki
3. A Ning
4. A Moodle Course
5. Netvibes.com
6. Pageflakes.com
7. Share your container in the comments

All of these above containers work. Find the one that fits your needs and either is unblocked at your school or your school has adopted system wide and start creating your online classroom.

At our school we’ve adopted two formats school wide. Our Elementary Teachers are using blogs and when you view them as a container you can see what I’m talking about. Here are a couple of good examples:

There are others, but I think these four when viewed as “Blogs as Containers” make the point clear.

In our Middle School and High School we’re using Moodle. I can’t show you any examples as our Moodle Courses are password protected but within Moodle you can embed all of the above and put RSS feeds in the sidebars. A Moodle course can easily become your container.

Once you view your class website as a container it allows you to think outside the walls of that container and ask yourself:

What can I pull into my space to enhance the online learning landscape for my students?

You don’t have to create it all….you just have to know/understand that you can pull things into your space to create a rich learning environment.

The Netvibes page we are using with all 5th graders is starting to become a grade level container. You can see how we’ve pulled in a couple of things, we can do more with it, and next year I think as this idea sinks in, teachers will want to use it more as a container than just an RSS Feed reader.

Then there’s the Ning that Alan November set up in about 5 minutes in a presentation at the EARCOS conference. As he was talking to the audience I created the site in literally 5 minutes, added a video, embedded the Twitter feed for the conference, embedded a custom search engine, and created a link to notes from another session. We didn’t even use any of the built in features to get started. Instead we were able to instantly create a container for the conference and pull all of the information on the web into that one spot. A one-stop shop for everyone online about this conference and for the educators of EARCOS. If you are an EARCOS teacher or you are looking to connect with teachers in the Asia region to do a project EARCOS-Ed is the place to make those connections happen.

Take a look at your classroom site…..is it a container? Does it allow you to pull in information from around the web. Can you create a container of learning?

Feel free to show us your example of a classroom container in the comments!

A big thank you to Elizabeth Helfant for inviting me into St. Louis for a chance to spend a day with the staff of Mary Institute Country Day School. I was the last in a string of one day workshops that Elizabeth put together for her staff. Being the last of the summer was nice as it allowed us to talk about how tools such as Google Earth, Blogs, and Wikis can be used in the classroom. We spent the first part of our time not talking about the tools but looking at examples of how they are being used in the classroom.

We spent some time searching and exploring the Google Earth in Education section. Where teachers can download some amazing layers into Google Earth to teach with. From there we looked at some high school examples of how wikis and blogs are being used in different high school classrooms.

We spent some time discussing Welker’s Wikinomics still one of my favorite class based wikis. What’s great is that Jason Welker freely shares his rubric for grading the wiki and his rules of conduct for students. Teachers appreciate seeing exactly what the student expectations are for such a site.

From there we talked about WikiBooks.org and how teachers could use this site to not only study, but create the textbook of the future with students. I’ve yet to hear of a teacher actually doing this…but still feel it has some potential in the classroom.

Next we looked at some examples of blogs. My two favorite student blogs Theory of Knowledge and Chemical Paradigms where perfect examples of just how introspective high school students can be. Teachers were shocked at how personal and in-depth some of the posts from students were. How they took pride in their work and how having an authentic audience engaged the students in meaningful ways.

After spending the first half of the day discussing how these different tools might fit into their classes we took the second half of the day and just allow teachers to start and build their wiki or blog or play with Google Earth. The history department got together and laid out some ground work for a wiki they want to use this year. Others explored the use of Nings from previous presenters in the summer. In the end we just gave them time to work….the kind of time teachers say they never have.

It was a nice relaxing day in beautiful St. Louis and I hope the teachers that spent the day with me learned as much as I did.

(Full Disclosure: I am the Educational Ambassador to Wetpaint.com)

Over the past couple of weeks, Wetpaint has rolled out some features that for me are just more reasons to use Wetpaint.com. Some of these features are just wiki madness! You can now choose different “Layout Zones” for each page of your wiki, there are “Content Modules” that allow you to embed some cool wiki widgets in your site and a whole new way to apply for Education Ad-Free status right from within your wiki.

Let’s look at each of these new features and how they might apply to your site and the educational environment.

New EasyEdit Buttons

Layout Zones

New Layout Zones

The new layout zones are a great way to split any given wiki page into a two column layout. I used this feature for the first time on a wiki I built for a conference. What I really love is that only when you edit do you know you have two columns. When someone is looking at your site they would never know. Secondly the feature is on individual pages so you have the flexibility to choose different formats for each page of your wiki.

This new layout feature opens the door to new ways of displaying data, quick notes to your class, or the use of the new Content Modules to show what’s happening on your site and make your page more dynamic. I have no insider knowledge on what Wetpaint is planning or working on, but I hope they expand on this idea and allow other types of page layouts.

Content Modules

Content ModulesI’m most excited about the new content modules that Wetpaint has added. When I first noticed the new features a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t sure how they would be used for education. But as I played with them, the two modules that I could see having the most impact are the Top Contributors and Hot Discussions Modules.

Top Contributors
This module has a rotating wheel of who the top contributors are on a wiki. If you have a class wiki it’s a great way to highlight those students who contribute the most to it. Some students love to see their face or avatar on the home page as being a top contributor and I could see this module being used to motivate some students

Hot Discussions
A great way to show off where the conversations are taking place on your wiki. This module has a cool little flash interface that runs through the latest discussion updates on all pages site wide. I’ve already used it to keep up to date on where discussions are happening. Simply click on the thread within the module to be taken to that page and discussion.

Both of these updates to the EasyEdit Toolbar are great resources for wiki users and allow more flexibility within the site.

A new way to apply for Education Ad-Free Status!

Wetpaint has updated the way you apply for an ad-free education wiki. Below is a picture that will walk you through the process. Also remember that when you create your new wiki to choose the education category that way you will receive all newsletters and communications from Wetpaint that deal with education and wikis.

Remember when applying for Ad-Free Educational Status to give the web address to your wiki and give as much information as possible about what your wiki will be used for; grade level, content area, even school name are good to include in the upgrade form.

Education Upgrade
Education Upgrade

Yesterday the Edublog Award winners were announced and what a proud moment for Shanghai American School, Jason Welker, and the 140+ students who over the past two years have helped to create a fantastic wiki.

Welcome to Welker's Wikinomics Page - Welker's Wikinomics Page There’s a story here that I believe needs to be told and one that makes me very proud that I get an opportunity to work with teachers like Jason who are not only open to new ways of teaching and learning, but that once that spark hits, they take off and leave me playing catch up.

I’ll never forgotten the first time I visited the Welker’s Wikinomics Wiki. It was about 6pm one night last year when I got an e-mail from Jason asking me to take a look at the wiki that he was building with his students. I headed over to the wiki and was greeted by a Gabbly Chat window with 4 people in it. I stopped and watched for awhile as Jason and three of his students talked about economics. It was one of the help sessions that Jason ran after hours for his students. They could come to the wiki, have a chat with Jason or any of the other students there about homework, that days lesson, or about the pages they were creating, changing, manipulating on the wiki. I was completely taken back. I chatted with Jason through the Gabbly Chat window for a bit talking about the site and about wetpaint wikis.

At one point last year I stopped by Jason’s room where he was finishing up a lesson and told the students about a funny econ video that he had found on YouTube.

One of the students in the class asked Jason to play the video for them. Jason just smiled and said, “You’ll have to watch it when you go to do your homework tonight.”

I talked to Jason about posting YouTube videos on his wiki and he told me he found it a great way to get students to go to the wiki. He would play some of the videos in class and others he would just embed on the wiki itself and give them the teaser in class. Jason had tapped into their world. Using their love of YouTube and videos as an incentive to go to the site and get their work done.

As the site grew, Wetpaint picked it up and promoted it to the front page of their site as one of their “sites of the week.” Jason of course relayed this to his students and thus begins Welker’s Wikinomics surge to greatness. You see, the students became proud of their work, wanted to do more work, and wanted to keep their wiki on the front page of the site. As the 2006-2007 school year drew to a close Welker’s Wikinomics was taking off.

At the start of this year a new group of IB Econ students walked into class and instantly were hooked by the wiki, by what the students before them had started, and a sense of ‘keeping the tradition’ emerged. Students wanted to continue to build the wiki, to make it better, and to use it as part of their learning vehicle.

At the same time Jason and I started communicating with Wetpaint developers about creating ad-free wikis for educators. Jason and I worked with Wetpaint through the month of September offering up the wikis ran by our teachers here at SAS as test wikis for the ad-free version. All was set, the final touches were being put on the wikis in education site when China decided that it had seen enough traffic going to wetpaint and decided to block wetpaint and all wikis on it.

Our school had over 30 wikis running on wetpaint. Some like Jason’s were becoming well established and were getting promoted to the front page as well. There was a wiki revolution happening at SAS that on Oct. 3rd (I have the e-mails from upset teachers to remember the date) stopped.

There’s not much one can do when China decides to block sites. Sure there are ways around the block, but it’s annoying. It means more clicks, slower connections and becomes frustrating very quickly. Most of our teachers gave up on their wetpaint wikis that are now blocked.

Jason and his IB Econ students wouldn’t quick though. They continued to find ways around the China blockage. They continued to add, edit, and create their wiki because it was important to them.

At the same time Jason and I contacted wetpaint and we started brainstorming ways to get wetpaint unblocked in China. We worked with wetpaint developers as they even set up another IP address for SAS wikis and tried to port us into the wikis through a back channel. I can’t say enough about the people at wetpaint and their support throughout the month of October as Jason and I worked with them to try to find some solution to the Chinese blockage.

In the end, we did not find a solution and the wikis, including Welker’s Wikinomics remain blocked by China. As committed as China is to blocking the site, the student’s in Jason’s class are just as committed to continuing their use of the site. A site that now holds its place among one of the best created by students.

I wish the story ended there, but this week we have seen another side affect of this digital world. Jason has done amazing work with his students, and his social presence is paying off for him professionally as well. Today, Jason wrote the following e-mail (published with permission):

I have some other exciting news. I have just accepted a job teaching IB Economics at Zurich International School for the 2008-2009 school year! I’ll finish out this year in Shanghai, then head to Switzerland for next year! The exciting news is there’s no firewalls in Switzerland, and my new school is a 1-to-1 laptop school so we’ll be wikiing like never before there! In fact, it was the wiki (and my blog) that got me the job. The principal really wanted someone with experience integrating technology into the classroom, and after seeing the wiki they were sold!

Jason is an avid skier and hiker. Zurich will be a great place for him. As I talked to him this weekend he said “It’s my dream job.”

There is power in these tools. Not even the most talked about firewall in the world can stop dedicated teachers and students from learning. From creating, collaborating, and editing knowledge.

So here’s to you Jason and the 140+ students that have not allowed obstacles get in the way of the learning process!

[tags]wikis, sas, edublogawards[/tags]

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