Welker's Wikinomics: Firewalls can't stop learning

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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3 Comments

  1. Thanks Jeff, that’s a very nice article. What you don’t recognize, however, is your role in Welker’s Wikinomics. Readers, if Jeff had not brought inspiration to me and the other 30 SAS teachers who embraced wikis and the dozens more who started blogging last year, then none of us would have a clue what any of this Web 2.0 stuff was about! It was Jeff’s vision (and the outstanding TechFest he put together last year) that set us on this path! I guess I can thank Jeff for my new job in Switzerland, as well, since technology played such a large role in that offer, and Jeff played such a large role in my use of technology the last year! Thanks again, Utecht!

  2. Now if only your old apprentices (long since graduated) could get you to do some collaboration from Shanghai to other points like Seoul!

    The offer is repeated to cough up a student from SAS to the Students 2.0 blog. Didn’t hear from you after my last shout-out. A shame! I’d love to see some of my old students from SAS HS as staff writers on the first global student edublog. Let me know.

    And congrats to Welkers wiki. He’s quite good 🙂

    (I wonder if he was as uncomfortable in his SL ceremonial avatar as I was?)

  3. China firewall is lame, use water to put out the fire of the wall but how do you get over the wall? – use Freedur.com to bypass it. You can bypass China Great Firewall and access youtube, facebook, blogger and all other sites which are blocked.

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