Wikis in Education

It was fun while it lasted but as of August 11th Wetpaint.com will no longer be offering a free upgrade to ad-free status for educators. The news is as much a shock to me as it is to many of you. I was notified by the Director of Publishing at Wetpaint on August 4th about the change.

Since that time I’ve been communicating with Wetpaint about this decision and my future role as Educational Ambassador with them. Below is part of the e-mail I sent to them.

I thank you for extending the offer to allow me to stay on as
“Educational Ambassador” for educators. It means a lot to me that you
value my contributions to the Wetpaint team. I have appreciated the
opportunity to collaborate and provide educators and students with such
a great wiki platform. However, with the suspension of the ad-free
program indefinitely, I feel I can no longer be an advocate for using
Wetpaint as the premier educational wiki platform. I know that
educators who have already set up sites will continue to enjoy using
them with students, a large part of my role was helping those new to
the platform get their feet under them and answer questions as they
move forward. It’s hard for me to “sell” a program that will now cost a
teacher $19.95/month for ad-removal (especially for US schools that any
advertisements at all on a site is a deal breaker) when there are other
free programs out there for educators to use with students. Although
they might not be as good as Wetpaint, they are still free. I’m also
well known for being a proponent of open source software and for
finding the least expensive (free!) way to utilize technology in

So to that end I will no longer be the Educational Ambassador for Wetpaint at the end of August.

When I approached Wetpaint about the idea back in November of 2007, it was commissioned as a trial project. Now nearly two years later, the educational wikis on Wetpaint number around 160,000 sites with some 600,000 users. I can’t image what the financial cost is of running and supporting that many sites, and in these hard financial times. projects that cost money without making money of any sort are the first to go.

Wetpaint will still support the some 160,000 educational sites on it’s system and will allow those to run ad-free if they applied before August 11th for the Ad-Free status.

As sad as I am to see the program go, I can’t blame Wetpaint (or any Web 2.0 company for that matter) that allows educators to use their product without ads and for free. I can’t image trying to make money that way…Edublogs.org tried it for awhile but even they ended up putting ads on their blogs.

Education and educators are a tough crowd. We want our products free and without any limitations. How do you make money that way? Even if it’s just enough money to run the system.

I have nothing but gratitude for Wetpaint. Their support of me, the educational community, and students everywhere has been wonderful. Of course I’m sad to see the program go, but I hope the educational community will join me in thanking Wetpaint for their effort and support of the education of our children.

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

http://www.masternewmedia.org/images/wetpaint_logo.gifLast Friday I was invited by Wetpaint to stop by their Seattle office for a “show and tell” session as well as discuss how the educational site was running and the needs of educators who use Wetpaint.

The Show and Tell was fun as each department showed off what they were working on. We got a tour of the new home page that launched that day by the development team. The publishing team invited me up to talk about the use of Wetpaint in education. The Wetpaint team was very enthusiastic to hear how their product is being used in education. They asked questions about how educators use the site and how it could be improved for educational use. It was a great hour that I got to sit and watch as the wetpaint team came together in a relaxed “show and tell” atmosphere to share what they had been working on and where they were headed.

I also was able to meet the CEO Ben Elowitz who thanked me numerous times for my work in supporting educators on Wetpaint.

The most meaningful part of my visit came with a 30 minute sit down session with key people at Wetpaint discussing the COPPA issue.

COPPA has been a pain in Wetpaint’s side since it was passed in 1998. We disucssed COPPA and ways that we might be able to allow students under the age of 13 to sign up for accounts. What is really frustrating to me as an International educators, is that the COPPA law does not apply to my school in Thailand yet our students can not take advantage of this great learning platform due to a US Federal Law. Because Wetpaint is located in the US (Seattle) they must comply with the law. It’s not Wetpaint’s fault, it is just the way it is in this digital age. It will be interesting to see if over time countries that have more relaxed rules get more technology start-ups.

As I sat discussing the issue with Wetpaint employees it was easy to see that it is not Wetpaint the company that is making things difficult but rather lawyers who get paid to keep Wetpaint safe, and the law itself. It was a great brainstorm session and I walked away with a deeper understanding of where Wetpaint is in trying to sove the issue, frustrated by the law, yet optomistic that we’ll be able to find a solution to the issue.

Wetpaint has done a great job supporting education over the years first with allowing ad-free wikis, then giving educators 250 uploaded files. They are also supporting the wiki workshop I’m running this Sunday at NECC by flying out support help for me all on their own dime. You have to love a company that is willing to not only give up revenue on their product but support education to the point of flying somone across the country for a one day training of 28 teachers.

The other great news is they decided to keep my on as the educational ambassador for another year. A great honor in helping to support some 2500+ educators who belong to the educational wiki. If you use Wetpaint it’s a helpful community to belong to. 2500 educators supporting each other with issues, ideas, and sites.

Thank you Wetpaint for your dedication and support to education and children everywhere!

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Well, the last day of the 08-09 school year is here. A half day for both students and staff before we all fly out to either summer vacation spots or our home countries for the summer.

Living and working overseas is funny that way. You wonder why prices on airline tickets go up until you are trying to buy a seat on a plane the day after an international school gets out and there aren’t any….on three different airlines. πŸ™‚

Looking back over my first year at ISB, it has been a learning experience. I’ll admit that the transition from Shanghai to Bangkok wasn’t as smooths as I thought it would be.

When we first went overseas to Saudi Arabia we expected everything to be 180 degrees different then what we knew. We didn’t know what to expect and of course your mind wonders to the worst of it. So when we arrived in Saudi and found that really….things weren’t that backwards, it made the transition to a new country much easier.

Then came Shanghai were again, not knowing much about China, and having seen CNN and the reports of what it was like, kept our expectations in check. Never did we think that we would live in a beautiful 31st floor apartment over looking the city. Also, the transition was made easier because our good friends from Saudi, Andy and Amanda, were headed to the same school as we were. We had a built in support system, friends to help you work through the transition to both a new city and a new school.

Bangkok has been a different and difficult transition. Seriously I think it’s a study into human nature. πŸ™‚

Before moving here to live, we had visited Bangkok no less than three times. Thailand is the vacation hub of Asia and of educational conferences in the Asia region. So between attending conferences in Bangkok and vacationing on the islands of Thailand you get swept up in this tropical paradise….which Thailand is….if you are vacationing.

There is a difference though between vacationing in a place and actually living in a place. Your day to day life, as much as you wish it was a vacation, isn’t. Where do you get this, how do you get that, where do you go for this, that, and the other thing. We all have this dream moving to Thailand that we’ll vacation on the islands or at the beach every weekend….but then daily life hits you straight in the face and the next thing you know…it’s June and you haven’t been to a beach or an island once. πŸ™

Of course this is my story and many others have made it to the islands, or beaches multiple times, but for me…it seems life has gotten in the way.

Then there is the school aspect. Moving to a new job in a new school is always a transition. We have these perceptions of what the school will be like, run like, feel like. In the international world, word spreads about schools, which ones are good, which ones to stay away from. Which schools have their act together, and which schools are struggling for leadership. You come to a school with these perceptions of what you expect it to be and 9 times out of 10 I’d say that a school/work place never lives up to the perceptions we have about them as educators and expats. What we think it will be like and what the daily business is like are two different things.

I’ll admit I’ve struggled this year to find where I fit in at ISB. The first 6 months between adjusting to Bangkok and adjusting to the school made for a stressful time both at school and at home. I became very negative at times and had to continually check myself and my feelings. Of course this cycle has a name. The relocation adjustment cycle is something that many people feel when they relocate to a new city and/or new job. I’ve known about the cycle even had training on understanding the phases one goes through. My problem is, up until now I don’t think I ever really experienced the cycle…or at least not to the degree I did this year.

But in the end the highs and lows smooth out, life isn’t so bad, you find your place and you end the school year looking ahead to what next year will bring.

Personally I’m in a much better place moving out of school housing the first of May and into a beautiful house that we are renting less then a 10 minute walk from school. Having your own place and making it your own is one step to feeling more comfortable in the relocation cycle. Here is a video of our new house, we love it and it’s been a huge step in making Bangkok feel like home.

Second is the feeling of understanding the school system. Of buying into the school’s vision, the technology vision and understanding where your role is in that vision. It’s been a great year working with one of the best Educational Technology Teams in all of Asia. As frustrating as this year has been we’ve made some progress this year. Kim captured must of what we’ve done as a team this year in a recent post and keynote that we did together called Moving a Community Forward. We were able to build on the work that Dennis Harter and Justin Medved did before us and as we start planning for next year we’ll continue to slowly move ISB forward one teacher at a time, one class at a time, one administrator at a time.

We’re losing Stephen Lehmann as our IT Director. Stephen has been at ISB for 12 years and 10 as the IT Director. His vision, his passion, his leadership truly moved ISB out of the dark ages and has created a learning infrustracture that we will be taking adventage of for years to come. Much of what ISB has been able to accomplished in the use of technology at the school rest on the back of Stephen.

Overall it’s been one heck of a year. A year that saw me traveling at least once a month to conferences, or to do presentations. A year that started with the Learning 2.008 conference in Shanghai and ended with a trip back to Shanghai to start planning 2.010. In between I went to Jakarta, Hanoi, Kota Kinabalu, Qatar, Portland, Kota Kinabalu (again), and Lisbon. I also taught a total of 4 graduate level classes (and I wonder why I didn’t have time to go to the beach!).

I’ve spent this year focused on bringing social learning to the masses. Which was a goal I set for myself. It wasn’t about pushing the leading edge as much as helping educators around the world, where ever I could to wrap their heads around this new learning landscape. One that is constantly changing and I myself do not yet fully understand (which is what keeps it exciting!). I hope I’ve been able to do that. I hope the e-mails, the discussions, the blog posts, the skype calls, the presentations, the podcasts, the help with Wetpaint Wiki Educators, all of it has helped at least one teacher somewhere feel a little more comfortable teaching in this new digital age of learning.

Of course the learning and teaching doesn’t stop with the end of the school year. I’ll be at NECC in a couple weeks and then in Boston for the Building Learning Communities conference the end of July. In between those times the blog might be a little quieter then usual as I spend time with friends and family and at Safeco watching the Marniers and soaking up the rays of the Pacific Northwest.

So here’s to looking forward and finding what’s new on the horizon and helping education and educators around the world continue to push forward into an ever changing world.

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

Wetpaint Golden Paint Can Awards

Wetpaint has just launched their 2nd Annual Golden Paint Can Awards. Head over to the Golden Paint Can site and nominate for your favorite Wetpaint Educational Wiki.

Last years winner Welker’s Winkinomics has continued to produce high quality student content this year.

Who deserves the Golden Paint Can in 2009?

(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

Major Mark Rea sent me this video and wiki to share. He’s a Major in the US Army and uses a wiki with cadets as part of his fitness program. Recently, he recorded his students thoughts on using a wiki instead of using BlackBoard (which I assume they have used before). Some good honest feedback and a fascinating wiki.

Oh yeah….and he has a podcast on iTunes too.

(Full Disclosure: I am the educational ambassador for Wetpaint Educational Wikis)

Yes I’m still all about Seth’s new book Tribes and leading communities. If you want to know what skill is going to be needed in the future. It is going to be someone who understands and has the skill to create and lead a community of people. Someone who can organize and help the community lead themselves.

http://media.marketwire.com/attachments/200701/305554_LOGO.jpgWhen I approached Wetpaint last January I had to sell them on the idea of what they needed was a leader for their educational community. Someone who understood the needs of educators. Someone who spoke their language, understood their concerns, and who could help them figure out what you do with a wiki once you actually sign up for it. That person of course was me. πŸ™‚ ….or so I hoped it was.

ISB just launched PantherNet. Our Moodle system that syncs (or is trying to) with PowerSchool. It’s still in Beta but early feedback from teachers:

“Where has this been?”

That’s a good sign!

Yesterday I met with a fourth grade teacher eager to see if PantherNet could fit into her classroom. I haven’t used Moodle much in the elementary but there is only one way to find out if it could be beneficial in the learning process.

The only way to do that is find a teacher who is game to give it a go, spend some time with it, and see what happens with the students.

I met with the teacher for about 30 minutes yesterday talking about her classroom and finding out what she wanted from the program.

It’s not about doing one more thing, it is about replacing something the teacher is already doing and then see if:

A) It works for both the teacher and the student.
B) See if there is added value in the learning process.

After our 30 minute talk the teacher was very excited, asked if I could come back in an hour to give chatting a go with her students.

So, we created a simple chat in Moodle to see if there would be any use of it in a 4th grade classroom….a clear and simple experiment.

The topic: What are some of your favorite things?

Chatting in 4th grade by jutecht.

We chatted in class for about 30 minutes. It was interesting to watch the students interact in this way. Some would write something and then run over to their friend to see if they saw it.

A couple observations:

Keeping the chat on topic was difficult. Both the novelty of using chat and the ability to say thing you might not say in class came up. We talked about both issues when we debriefed at the end of the session.

Taught students to use @ when responding to someone on a specific topic. They picked it up very quickly.

Looking at the image above, students are still trying to use complete sentences and proper grammar when chatting. Is this the correct writing style for a chat?

As the student were chatting the teacher and I watched and discussed what we were seeing. My favorite moment came when she turned to me and said, “This is like a new genre. We need to be teaching students how to communicate this way.”

And I agree.

The same day I did this chat with 4th grade. I myselft had three Skype chats with people around the world. From the US, Shanghai, and Australia.

This is how business gets done today. It would be interesting to see how businesses use a chat client. I know when I visited Wetpaint headquarters this summer they have an internal chat system running as a way to communicate. I wonder if other companies do the same?

The big moment came this morning though when I bumped into the teacher in the hallway. She came into school today and was bombarded by students in her class wanting to know why they couldn’t chat last night when they got home. 12 of the 17 students in her class when home last night, logged in and tried to chat.


The were never told the web address…they just remembered it.

They were told that the chat would be turned off…yet they tried to use it anyway.

Two students found out how to change their profile picture and uploaded and updated their profiles on the site.

It was what they wanted to talk about in class

…..did we just excite students about learning? Did we just speak to them in their language? Did we engage them with the tools they want to be engaged with? Why the excitement? Yes, it’s new, yes it’s different…but can we get learning out of it?

Questions I still have as we set up “Chat 2” next week. The conversations with students in the class have been the best part. Talking about communication and cyberbullying and doing it in a safe environment that we (the school) can control.

This is a life skill these students will need in 2017 when they graduate from high school. The skill of course is learning to communicate in digital world using new digital tools. The chat client…not so important.

(Full Disclosure: I am an Educational Ambassador for Wetpaint.com)

Ad-Free wikis

When I met with Wetpaint this summer they asked me what were a couple of things they could change right now to make a difference. We brainstormed what would be easy to change and which items would take time and programing. The easiest thing it turned out what giving educators more space to upload files.

So today Wetpaint announced that educators can now upload 250 files to their wiki. With each file being a max of 2mb that’s 500MB of space on their servers. That’s an improvement from the 80mb that the rest of Wetpaint users get.

The other issue that we’ve been working on is the COPPA issue. Because of COPPA Wetpaint has not allowed students under the age of 13 to register for an account. Making wiki use in elementary or middle school useless for students.

Wetpaint has been trying to find a way to both comply with COPPA and allow use of their services. I asked them if we could solisite the help of the Wetpaint educator community to try and help us solve this problem. They agreed and today I created two new pages on the Wikis in Education site.

COPPA Letter for Teachers:
This page is where I hope the community can come together and create a template of a letter that educators could send home with students getting parent permission to create an account and join a class wiki.

Help Wetpaint with COPPA:
This page is a place for educators to try and understand COPPA and brainstorm solutions.

What I find interesting is here I am in Thailand where COPPA does not apply, but because Wetpaint is located in Seattle, Washington they have to comply with a Federal Law.

How are laws like this going to affect collaberation around the world?….we may need to rethink a few things.

Anyway, if you feel like helping out I’d appreciate it. Just head on over to the site and start editing the pages. One of my goals for this year is to help Wetpaint be able to lift this ban on student accounts. Not for Wetpaints sack but for educators and students the world over!

The EARCOS Staff
The EARCOS Staff

I had two great days in Manila spending time with the EARCOS team looking at how technology and the web can help to streamline some of their internal practices and also looked at how EARCOS can use technology at both it’s Administrator and Teacher conferences to help connect participants.

Up until now, the team at EARCOS has been sending a Word Document to those giving workshops. The presenters fill out the form and then e-mail it back. The EARCOS staff then copies that information into a FileMaker Pro database where they create the schedule.

So we sat down and talked and created an online form that presenters will use for workshop submissions. EARCOS doesn’t have a license for a FileMaker Pro server (and it’s expensive) so the data will be created in a MySQL database. Once all the presentations are in the MySQL database, it can be saved as an Excel file and then imported into FileMaker Pro…taking a total of maybe 5 minutes.

When we started adding up the time the office staff sits around copying and pasting data for the two conferences alone we figured we picked up close to 3 hours of productivity time a week total among the staff.

We then looked at other ways we could use this same method to streamline data collection. Membership directory, Salary Survey, Principal’s Salary Survey, Weekend Workshop Proposals, etc.

Their webmaster has some skills and started cranking out forms left and right and also created a web based interface for in office use to view the data. This became essential when we talked about how much the Executive Director travels around Asia visiting the 110 member schools and looking at sites for future conferences. By creating a web interface the director can login and view the data that he needs like the number of sponsors for a conference, or quick access to information about a school.

We then turned our focus on the conferences themselves and this March with the teacher’s conference we will launch a conference website in the form of a wiki that will allow presenters and participants access to information and each other before, during, and after the conference.

While I was talking to the staff they mentioned how much time they spend updating presenter handouts for the conference. A presenter e-mails them the material and they publish it to the website. They figured 75% of the time the presenters send a second or third batch of handouts and files to be replaced and uploaded taking time away from the staff to have to continually update the site with the new information.

We decided that instead we would have a wiki where once a presenter was accepted the staff could create a page for the presenter and then give them access to that page to upload, write, and change their handouts as many times as they like. The wiki would also allow workshop participants the option to leave a comment or write their notes as a threaded discussion on the wiki page. Creating a collabertive atmosphere to the conference.

Of course we’re using a Wetpaint wiki (Full Disclosure: I am an educational consultant for Wetpaint.com) because it allowed us to do exactly what we wanted. First, we can point the domain name to the wiki so participants do not have to remember a long address (a free service). Secondly, Wetpaint allows us to customize the profile page that each person will fill out to give the information that is relevant to the conference. We don’t need to know peoples age. But knowing which school they are from, what position they teach and how many years overseas are all fun facts that could be shared among conference goers. We are planning to use the wiki at the upcoming teacher’s conference in March as a “soft opening” and then using it exclusively next year at both conferences. Third, because it’s an educational conference it qualifies for ad-free status.

Next, we looked at the EARCOS website itself. We found that any updates to the site were going through the webmaster onto static html pages.

In the office there is one person in charge of the teacher’s conference and one in charge of the administrator’s conference. When updates needed to be made they would have to e-mail those updates or files to the webmaster who would then put them on the site.

Our thought…..what if they could edit the pages themselves without knowing any html coding?

So we talked about using WordPress as a website with a website theme such as this. This is the same theme we used for a site we set up last year in Shanghai that is working out really well. After the webmaster and I get the site set up and running each staff member will get their own login and be responsible for their own pages. Being able to upload and update files more quickly. This layout will also allow them to feature the great articles that are written by educators throughout the region and submitted for their “Trianual” magazine. Now, not only will the articles be featured in the magazine they will also live on the web helping to show off just how involved EARCOS is in schools in the region.

We even got the executive director to agree to start a blog on the site called “On the Road with Dr. K” where he can post about the schools he’s visiting and his travels in the region. He used to have a section in the magazine that he quit writing a couple years ago. He’s now getting excited to start writing and sharing his stories again via the web.

In the long run we’re hoping to be able to sell ad space on the site to create a revenue stream…but that’s down the road a ways. πŸ™‚

All of that in two fulls days. We laid out some launch dates and created a time line for completion of tasks. When I left everyone seemed energized that we were headed in the right direction and everyone in the office would benefit from the changes by gaining productivity time….in an office of 7 that’s a big deal!