Thing 8 – Wikis Wikis Everywhere

For a math teacher, wikis and blogs are hard. There is no intuitive method for students (or teachers) to input proper mathematical symbols and equations without a learning LaTex or importing a whole bunch of graphics.

The power of the wiki comes from its collaborative opportunities – the ability for students to create a shared knowledge. In this paradigm, the teacher takes on the role of caretaker or shepherd, keeping her students on task and headed in the general direction of their goal. Like any large herd, there will be ramblings, amblings and detours, but these can be seen as necessary ‘distractions’ in order to give the students ownership.

Welker’s Wikinomics is a good example of this. Jason Welker uses his wiki as a content delivery platform, allowing students total access to the course material. The collaboration, however, comes mostly through the discussion forums, where students are constantly asking questions (perhaps prompted in class?) and their peers are constantly replying. It is through this exchange that understanding is created.

Economics is an example of a course where the concepts remain constant but the examples are ever-changing and ubiquitous. Mathematics is a bit different. Yes, the concepts are constant, but unlike econ there are not always new examples of that concept showing up in the news. (Perhaps this is a comment on me, but I think I’ve been using the same few examples of parabolas the last 10 years!) It is difficult to have engaging discussions about topics that have been answered ad infinitum the past 10 years. The focus of the math wiki must be different. The Small Stones wiki uses a collaborative note-taking approach (called scribe posts) championed by Darren Kuropatwa. Students are responsible, on rotation, for updating the wiki with the class notes. Other students can then add details or correct mistakes that they find. In the end, it is a peer-reviewed textbook. Unlike the economics wiki, this won’t work in perpetuity. The next round of students needs to start from scratch and build their own understanding from the ground up.

My main concern with the Small Stones wiki is that it is static. It reminds me of reading a notebook, albeit in electronic form. I started a wiki with my grade 10 and 11 students this year. The initial idea was that the students would create screencast movies (using their TabletPCs, OneNote, and Cam Studio) of themselves solving problems in every unit. By the end of the course there would be a dynamic record of how to solve problems of various type. It would also give me a chance to ‘watch’ them solve problems and to identify misconceptions.

As you can tell from the tone of the previous paragraph, things didn’t quite turn out the way I imagined. I had a hard time getting the buy-in from students that this was a useful idea. I like to think that my school is pretty progressive, but the teaching methodologies tend to be quite mainstream at this point. I do hope that my new position will help change that, however.

image: Shepherd by ingirogiro
image: Come in uno specchio 1 by Hedrok