Time is always in short supply for middle grades teams. There’s always a parent that needs to be contacted, another form to fill in, more data to analyze, and learning issues to problem solve. To compound this issue is the trend in the past few years to shrink the amount of common planning time available to teams. With less time, teams have to find new ways to work together. Creating a team wiki is an easy and free way for teams to become more efficient and productive. Two types of wikis a team might create are a student workspace where students collaborate or an informational wiki for students and parents. However, the focus for this post is a wiki just for the team teachers where they can share information and resources, hold asynchronous conversations, and brainstorm ideas.
Let me pause just to define two terms: wiki and asynchronous. A wiki is a digital workspace that multiple people can access in order to write and edit. It is available 24/7. It is interactive meaning links can be added and people can respond to what others have to say. Wikipedia, the ultimate wiki, defines this tool in great detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki. Here a great little video that also explains wikis: http://www.commoncraft.com/video-wikis-plain-english.
Asynchronous simply means “not at the same time”. It’s a word that is used to describe digital conversations that occur on social networking and other digital sites. It’s one of those words that is relatively new to my vocabulary, but I love to say it!
There are many uses for a team wiki:
- Notes from meetings can be kept on the wiki, and information that doesn’t need to be discussed can just be posted for everyone’s reference. Valuable common planning time doesn’t need to be spent listening to the team leader repeat information from the team leader’s meeting.
- Information that the team needs at different times during the year is always accessible on the wiki. It can’t get lost in pile of papers or left on a desk in another part of the building. e.g. checklists for field trips, directions for entering grades on the school’s electronic grading program.
- Resources and ideas can be recorded and available to everyone on the team 24/7.
- Teammates who have a brilliant idea in the middle of the night or during vacation can post it on the wiki and not worry about forgetting it when they get back to school.
- Everyone’s voice on the team will be heard. Let’s be honest, sometimes one or two people may dominate team meetings effectively silencing other members. Asynchronous conversations on a wiki allow everyone to post ideas without being interrupted.
- Team members have time to process ideas and information and post comments. A discussion can begin prior to a team meeting or a document can be drafted thus allowing the face to face time to be focused and highly productive.
Some folks are leery or suspicious of wikis. The good news is that the person who sets up the wiki controls who sees it and who writes on it. So if I set up a wiki for my team, I would invite only my teammates and no one else to the workspace. I would give them administrative privileges which means they can write, edit, & delete information. Notification is sent to me every time the wiki is altered, and there is a record of who wrote on the wiki and when. A small wiki is a pretty controlled space.
The bad news is that I wouldn’t want to vouch for security. There is no s in the http. Therefore I personally would never put any information about specific students on the wiki, comment on any colleagues or parents, or post pictures of the team at the holiday party! Keeping those cautions in mind, the benefits of a wiki are terrific–a wiki allows teams to streamline adminstriva tasks so they can spend more time on the creative aspects of teaching and learning together.
I use PBWorks.com. It’s easy and it’s free. Everyone on the team would have to join, a very simple and did I mention free process. There are others to consider; Wikispaces is one. Click to read an article from The School Library Journal, “Which Wiki Is Right for You” that reviews different options. A tangent–here’s a list of wikis focusing on different of topics (non-educational) that some of you might like to explore–The Wiki List. Playing around on a personal interest wiki often builds confidence so we feel comfortable trying them in their professional lives.
I created a demo Team Wiki on PBWorks: http://jillspencerteamwiki.pbworks.com/w/page/35055180/FrontPage. Both the internal and external links are live so it is possible to navigate around the wiki. You should be able to read it by just clicking on the link, however if you want to leave me a comment on the wiki you will have to join PBWorks! Below is a screen shot of the front page so you can see what it contains (the links are not live on the screen shot).
Naturally teams would create their wiki to fit their needs.
Businesses use highly secure (and expensive no doubt) wikis to communicate with clients about projects. The client can respond and give and take is open and transparent. Fortunately there is a free version of this excellent digital tool that middle grades teams can use to save time and increase collaboration. If you are using wikis for team work I invite you to leave a comment and tell us about your experience.
In another post I will take up using wikis with students and parents.