Two years ago, I created a wiki to post homework assignments. We were encouraged to do so by administrators, and it seemed like an easy way to make sure students and parents were well-informed when it came to due dates and the like. Over the course of the last two years, however, I became kinda attached to my wiki, and it grew to be more than a simple place to post assignments. The wiki served as a place to not only post schedules but a place to post unit study guides, class photos, links to podcasts and more. There were separate pages not only for each class that I teach but also for each unit of study within each course. I spent a great deal of time organizing the wiki and making it aesthetically pleasing. So it’s taken me awhile to come to the conclusion that the wiki must die.
Because I had invested quite a bit of effort into my wiki, you can imagine my reluctance to kill it, and believe me, I have spent the last couple of months trying to figure out a way to hold onto it for the coming year. Alas, it just doesn’t make good sense. Wikis are great for one-way communication between teacher and student, and they are good for collaborative projects and work spaces. When it comes to serving as a way to communicate back and forth with students, however, they leave much to be desired. Part of the great appeal of going 1:1 is the possibility of going paperless, or nearly paperless anyway. I needed a way to not only assign work but a way to collect work as well. If I continued to use my wiki, I knew that I would have to add in another step. I could assign work via my wiki, but students would then either have to email me their completed work or use a program like Turnitin.com to get their work to me. The thought of all those emails flooding my inbox or the multiple-step approach required of using a wiki plus another program for collecting assignments was not appealing to me, but I still clung to the possibility that I could keep the wiki I’d worked so hard to create.
Fortunately, before I dug my heels in too deeply, before I came up with some convoluted and complex plan to keep the wiki, a memory came back to me. When I was working on my masters degree in education, I did the usual rounds of visiting the classrooms of veteran teachers and logging observation hours. Once, I visited the classroom of an older economics teacher who had been teaching for some twenty years. He used a battered, yellow legal pad to lecture from each day. At lunch one day, he told me with great pride that the legal pad contained all his notes from his very first years of teaching. He’d been using it ever since. That afternoon, as he lectured from the dog-eared notebook, I looked around the room and watched the students. Many were not paying much attention and those that were looked weary beyond belief. If the teacher noticed, he didn’t seem to be especially bothered by it. My initial thought was that this teacher just didn’t care, but I don’t think that was true. He genuinely seemed to like his job and his students. So what was it? I think it came down to that yellow legal pad. The notes that he’d created were good notes, very extensive. It had obviously taken some time for him to create those notes, so he was understandably reluctant to give it up and start anew. In that moment, I thought to myself, I don’t want to be this kind of teacher. I don’t want to be so wedded to one way of doing things, the way that works for me, that I fail to do what’s best for my students.
As I said, this memory came back to me recently when I was trying my best to keep my wiki despite knowing that it wasn’t the best solution for either my students or myself. So I’ve started to dismantle my wiki, saving what I think I might use again and deleting some things completely. I know that it might take more effort on my part in the coming year to begin a new system, but I also know that it will be more efficient and effective in the end to come up with a more streamlined two-way communication system. Trying something new will keep me fresh and excited too, which will benefit my students more than I probably even realize.
Killing off lessons, organizational systems, and the like is a difficult thing for teachers, especially when those things have served us well in the past. Just because it’s always worked in the past, however, does not mean there’s not a better way out there. As difficult as it might be for us, sometimes the wiki must die.