Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Why my PD wiki failed

Those of you who have followed my blog for a while may remember me posting about a professional development wiki for the teachers at my school that I was trying to get off the ground this time last year. The idea initially came to me after last summer’s RSCON event as I was thinking how to share what I had learned. I thought a wiki would be an ideal way to introduce new web 2.0 tools to my colleagues whilst also creating an archive of lesson ideas and screencasted presentations to be accessed and viewed in the teacher’s own time.

Alas, one year on the website (The TED Teachers’ Network) is unused and hasn’t been added to or accessed for a long time. To be honest, I had forgotten about it until I saw a post on Martin Warter’s blog about a similar problem he had had with his school’s wiki for teachers. That got me thinking about why my attempt had failed - I think reflection of this kind is just as valuable as reflecting on what worked well, if not more so - and here’s what I came up with:

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A broken network is no network at all - Image by evershedm

  • Miscommunication and misunderstanding

My first barrier came early on as I tried to explain the concept to fellow teachers and heads of department. It is easy to forget sometimes that not everybody is ‘computer literate’, both in the sense of not being familiar with various programmes and websites and also in the sense of not being familiar with the terminology. Some people had obviously never heard of a wiki before (even though one is used as part of the English programme in the 5th grades) and found the concept of editing pages and adding content difficult to get to grips with.

There was also some confusion over the distinction between a wiki and a blog, with many colleagues thinking the wiki page was a blog. Even after I had explained the distinction, the director of the school also informed me that such a website was unnecessary because a school blog already existed. Investigation revealed it did indeed exist but that was it and nobody knew about it - what’s the point of that?

  • Delays and red-tape

Once the misunderstandings were cleared up, the idea then suffered from a series of delays as ‘permission’ was required from various people in the school administration. At each stage, it would have to be explained all over again and it took months to get the official thumbs up when I expected it would take days.

In the meantime, everybody else forgot about it and my ideas to have a couple of workshop sessions to introduce the wiki and how it works fell to the wayside. By the time permission came, it felt like I was back to the beginning in terms of explaining the concept to my colleagues and trying to get them on-board.

  • Lack of interest

This was the real killer. We were into November by the time the green light was finally given and,  with everyone into the full swing of Semester 1, nobody was really keen on attending any introductory sessions. Instead, I just set up accounts for everyone and screencasted a video on how to use the wiki. However, I soon noticed that several people never even confirmed their accounts or logged on once but never bothered again.

I continued to add new content for a while knowing that an email notification would go to everyone when edits were made or new pages were created, thinking that would get their attention. Unbelievably, I actually started to get complaints from my colleagues that the pbworks updates were flooding their inboxes. Particularly disheartening was when somebody asked me for help editing the settings on their account - it turned out they were only interested in disabling the email notifications…..

A few colleagues did view the wiki and a couple even added content but it was not working as I expected. One teacher came to me and asked where the downloadable materials were. When I explained the point of the wiki was to share lesson ideas and pool our collective resources, I was greeted with a funny look. “You mean we are supposed to add content?” was the puzzled question.

And that’s when I gave up…. I guess the truth is that rather than an alternative to weekend seminar days, some people would rather just not have any professional development. Perhaps my idea was too big and ambitious as well. Next time, I’ll go for something smaller…

Still, it was a good experience in that I got to learn how to use pbworks, make screencasts and embed various objects. My pages on Wordle and Quiz Generators are worth keeping online and I may reuse them in some other future project.

14 comments:

  1. UK schools have spent countless pounds on these types of platforms to share lessons between schools within the local area, but are greatly underused. Perhaps if you had not given the first training session till everything was up and running, and there was already a nice collection of material there (you could have got some of their work and posted it up on their behalf), this might have worked. Was there a clear reason why they needed it? had they asked for it? It's true what you say tough, we learn more when things go wrong.

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  2. Dave, ı am about to start my own wiki at my school. However, it won't involve pc-unfriendly folks- ıll be doing it with my tech-savvy colleague and 30 hazırlık students. ıt will be part of their yearly project grade so they will contribute. carrots my friend will usually get a person to do the thing you want. Yes, I have reservations, but I know that by keeping it at it and putting a lot of hours in myself, Ill make it work

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  3. Hi David (languagegarden David that is!)

    I never got the first training session done. I was always waiting for the permission to come but it was never organised. You are right in that nobody asked for the wiki but there is a definite vacuum in our professional development programme at present - we have just a couple of seminars throughout the year which lead to all sorts of excuses from those desperate to get out of them. I thought this would offer a way for professional development but with the flexible asynchronicity of a wiki... I guess no PD was preferred by most!

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  4. Hi David (Mearns this time!)

    I also have a wiki project in the pipeline for use with 5th grade students with teacher input only coming from those who want to help. More of that in my next post. ;)

    Looking forward to hearing how yours develops

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  5. Hi Dave, you have my sympathy. People in my school look at me strangly when I say anything about technology, online PD and so on, even they all use ppt and computers in their classrooms, but no more than that. So, I don't talk about it too much, just mention to those who are interested or want to be, like younger collegues. I do small steps, try to learn a lot by myself and hopefully things will improve.

    Take care

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  6. Hi Dave,

    Depressing but true. PD is not popular with everyone. No time, family commitments bla, bla .... a sad fact but true. I've seen this a lot over the years.

    Keep trying!

    Leahn

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  7. Hey Dave-

    Sorry it didn't work out. Tough to get things off the ground, just as it can be tough to keep 'em moving. Your energy was there, but it seems it wasn't met. As Leahne said, PD just isn't everyone's cup of tea.

    For what it's worth, I think the PD you experience w/ your blog, twitter and international exposure certainly return to your local teaching environment in a healthy way. Don't they ?

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  8. You hit the nail on the head with the lack of interest point. Wikis are one of those things that people like to enthuse about, but the reality of getting effective use out of them is much different.

    You need a good number of people at the start, about a dozen I'd say, who all have a similar vision of where they want the wiki to go. You have to have a format on which you all agree and, most importantly, you need to make it very easy for newcomers to get to grips with what you're doing if they are to successfully contribute. None of these things are anywhere near as easy as they sound. I've been part of the foundation an extremely successful wiki*, but only because all of the above somehow fell into place.

    Let's face it, Wikipedia is a f**king miracle.



    * http://peel.wikia.com/ if you're interested.

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  9. Oh Dave, you have my sympathy and I feel your pain!

    I am in the midst of trying something like this myself and am also doing lots of reflection, in fact I'm formalizing my reflection as I'm turning it into a self-study project for my Masters research project.

    Did you catch Carla Arena's session at RSCON? I had a Twitter exchange with her afterwards where she shared with me that it took her about 10 years before
    she got any real engagement from other teachers on a similar type of initiative. That has helped me realize that there may not be any shortcuts and that I'm in this for the long haul.

    I support teachers across 7 teaching programs on three campuses (at least they're all in one city). My latest strategy, and I'm finding it IS making a difference, is to spend some time physically in different staff rooms. I just sit at a PC in that room and wait for teachers to ask questions, or I might overhear something or see someone do something and I make a suggestion. Just my being there has encouraged some teachers to try things, and I have done a lot of ad hoc PD sessions. It has also resulted in more teachers going into the virtual community I have set up, some just to have a look, but some are asking questions, and posting to forums and also adding resources. Only little steps so far, but I can see movement now.

    I realize not many teachers have the time to do this themselves (it is nominally half of my job, but it takes up half of my life!) but in my situation it is paying off. And, like you, I'm learning a lot myself along the way.

    I have to agree with some of the comments suggesting that some teachers just don't want PD, don't want to learn anything new or use any technology - rather depressing in our profession.

    It has been great to see your post, also Martin's and all the responses to both your posts, and to know that there are others out there taking it upon themselves to help teachers develop and share resources.

    Cheers, Lesley

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  10. Hi, Dave,

    Your reflection resonates deeply with a very, very similar experience I had at my school. However, I still keep it and I am looking for ways to bring it back to life. Maybe I`m a dreamer....

    You can read about it here
    http://educationaltechnologyinelt.blogspot.com/2010/01/collection-of-web-20-resources.html

    Thanks for sharing, I sympathize and feel less lonely in my failure,

    Vicky Saumell

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  11. I had THE EXACT SAME EXPERIENCE last year. Nobody even wanted to HEAR why they would want to know about a platform for PD...

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  12. Thanks for all the comments guys. It's good to hear about all your experiences as well.

    Lesley - I like your approach of sitting at the PC in the staffroom and waiting for the teachers to come to you. As with learners, if the curiosity comes from within, more progress will be made. I'm about to embark on a student wiki project and I hope some of the resources I upload there will lead to colleagues asking how I did it - I can then direct them to the wiki.

    Vicky - like you, I think I will keep this project on the backburner ready to make a return when the time is right. :)

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  13. Dave,
    I think the comment from languagegarden nails it: what was the need? What problem are you solving for them? What's the benefit to them? What's the benefit to their students? To the School?
    It's marketing 101: You needed to answer the "What's in it for me?" question and help teachers make the connection between what you're offering and what they need/want/care about.

    Change is never easy, and people always need good reasons to change. Those reasons need to address both the intellectual and emotional objections we all naturally bring to any change process. Helping people answer the "WIIFM" question for themselves is often a good start.

    You have my congratulations for being so open and honest about your experiences. I'm sure it's something we can all learn from.

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  14. Hi Greg and thanks for the comment.

    I think it's a classic case of 'need' v. 'want'. The need was clear - ad hoc seminars and workshops given by publisher reps with a product to sell weren't doing much for our professional development (plus, nobody liked the after-school or weekend timings). An alternative was desired and this was my idea. By doing all things PD online, there was the potential to access a whole host of ideas and resources as well as share our own in a manner that could be accessed as and when the individual saw fit.

    The problem was not that it wasn't needed but rather that it wasn't wanted. In truth, harsh as it sounds to say, I think the majority of the teaching staff didn't really want a viable alternative - they rather hoped that no regular PD programme would be instituted. And that is what we have now - a conference once a year and the odd seminar or two. Is that enough for continuing PD? I don't think so...

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