Wiki While You Work

Note: (Read the published version via The School Administrator magazine and view wiki resources).

How Technology Tools Fit

Technology accelerates,” shares Jim Collins in ‘Good to Great,’ “transformation.” The question facing top decision-makers is this: How can carefully-selected technologies accelerate transformation in the work they do every day? How do new communication/collaboration technologies—like the wiki tools discussed in this article—fit into what makes your organization tick?
“The fox knows many things,” goes the old saying, “but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Many districts never realize how many things they are involved in—until they write them down in one place. One technology that can be used to focus a team’s work is the wiki. The wiki is a web page that a small group of trusted individuals can contribute and edit. Sharing information, recording decisions in ways that are easily maintained and updated online and protected from prying eyes is essential to our work as decision-makers.

A Sharing Tool

Technology’s power is no longer just in making information available. Rather the power to write ideas, share information and allow reflections to be published at will is the difference maker. This attitude of sharing and collaborating changes your organization from individuals at the table to a learning, organic team. This has powerful implications for accelerating transformation.
“Wiki web sites are easy to use,” quips Lee Lefever in his video introduction “but hard to describe.” (View it online - http://snipurl.com/wikiintro). Wikis are web pages that can be easily edited, connected to each other through keywords, and feature subscribable content.
If collected over time, the wiki can serve as the collective history of discussions had, documents shared, and decisions reached. As a decision-maker in your district, consider using wikis as ways to accomplish the following:
  • Agenda Planning - Move meeting agendas from email to wikis. In our weekly team meeting, staff provide updates on their priorities for the week. Instead of reciting those priorities aloud, they enter them in the wiki PRIOR to the meeting. If items need to be added to the agenda, or explanations for agenda items shared in advance of the meeting, those are put into the agenda of the wiki before the meeting starts. As decisions are made, those decisions are saved in the wiki and updated by the person(s) responsible for implementing the decision. Updates are then made to the page periodically so that everyone who was in the meeting can see the completion status of a project.
  • Aggregating Team Information - Recording day to day decisions and aggregating information from multiple team members. Audience: For example, Superintendent’s Cabinet.
Example: http://itls.saisd.net/km/index.php?n=Meetings.Meetings
  • Collaborative Document Development - Need to send out a memo to all principals or staff? Use a wiki to work together on the document.
Example: This document was modified over time. You can view the history to see those changes.
http://itls.saisd.net/km/index.php?n=Main.Es0607Onlinelitcircles
  • Document Management - Use the wiki as a way to organize documents. Access can be restricted to those responsible for maintaining the document, while visitors—such as the external audience targeted—can view the documents.
Example: Technology Planning documents http://itls.saisd.net/km/index.php?n=Main.Eplan
  • Grant Planning and Writing - Collaboratively craft district improvement plans, or, as the Director of the Canadian Obesity Network found out, a grant using a wiki. That organization crafted an application for a thirty page grant in less than six weeks using a wiki. The Director writes:
“Using an open source WiKi seemed to me quite simply the most sensible way of preparing an application with 120 co-applicants - just imagine the chaos, had we tried to e-mail around various versions of the word document, trying to figure out which version was the latest.” Source: http://ch-weightwisemd.blogspot.com/2007/10/wiki-wise.html
Each member of the wiki can make changes. The wiki keeps a history of every change made. If an earlier version reflects what should be kept, then anyone using the wiki can revert to that version easily. As a group, we can all take turns keeping our knowledge up to date, the wiki reflecting the changing reality but owned by no one person. A wiki is about knowledge management more than one person’s creativity and the resulting conversations.

Equalizing Input

Wikis and their use can equalize powerful ideas, regardless of their source, and yet, not detract from the Superintendent’s ability to make the final decision. A project management wiki—like this one at http://itls.saisd.net/km —enables decision-makers to focus on ONE aspect of a project at a time at his/her leisure. Yet, it allows his/her team to work together on multiple aspects.
Wikifying the work of superintendents and top decision-makers can also increase transparency of work among all parties, keeping everything fair and above board for all.

Conclusion

As an educator, I often ask myself how I can use new and emerging technologies to change—for the better—what I do. If new technologies like wikis can foster increased communication and collaboration, and knowing what emphasis top level administrators on such activities, it seems wikis could be one of the carefully selected technologies that accelerate transformation.

About the Author

Miguel Guhlin is director of instructional technology services in the San Antonio Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas. E-mail:mguhlin@gmail.com.

Resources

Miguel Guhlin has compiled useful background on wiki technology and its uses in a wiki he maintains at wiki resources, including links to school district-based examples of the wiki applications referenced in his column.