In what ways might the tensions inherent in wiki use highlight possible sites for the transformation of learning, teaching, and professional development?






"Embedded in every technology there is a powerful idea, sometimes two or three powerful ideas. Like language itself, a technology predisposes us to favor and value certain perspectives and accomplishments and to subordinate others. Every technology has a philosophy, which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards" (Postman, 1996, p. 224).





NFLRCNestedTriangle.gif

When I chose a wiki as the platform for managing interactions in my course, my intent was to address typical breakdowns in learning that I knew were common to beginning world language teachers. Although student teachers' comments suggest that it may have served me well in that regard, I believe its most valuable contributions to my world language methods course were the result of the tensions it raised. These tensions fostered transformative change in our learning community by challenging our preconceptions regarding our roles as teachers and as learners.



Audience


One of the most obvious pressures on our perspectives regarding teaching and learning was the very public nature of working in an online space. Park (2000) explains that conceptions of audience influence both the writer's consciousness and the contexts the writer develops in which interactions with readers can occur. The wiki reshaped the contexts for our conversations with content, one another, and the profession, and in doing so, increased our awareness of and attention to audience in both senses.

Prior to using a wiki as part of the methods course, I typically shared a pre-determined agenda with student teachers consisting of the content I intended to address each class session. These agendas were based on my own personal assumptions and opinions about what the somewhat idealized, overgeneralized "audience" that my role as teacher in the context of a methods course had evoked. As I became better acquainted with the actual students enrolled in the course, I was able to anticipate their needs with a greater degree of success. Nonetheless, the rhetorical situation I created with these kinds of texts still resulted in what Park (2000) terms a "monologue" (p. 317) because it didn't make much room for any audience that didn't readily accept my underlying premises. The process of collaboratively negotiating meaning with student teachers around the agenda pages and discussion forums of the wiki sharpened my consciousness of the divergent assumptions and expectations that they brought to our work together regarding technology, pedagogy, and content. The wiki mediated and shaped our existing discourse in important ways, and by doing so, opened up possibilities for new contexts, conversations, conventions, and communities to emerge that supported more meaningful learning.

One of the primary ways in which working with the wiki mediated our interactions was by destabilizing the long-standing image that teaching is a one-way stream of communication in which the teacher disseminates knowledge or information to students, who, in turn, consume and respond to it. Ede & Lunsford (2000) emphasize the dialogic nature of writing, suggesting that rhetorical situations are constantly changing, and discuss the ongoing internal conversations that writers have with the contexts, content, and potential audiences for their work. Our work with the wiki emphasized that teaching and learning are also dialogic processes situated in constantly changing rhetorical contexts by externalizing some of these internal negotiations of meaning in more explicit and publicly apparent ways. Distinguishing between the audience addressed by a piece of writing and one the writing invokes, Ede & Lunsford go on to explain that, "writers create readers and readers create writers." This was certainly true within the context of the wiki, which gave the rather anonymous audience I was addressing a voice, providing them a means by which they could immediately affirm, challenge, or interrogate the content, process, and purposes of my intended plans for them. In empowering them this way, the wiki also invoked a new kind of audience--one that not only passively read the learning contexts and experiences my lesson plans attempted to create, but also actively coauthored those environments and experiences. For many of them, the idea that they could actually alter the "plotline" (and not just a few significant details) of the "text" I was "writing" for them in the form of a weekly lesson plan was confusing, disconcerting, and left them uncertain as to expectations for behavior and participation in the course. Nonetheless, over time, this opportunity changed the way they "read" their experiences in my course, and it changed the way I "wrote" plans and experiences for them. They began to assume more responsibility for and control over their experiences in the course, and I became a more responsive instructor.

The wiki also put pressure on teacher candidates' conceptions of the audience for their coursework, as well as on their view of the purposes for that work. Posting comments, questions, and materials to the wiki expanded their understanding of audience to include their peers in the course (as opposed to solely me, their course instructor). This altered their relationships to one another and to me in critical ways. They began to recognize that my comments represented just one among many valid points of view, and began to view one another as valuable sources of information and insight. Nonetheless, it was only after people who were not directly associated with our classes began to both affirm and challenge our work through the mail and discussion features of the wiki that student teachers began to think about their comments and work products as contributions to a larger, professional community of practice that could have a real and legitimate impact. This thinking was reinforced when the statistics pages of the wiki revealed that people from around the world were viewing our work, particularly when we began receiving requests to join the wiki from practitioners and scholars who are well known in the field of world language education. The receipt of private messages from former alumni regarding their colleagues' increasing use of the wiki and the ways in which they felt that engagement with the wiki's content was changing their colleagues' professional perspectives further empowered preservice teachers. For some, these interactions added authenticity to the context and content of the communications. As their relationships with their audience changed, so did their perception of the purposes of their work and their sense of professional responsibility. By the end of the year, many referred to their contributions to the wiki both in terms of their immediate value and their potential value to future audiences who might benefit from them.



Authority/Power


Our changing perceptions of audience were also closely linked to tensions related to power and authority. Lamb ( 2004) posits that, "To truly empower students within collaborative or coconstructed activities requires the teacher to relinquish some degree of control over those activities" (p. 45). Although my belief in that statement was partially responsible for my decision to begin a wiki, I don't think I fully understood just how much control I would end up relinquishing, or how disruptive doing so would be to my practice. I also underestimated the paradigm shift it would require in how preservice teachers perceived my role as teacher and their role as students.

The fact that teacher candidates could directly access and alter not only the content but also the structure of our weekly agendas (not to mention the wiki itself) also raised critical questions regarding my authority as "the teacher" and their roles as "the students." How much say should they really have in determining the content, structure, and sequence of the course? Was it professionally responsible to give them a substantive amount of control over both the content and process of their own learning? How bound was I to honor the changes they made and the opinions they expressed? In organizing the public space, did I also assume responsibility for evaluating the content and quality of everything they posted? How could I advocate for the pedagogical perspectives to which I was deeply committed without unethically filtering out all the perspectives that did not match my own? Did the fact that our interactions were occurring in a public space and in conjunction with a university course change my responsibilities to teacher candidates, to the wiki community, or to our wider audience? Was there a point at which an attempt to be a responsive teacher would actually become an abdication of my professional responsibilities? In some ways, I wish I could say that I have come to definitive conclusions about these questions. In other ways, I am glad that I have not, and believe the fact that I am still wrestling with them speaks to the intellectual challenge and integrity of our work together.

What I can say is that these are recurrent questions, and each time we have engaged with them, they have led us to deeper levels of understanding about what it means to teach and to learn. It was not always easy for me to relinquish power, and its redistribution was not always eagerly embraced by teacher candidates. At first, they were hesitant to post new content or create new pages without asking my permission. Congruently, I was reluctant, at first, to encourage them to use the wiki in more than superficial ways. When I did begin to actively encourage them to do so, they sometimes expressed confusion about my expectations, insecurity about whether or not I really wanted them to respond honestly to my invitations to express their opinions, and occasional frustration at my lack of directiveness (or at their peers' lack of decisiveness when collaborative decision-making was required). In a parallel way, I often fretted about whether or not the ways in which I was using the wiki were really in their best interests, and worried over how my supervisors might interpret the instructional choices I was making. These concerns caused me to consult more regularly with my colleagues, field instructors, and mentor teachers who were using the wiki, and pushed me to solicit teacher candidates' perceptions of its utility on a regular basis. As breakdowns in understanding, conflicting perspectives, and concerns about field placements occupied our face-to-face time together, the wiki took on a more and more integral role as a problem-solving tool that helped us to negotiate meaning, clarify misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and provide just-in-time support for one another. The increased frequency and intensity of interactions strengthened our identity as a professional community. Moreover, as we engaged in these meaning-making activities, our conversations and relationships deepened, and the time we spent together in class became much more organic. Over time, our interactions with one another were addressing real needs instead of predetermined content based on preconceived expectations and assumed patterns of behavior.

In other words, the wiki deprivatized my practice, making it accessible to student teachers and giving them the power to customize its content and processes according to their personal needs, interests, and goals. I believe the ways in which this involved learners in critically considering and actively shaping their own educational experiences improved the meaning, relevance, and impact of the course for them. It also created a sense of social translucence that held me more accountable for my instructional decisions, improved the quality of our course content, and strengthened our relationships.
Although the ways in which the wiki appears to have influenced preservice teachers' agency in our course were powerful, the ways in which it may have mediated their cognition are equally important.



Cognition


Most wiki environments share a number of features that inherently foreground particular interpretations of knowledge, teaching, learning, and collaborating.
Wikis make it possible for learning environments to transcend time and space by facilitating anytime, anywhere, random access. The constantly changing nature of the content and the structure of a wiki highlights the continuous, dynamic, relational nature of knowledge, teaching, and learning in a very concrete way, and emphasizes that thinking and learning are seldom linear and typically take place in complex, dynamic, ill-structured domains (Spiro, 1991). By "connecting topics within conceptual fields and across problem contexts," (Lampert, 2001), wikis make it possible for a synergistic web of associations to emerge that reinforce the idea that knowledge is comprised of a series of relationships bigger and more complex than any single piece of information, conversation, or community.

Unlike traditional learning environments in which the structure is the primary determinant of the practice, wikis make it possible for these complex relationships to continually redefine the structure of the learning experience. The features of the wiki make it possible for course instructors and peers to provide responsive, "just-in-time" support that is particularly well-suited to the developmental nature of learning to teach, as well as to the diverse needs and concerns that emerge from the wide range of contexts in which teacher candidates do that learning. The questions that naturally arise tend to interrogate the same issues that most teacher educators would have included in the syllabus anyway--standards-based curriculum development, language acquisition, instructional strategies, assessment, classroom management, and so forth. However, unlike the syllabi of most teacher preparation courses, the wiki shifts the focus of those conversations away from predetermined content and toward the needs of the community as they change from moment to moment. This allows the course instructor to maintain a much more responsive stance toward supporting preservice teachers in ways that feel meaningful and useful to them. Additionally, the multimodal experiences that wikis can support tap multiple kinds of intelligence, and provide for interactivity in ways that simply isn’t possible with static texts. Wikis invite a wider range of interactions and a greater degree of spontaneity than typically occurs in a course that just meets face-to-face, yet ironically provide a greater degree of stability because of the social, threaded nature of the discussion forums and the searchable nature of the pages. It is too soon to determine whether or not relinquishing so much control over the content, sequence, and pacing of the course to teacher candidates has any effect on the ways in which they manage interactions with their own students. At best, we can hope that it provides them with at least one alternative image of how the relationships involved in teaching and learning might be successfully renegotiated in ways that benefit all participants.

Although wikis can strengthen interactions and support the development of a sense of community, their most important contribution is their potential to mediate cognition and to shift the "epistemological position" (Lund, 2008) of the learner. Klein (2003) states, "The key to using intuition effectively is experience--specifically meaningful experience--that allows us to recognize patterns and build mental models. Thus, the way to improve your intuitive skills is to strengthen your experience base" (p. 36). While this is one of the principle goals of student teaching, most teacher candidates do not come to student teaching with mental models that are complex enough, identities that are secure enough, or skills that are strong enough to enable them to recognize and absorb the patterns inherent in the experience without support. Instead, they experience their teaching contexts as complicated, unpredictable, and full of uncertainty (Feiman-Nemser, 2003; McDonald,1992). Yet Mishra & Koehler (2006) note that ". . . expertise in teaching is dependent on flexible access to highly organized systems of knowledge" (p. 1020). A well-structured wiki can function as an external representation of an expert's understanding of the field that can serve as an intermediary schema for new teachers until they have enough experience with the field to develop their own. This can reduce the tremendous demands on their cognitive and emotional capacities, giving them the time and space required for them to "slow their perceptions" (Eisner, 2001) long enough to recognize patterns. Additionally, the opportunity to add and organize their own content within the wiki gives teacher candidates the opportunity to construct, in a very physical way, the beginnings of their own personal schemata for various topics within the field of world language education. The wiki also provides teacher candidates with the opportunity to consider the diverse array of responses that others post to their questions, and from that experience, begin to recognize that there are many potential solutions to any given problem. By participating virtually in the problem-solving of their colleagues, they also have the opportunity to begin to develop large stores of experience as they critically analyze and evaluate each dilemma and what is posted in response to it. This has the potential to strengthen both their instructional decision-making skills as well as their professional intuition (Klein, 2003).

Furthermore, what student teachers post provides windows into what they feel is important, how they are making sense of the things they are learning in class as they connect them with their own experiences, and what they understand of the larger conversations happening within the field. The fact that this sense-making occurs in a way that is simultaneously private and public offers course instructors, field instructors, and mentor teachers unique opportunities to "metacognitively meddle" (Bird, 2008) in the development of preservice teachers' professional schema. The physical act of directing them to particular information, resources, and materials may facilitate a parallel development of conceptual connections and mental models. Moreover, work on mentoring and leadership suggests that using professional discourse to label the issues preservice teachers raise can provide them with both the language and the social capital they need to name and seek out information relevant to the issues they are confronting. Meanwhile, literature regarding the differences between experts and novices indicates that novices are so overwhelmed by the complexity of their contexts that they have difficulty discerning what features of their environment merit their attention or are relevant to the decisions they are trying to make. The discussion forums of the wiki enable experienced practitioners to reinforce professional discourse and reframe the scenarios that preservice teachers contribute in ways that reveal their underlying complexities and focus their attention on the factors most likely to lead to a satisfactory resolution (Bolman & Deal, 1991; Lipton, Wellman & Humbard, 2003; & Schön, 1983). Such mentoring can make alternative options for thought and action more apparent, and scaffold preservice teachers' attempts to pursue them (Vygotsky, 1978).



Pedagogy


There are so many layers involved in learning to teach, and even more layers in teaching preservice teachers how to help others learn. The wiki drew all of these layers, which typically span multiple domains and contexts, into relation with one another in a single space. This gave me access to aspects of teaching and learning had previously been invisible to me, and helped me to see new possibilities in the spaces where content, pedagogy, and technology overlap. I learned that in order for teacher candidates to recognize the pedagogical possibilities inherent in emerging technologies, they needed to develop the ability to recognize deep connections in the content they wished to teach, as well as the skills to represent and package that content in ways that would mediate students' cognition (Ma, 1999).

In a parallel fashion, I quickly recognized that content knowledge was not sufficient. In order for teacher candidates to see the possibilities that different technologies open for changing the way their students engage with and apply their minds to content, they first needed to build up a store of experience with a wide variety of technologies. Our weekly use of the wiki provided a solid platform for exploring other technologies. The recognition that many of the applications we explored functioned in similar ways enabled student teachers to experiment more confidently with technology in general. They grew more comfortable troubleshooting, seeking solutions online, and consulting with peers when things did not work properly. The more they experimented, the more they were also able to step outside of the confines of the individual tools to consider their affordances and constraints for different types of work. The more experienced they grew, the more easily they were able to abstract the features of the technology from the individual applications. This was important because it empowered them to think of the technologies as potential solutions that could be applied in flexible ways to a wide variety of problems and tasks, rather than as ends in and of themselves. As their thinking changed, the technology became more and more transparent--a tool that they began to leverage in the service of their pedagogy. Eventually, many were able to envision unintended possibilities for the tools, and to transfer those possibilities from one technology to another. By the end of the semester, many were employing combinations of the tools to their work--creating individual portfolio pages on Scrapblog, and then embedding them into professional websites, for example.

However, in order for teacher candidates to use technology successfully as a tool for mediating their own students' cognition, they need to develop the pedagogy to select appropriate technologies for specific tasks, employ effective strategies for developing their students' comfort and skill with technology, scaffold their students' relationships with both content and technology, and develop the insight to predict where each of these processes are most likely to break down. This is no small task. A teacher with strong content knowledge, pedagogical skills, and knowledge of technology who understands the relations between each of those entities can flexibly draw on each kind of knowledge at different times to compensate for breakdowns or create alternative pathways that will lead to understanding. However, most beginning teachers (and even many experienced teachers) do not yet have such fully developed "technological pedagogical content knowledge" (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). In fact, working with the wiki taught me that this is a developmental process. As I worked to carefully scaffold students' engagement with both the wiki and the content of the course to more fully ensure their success, I grew more and more aware of how inadequate even the strong scaffolding that I thought I was providing really was when contrasted with the complexity of the tasks I was assigning. That gave me new insights into how to prepare preservice teachers to work more effectively with their own students, as well as increased patience for their confusions, their questions, and their development as professionals.

Although exploring the various affordances of the wiki were invigorating, its most powerful impact was on my thinking; for there is a deep connection between the tools we use and the ways we think (McDougall, Curry, & Bruijin, 2001; Mishra, Spiro & Feltovich, 1996; Putnam & Borko, 2000). Wiki technology makes it possible to see one's praxis from a new perspective by highlighting critical components of teaching and learning that may previously have been invisible. These new perspectives also have the potential to push pedagogy--forcing a "reseeing" of one's practice and fostering a "revisioning" of one's pedagogy that is better aligned with one's core beliefs. These perspective shifts make space for subtle transformations in those beliefs that have direct, physical consequences for students. In my case, using the tool pulled my practice into much stronger alignment with my philosophy of teaching and learning. What it made possible subsequently pressured me to examine my teaching more critically, caused me to question and rework what I thought I knew about language teaching and learning, and enabled me to deepen my technological pedagogical content knowledge. Moreover, it pushed me to reconsider my beliefs about the purposes of schooling, what I believe my role as a teacher to be, and my perspectives on students' roles as well. I learned that technologies can be used to replicate, reinforce, reshape, or transform existing practice. Which occurs depends, in large part, on the pedagogy behind its implementation because the pedagogy reflects the perspective or vision that determines which possibilities teachers see and act on, and which they choose to ignore. It isn't the technology, but rather, the perspectives behind the pedagogy that are transformative!



Sites for Transformation


A large teacher preparation program faces many challenges to preparing preservice teachers which encompass the geographically distributed nature of the program; the diversity of program personnel; the varied nature of their roles and responsibilities within the program; and the wide range of preservice teachers' strengths, needs, and concerns. Although our wiki has not "solved" any of these problems, it has proven effective as a central location (both figuratively and physically) where preservice teachers of different languages and program personnel can gather to collaboratively address problems as a community of learners. It has supported the emergence of a connected, but flexible web of support that is independent of any single person or context, and has motivated us to be more intentional in our efforts to create stronger alignment and articulation across courses, cohorts, and program personnel. In doing so, it has provided a measure of continuity to what might otherwise be experienced as a fragmented, constantly changing set of people and circumstances.
Most importantly, it has changed the ways in which it was possible for preservice teachers and I to engage with one another around issues in world language education. It has forced us to critically examine what we believe about teaching and learning, and to consider the ways in which we could better align what we believed with the work we were doing together. It positioned us to grapple in substantive ways with the audiences and purposes for our work, who should have power over the ways in which we did that work, the ways in which we thought about that work, and the processes we used to accomplish it. It also refocused our attention from the completion of tasks to attending to one another's individual, context-specific needs. Each of these tensions became potential sites for transforming our experience together. As we struggled with each of these sites in the larger context of our work with the wiki, we came to understand that learning is a natural part of living which is neither linear nor predictable and to accept that in spite of its complexity and uncertainty, it can still be nurtured and supported in deeply meaningful ways that have enduring effects.



BackButton.gifHomeButtonRed.gifForwardButton.gif



Scholarly References

Bird, Tom. (2008). Chapter 5: Getting down to work in TE 301. Unpublished manuscript, Michigan State University.

Bolman, Lee G., & Deal, Terrence E. (1991). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. NY: Jossey-Bass.

Ede, Lisa, & Lunsford, Andrea. (2000). Audience addressed/audience invoked: The role of audience in composition theory and pedagogy. In Corbett, Edward P.J., Myers, Nancy, & Tate, Gary. (Eds.). The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook, 4th ed. NY: Oxford University Press, 320-334.

Feiman-Nemser, Sharon. (2003, May). What new teachers need to learn. Educational Leadership, 60(8), 25-29. Retrieved January 6, 2008, from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/3-5_What_New_Teachers_Need_article_107332_7.doc

Fountain, Renee. (2005). Wiki pedagogy, Dossiers technopedagogiques (Dossiers pratiques). Retrieved March 20, 2007, from
http://www.profetic.org/dossiers/dossier_imprimer.php3?id_rubrique=110.

Klein, Gary. (2003). The Power of Intuition. Currency-Doubleday, New York, NY.

Lamb, Brian. (2004, September/October). Wide open spaces: Wikis, ready or not. Educause Review, 39(5), 36-48. Retrieved March 15, 2008, from http://connect.educause.edu/Library/EDUCAUSE+Review/WideOpenSpacesWikisReadyo/40498

Lampert, Magdalene. (2001). Teaching problems and the problems of teaching. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Lipton, Laura, Wellman, Bruce, & Humbard, Carlette. (2003). Mentoring matters: A practical guide to learning-focused relationships. Sherman, CT: MiraVia, LLC.

Lund, Andreas. (2008). Wikis: A collective approach to language production. ReCALL, 20(01), 35-54. Retrieved May 23, 2008, from http://tinyurl.com/4cpre6

Ma, Liping. (1999). Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics: Teachers' Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States.
Mawah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

McDonald, Joseph P. (2002). Teaching: Making sense of an uncertain craft. NY: Teachers College Press.

McDougall, Siné J. P., Curry, Martin B., & de Bruijn, Oscar (2001). The Effects of Visual Information on Users' Mental Models: An Evaluation of Pathfinder Analysis as a Measure of Icon Usability. International Journal of Cognitive Ergonomics, 5(1), 59-84.

McLaughlin, Milbrey W., & Talbert, Joan E. (2001). Professional communities and the work of high school teaching. The University of Chicago Press.

Mishra, Punya, & Koehler, Matthew J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge. The Teachers College Record, 108(6), 1017-1054. Retrieved March 29, 2008, from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/publications/journal_articles/mishra-koehler-tcr2006.pdf

Mishra, Punya, Spiro, Rand J., & Feltovich, Paul J. (1996). Technology, representation, and cognition: The prefiguring of knowledge in cognitive flexibility hypertexts. In H. van Oostendorp & A. de Mul (Eds.), Cognitive Aspects of Electronic Text Processing, (pp. 287-305). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Park, Douglas B. (2000). The meanings of "audience." In Corbett, Edward P.J., Myers, Nancy, & Tate, Gary. (Eds.). The Writing Teacher's Sourcebook, 4th ed. NY: Oxford University Press, 310-319.

Postman, Neil. (1996). The end of education: Redefining the value of school. NY: Vintage Books.

Putnam, Ralph T., & Borko, Hilda. (2000). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say about research on teacher learning? Educational
Researcher, 29(1), 4-15.

Schön, Donald A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. NY: BasicBooks.

Spiro, Rand J., Feltovich, Paul J., Jacobson, Michael I., & Coulson, Richard L. (1991). Cognitive flexibility, constructivism, and hypertext: Random access instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. Retrieved November 3, 2003, from http://phoenix.sce.fct.unl.pt/simposio/Rand_Spiro.htm



Multimedia References

Free Buttons. (n.d.). Blur metal. Freebuttons.com. Retrieved March 17, 2008, from http://www.freebuttons.com/index.php?page=freebuttons&buttonName=BlurMetal&color=3

Moxley, J., & Meehan, R. T. (2007). Collaboration and teaching: using social networking tools to engage the wisdom of teachers, TeachingWiki.org.
Retrieved March 15, 2008, from http://teachingwiki.org/default.aspx/TeachingWiki/CollaborationLiteracyAuthorship.html

Montgomery, Cherice, Rodriguez, Julio, & Rosenbusch, Marcia. (2004, November). Supporting student learning. Alumni Connection. Retrieved November 2004, from http://nflrc.iastate.edu/news/200411/homepage.html