This semester is my first as a "stand-alone" instructor, teaching an upper level History course. Given my interest in technology and teaching and an eye to the fact I'm on the job market this year, I decided to step into the wilds of the course wiki. While to some the use of a wiki might seem rather ho-hum, in my department a collaborative writing project utilizing a dedicated course wiki is virtually Star Trekkian. I, and my students, are virtual guinea pigs.
I have to admit I was at first rather glib about the whole thing. I mean, how hard could it be? I'm no idiot. I'm familiar with Wikipedia and understand, at least on the consumer level, how a wiki works. And, being the highly trained scholar that I am, I read (and read and read) articles, blogs, and websites galore on the fine art of the wiki. Nothing prepared me, however, for the complexities involved in constructing a wiki from the ground up (with a little help from Confluence). And as I discovered, no one on campus (at least that I could find this summer) had designed a collaborative writing project quite the way I envisioned mine would be. Everyone was excited about the prospect, but the more people I talked to, the less excited and the more nervous I became. What had I gotten myself into? I had to consider: would it be public access? how will I structure evaluation of my students' projects? what part will be individual versus group responsibilities? what have I not taken into consideration?
Then there was my own steep learning curve, and (horrors!) actually having to teach my students how to use it. Because as it turns out, out of 30 students, only 2 had actually used a wiki before, something I found quite surprising. Where were all those students I'd had while I was a teaching assistant for our large survey courses, who snickered about our archaic technology (overheads) and knew instinctively how to hook up a laptop to an LCD projector without consulting an instruction booklet? Well, they weren't history majors. Which brings me, in a rather longwinded way, to the point of this posting. For all the data mining, cloud computing and highly advanced technology research being done on this campus, there is still an intellectual and geographical divide when it comes to application at the teaching level of humanities and technology--when oftentimes in Gregory Hall for example, a "smart room" means making use of an overhead projector, a DVD player or lugging an LCD projector to class three days a week. My ITS room in Noyes Lab this semester was something of a revelation. And I've gotten quite used to having it.
And I have to consider: if I hadn't been given the opportunity to teach in a technologically-equipped classroom, would I have ever considered our wiki project? Probably not. And I think my course (and my students) would have been the less for it. Because as it turns out, for all its growing pains, our wiki has turned out to be quite something, limited only by my students' imagination. And, of course, by classroom technology.