Wiki Homes and Portals

or, How Customer-Oriented Thinking Limits Pedagogical Considerations by Turning Learners into Customers and Squanders the Opportunity to Really Make a Difference in Learning


An early version of Wikis, Blogs, and eFolios.


Portals and ePortfolios, They tell me, are The Way to Go when it comes to integrating and encouraging student computer use. Let the User Customize his or her entry page, in the manner of AOL or MSN. And give the student portfolio space to show off their work.


We work this by providing a small set of options to place on the page. Some of the links and content are Required (must have a link to web mail). Others are Optional (the user can choose to have it or not, but not adapt it.) Still others are customized by faculty (adding a link to a course website to a student's page - whether she wants it there or not). It's all very Customer-Friendly. Makes it look like the user has choices, when her choices are limited and controlled by the System.


But Customer-Friendly is often Learner-Hostile because the customer model is the wrong model for teaching and learning.


Do it this way


    * set up a wiki farm, offering each student and faculty member a wiki page

    * give them a default set of links to stuff on that page

    * show them how to link to anything else they want to.

    * offer links to active content (rss feeds, aggregators)

    * give them documentation and advice, probably through a link to an ur-wiki

    * leave them alone 


We could leave it there, but give a little power to the user and she could take if further.


    * show students how to create linked pages. they can then use the wiki not only to create portal pages but for notetaking, writing, projects, journaling, reflection...

    * teachers could ask students to use their wiki for notes, writing, projects, and the like. they could then review work in progress and, if given permission by the student, edit, comment, intervene right in the project itself. 


Giving students and faculty wikis makes the primary computing environment a pedagogical environment.


Go one step further: Give students blogs: locally hosted and maintained. Equipped with both wiki and blog, students can choose to use one or the other or both as rhetorical and pedagogical needs demands.


The significant shift would be from static presentation in templates (ePortfolio) to active, ongoing construction and reconstruction, designing and adapting sites to needs and content rather than shoe-horning content into templates.


This is what we could be doing, easily, for cheap. This is the kind of thing that would support students academically. This is the kind of thing we should provide, just as we offer students high-speed access and an email account. This isn't visionary. It isn't revolutionary. It's pedestrian. Sadly, we're more interested in marketing the status quo.