Thursday, October 27, 2005

A Flickr of Wikis

I'm supposed to be contacting parents who haven't yet signed up for conferences.
I'm supposed to be looking over the pile of collected assignments.
I'm supposed to be repairing my dodgy gradebook.
But I'm not.

I was all ready to go to bed, too tired to dig into any of those projects. But first, I checked my Bloglines and read about that Alex Halavais' students are creating their own communications theory textbook. They are using a wiki as their collaborative space for this venture.

That got me thinking about the power of a learning community that is actively constructing knowledge. Which in turn lead me to my science lesson today. We are using the FOSS Landforms science kit. My students were crowded around stream tables for the second day. Yesterday they "discovered" erosion. Today, we added food coloring to the water source so they could more clearly see the water's movement through the earth materials. They observed lakes, rivers, waterfalls, flood plains, beaches and deltas being formed. They were entranced.

The concepts being taught here are more important than the terminology being introduced, but I'd love for them to acquire both. That lead me to visit Flickr. I found great photos of meander and plateau. It would be powerful for my class to make a wiki of landforms. But how to credit the sources? I explored the Creative Commons explanations page of the Flickr site, but I don't understand it. Is it possible to just search the Creative Commons photos? I didn't figure out a way to do that, but none of the photos I found had any of the Creative Commons marks besides them.

Next I went to Google Images and was immersed in visuals. How rich for my students to search for images of plateau. Scrolling through the search results is guaranteed to expand almost anyone's scheme of plateau. Just doing this will be helpful. How much more powerful if my students could use the most evocative of those images on a wiki page that explains that landform. But can I do it? If our wiki is just internal or only accessed by a password, can we use the images if we credit the photographer or the web page if the photographer isn't identified?

After that I looked at wiki's. I know Clarence Fisher is using PBWiki with his students. Free PBWiki's have a size limit of 1 MB. If we add photos, even photos scaled for the web, we will quickly exceed that limit. I have my own web space through BlueHost. I checked my control panel and found that I can easily install either TWiki or PhpWiki using Fantastico on my site. Poking around for reviews on the web, it looks like TWiki is going to be the easiest to use and the more aesthetically pleasing of the two. I'd love to hear from anyone who has experience with both-- should I go with PBWiki or try to run TWiki or Phpwiki on my own? I'd greatly value hearing from teachers with experience in this area.

And so, that's how it gets to be two hours later than when I started going to bed. I'm still awake. None of my work is done, and I really don't want to wake up early to do it. All I want to do is further explore these ideas.