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One Teacher Reflects on a Wiki Lesson Gone Wrong

One Teacher Reflects on a Wiki Lesson Gone Wrong

It can be hard to admit when a lesson goes terribly wrong. But rather than bottle is up, Teaching feature writer, Kate Olson, share with us how one of her Wiki lessons didn’t turn out the way she planned. As technology becomes more common in the classroom, it’s especially refreshing to hear from a teacher who has tried to something and lets us learn from her not-so-great experience. -Jill, Editor,

In the following article, Kate not only shares what happened, but exactly how she corresponded with her students on the issue.

A Letter to Her Class

Dear 6th graders -

I decided to write this in a blog post and have you respond here rather than having an open class discussion right away. After our discussion yesterday about appropriate wiki material and proper citing of photos, several students decided to add somewhat questionable material to the wiki during school yesterday, including photos without citations. This was something that I was going to address again during class today. However, last night, 1 or more students abused their wiki privileges to such a degree that I was forced to delete the entire wiki. Why? Well, because I was trusting and set it up with openly-known (to your and Mr. M’s class) passwords, I can’t 100% prove who the offender was. I also can’t prove that the offender was in this class, and don’t want to falsely accuse anyone. I have a fairly good idea of who the student is, but this truly is a class issue. I’m very concerned because in the last group there was never even a single misuse of the wiki or privileges.

The student(s) last night took advantage of the openness of the wiki and a) sabotaged other pages, which is completely disrespectful and against all proper-use guidelines, and b) wrote inappropriate material on the other pages, including material that would be considered bullying by any standards.

I would like you to comment here with your reaction to this incident and let me know why any 6th graders, ANYWHERE, should be allowed to work on a wiki. Do you think 6th graders are mature enough to handle a project like this? What do you think I, as the teacher, could have done differently?

Due to the seriousness of this incident, this is a graded assignment that will be reported back to Mr. V for the gradebook.”

The comments to this post are the most important part – head on over and read them, these kids show a lot of insight and really hammered me for my lack of security on the wiki. Just one example:

“I think sixth graders are mature enough to handle the responsibility of using the wiki’s in an appropriate way. I think you just gave us too much freedom. If you would have had guidelines to what we could do on the wiki’s this wouldn’t have happened. I think you should have taught everyone how to put pictures on the wiki’s. If we had guidelines of what is appropriate this would not have happened. Some kid’s don’t know what is appropriate and what is not.“

NOTE: I was online last night when this happened and got email notification immediately – the site was down within 5 minutes of the material (which was NOT obscene or anything, just inappropriate) being posted. No one else in the class ever saw it.

My Rationale

1) Why did I delete the wiki? This seemed the best way to ensure that no one else would see it and in light of what happened that night, I knew that I would have to change things drastically before this class could work on a wiki again. It seemed easiest to remove the site and start over if needed. Because of how I structured the logins, I couldn’t verify who the offender was.

2) I didn’t use unique logins and passwords because I have 210 students – I see them for only 10 days at a time. I simply don’t have the time to create that many id’s if the students are only using them for that short of a period. It worked great for the first 3 groups – they would delete what was on the page when they got there for their rotation and start over. I can’t repeat this enough – I had NO issues until this round. My fault? Possibly. Probably.

3) I teach the same thing so many times I forget what I’ve taught each group and probably skimmed some of the guidelines because it felt like I had said them already. I’m definitely feeling at fault at some level for not preparing the students enough, but I’m not taking all the blame here. As another teacher said to me today, most of these kids DO know the difference between right and wrong, and sabotaging another’s work is ALWAYS wrong. I’m still kicking myself, though – no more boots needed in comments here :-)

4) As for letting the students work on the wiki outside of class (see student comments) a lot of the kids in other classes really got into the project and spent a lot of time at home on it – they thought it was so cool that they got to create their own webpage. I thought that this was treating them like adults, like they all seem to want. As they commented, though, they thought they should have had stricter controls.

5) As for the pictures and teaching appropriate citing, I just hadn’t gotten there yet. The students started adding pictures OUTSIDE of class, I addressed it on Thursday, but wasn’t able to teach the lesson on it yet. In the past if this happened, it took one tiny mention and they held off on pictures until we could do it together. Looking back, I definitely should have told the students that they weren’t allowed to add pictures until we were all together – 100% my fault for not making that clear on day 1. After I addressed it on Thursday, however, they DID have that information, so what happened after that was blatant disregard for the guidelines.

Lesson Learned

Not to sound beaten down or anything, but my conclusion is this: I was out of my league. This project was way bigger than the time I had allotted and I jumped too high. I get so frustrated with the fact that I never get to teach “real” stuff that I try to do too much. This project deserved a lot more than I can and did give it and it came back to bite me. Big time. Why am I sharing this? Well, why not let others learn from my rather-large mistakes?

What I’m Doing About It

Monday and Tuesday are my last days with these students and we’re having Digital Citizenship Bootcamp. Keyboarding is getting thrown out the window – this is much more important. Can you help?

I would love suggestions on material and format for my upcoming bootcamp (in comments here would be awesome) and am begging for adults or experienced students to go over and comment on my post to my class. I want them to understand this issue is bigger than them and their 6th grade naughtiness. I’d love input from anyone, regardless of your background or profession – real life stories and advice hit home harder than anything.

Many people have told me today that it’s a good learning experience, that good teachers reflect and learn from things like this, and that it’s happened to others, but I’m still just so angry with myself that I let this happen. However, I’m ready to move on and am really thinking positively about next week and the lessons we’ll all be learning about appropriate online behavior. If you have a moment, send some wisdom to these kids.

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