Hoping to rely on more than my own learning

by Mr. Sheehy

A couple days ago I described my desire to create a wiki that would serve as a bridge between teachers who are united in cause and disjointed in work. Of course, as usual, I described the phenomenon like I’d discovered it, which I believe is the only way to write – with passion, conviction, and enough cluelessness to think that what you’re writing is worthy of the data it consumes. Despite that approach to the writing process, I am not naive enough to think I am the first to discover any idea, and so I was pleased to find that the dynamic of teaching where teachers are grouped in their task and yet extremely independent has been called “loose-coupling,” a term used by Weick in 1976 – the year before I was born. There is nothing new under the sun.

I am encouraged, however, to find that my department does not fit the classic characteristics of the communities described where attempts at using Internet technologies to connect employees failed. A highly cited factor in failing tools of sharing: teachers’ unwillingness to share. That’s not present in my department, where we boldly steal each others’ things (you leave a handout sitting around, and someone will snag it) and have almost open access to everyone’s filing cabinets.  Another bit these research articles cite is that teachers sometimes feel their material is not good enough to share. I could see that being the case with my department, but I hope that by following my instinct (and the advice of another writer) and making the wiki password protected (thus sealed from our administrators) teachers will feel more trusting of the motives of colleagues and will share. The other bit of data I’ve seen is that teachers most likely to share are veterans – those who have been around a while and have tips to share. That makes sense in light of the fear of being criticized, since veteran teachers are least likely to be bothered by such criticism (and least likely to receive it). If I can nudge some of those colleagues in particular, it may work to make the wiki something especially useful.

Today, obviously then, I am more encouraged with the outlook of what I’m about to create. A collegial environment exists – I don’t have to create that – and if I can craft the tool carefully enough, with templates and structure that will help my peers to create content easily, it just might work.

I would like more research, though, especially on the implementation of wikis in a professional environment. I can learn a lot from personal reflections and collections of knowledge, but as Tony Bowden mentioned on his blog a couple years back,

the problem with technology implementations is usually a social one, rather than a technical one, and this is rarely more true than with so called “social software”.

Its state as a social problem is exactly why some actual experimental research would be nice. Social problems are easy to misread, and misunderstandings and pre-set thinking is easy to impose upon observations of what we see. Thus, when we tell our friends we’re thinking about home schooling our children, they tell us they don’t want to home school because home schoolers “are weird.” Good one, guys. That truly shows how much you’ve learned in all your years of non-home schooling. Do they know any home schoolers? Have they seen how weird the people who go to school can be? I’m sure they’ve read some solid research on that – you know, empirical studies of home schoolers’ weirdness. In fact, I just stumbled across one in the Journal of Educational Oddities yesterday.

Back to my point: it would be nice if I could read more solid research on the social process involved with wiki implementation, so I could move on something better than my own hunches and people’s first hand perceptions and reflections.

Until I find some, I’ll have to rely on my own ability to remember “lessons learned.” That’s not the worst situation, I suppose, since I’m not totally bad at learning things. Take how well I have learned to shut the toilet seat as quickly as possible after the girls have used it. So paranoid am I that I often try to get the kiddie-seat off and the lid down before helping the child in question fully dress. What have I learned that has made me this way? That children are not as aware of open toilet seats as adults, and when flinging off articles of clothing – say, a camisole – they may end up inside the bowl for Daddy to fish out and clean.

By increasingly basing the organization of my instructional content on the web for the past three years, I have learned a lot of hard lessons about web design and human behavior. Most are not as hands-on as the toilet bowl-camisole lesson, but they have changed how I design content for the web, so hopefully I’ll be able to make this work even without ample research on wiki implementation.

If not, I could fail with style and write my observations on it as if I were the first to have failed in such a way. I’m sure as soon as I finish writing that article I’ll discover the very research I’m missing, and it will be dated 1996.


Weick, K.E. (1976). Educational organizations as loosely-coupled systems. Administrative Science Quarterly. 21(1), 1-19.