Making a Photo Story tutorial and a knowledge repository, I rethought the struture of the web

by Mr. Sheehy

I tried to log some hours today on my knowledge management project, and it was a little weird. You see, we had a professional day today and I chose to work on my project the entire time – it’s professional development, after all, and then I can etch all the time on my internship log. What it meant, though, was that I didn’t really want the time to go slowly, like I often do on these professional work days. These are days where we can work on long term planning and development for a large portion of the day, and I naturally hope to accomplish a ton. This time, though, I was less concerned with making large strides and more concerned with jumping up a few hours on my project. So my thinking looks more like this: let’s get this over with so I can go home and hang out with my girls. It’s shameless, I realize, but it’s Friday, and it’s the truth.

Anyway, I thought I’d share some of the little pieces of my work during this stretch.

For one, I assembled a tutorial on using Photo Story 3 in the classroom. It’s not difficult software to use and most folks could sniff out how to use it, but I tend to think a tutorial page like this makes some of my colleagues more daring when it comes to using something new. They feel like there is some help available, or it makes it so when they start out exploring it, they have a bit of background knowledge to help them work through it (there’s that schemata thing again).

The odd thing about that tutorial page, too, is that I have now posted it in three places on the web, so it can reach three distinct audiences.

  • My department’s wiki – that knowledge repository I’m creating
  • My personal Web Tools for Teaching wiki – where I put tutorials and other help on web tools. I use this for a professional development course I teach during the summers and as a general reference/repository of tutorials and lessons I’ve created for using technology in education.
  • A technology leaders’ wiki – another type of knowledge repository I’d like to launch simultaneously with the department wiki I’m creating. This one would be used by a group of teachers from around the school district who serve in the capacity of “technology leaders.”

I would like to have this created only one time, but if I make it only once and link people to that one page, they’re more likely to get disoriented and lost as they meander about the Web. With one click, teachers from my department would lose all those sidebar links and consistent visual stimuli that help them navigate through the department wiki. It’s like what I need is a kind of site that operates like a frames based web page, where the main box bounces all over the web, but the box on the left and the top remain in the same location, retaining the original navigation of interest.

Wouldn’t that be cool though? You could have every website log information in the header of the html that dictated the most important navigation – the top bar, top level navigation, so to speak. And in my browser I could choose an option that displayed that navigation in a type of sidebar. Then I could click at will all over the web, following the hyper content where e’r it leads, all the time remaining rooted in the site where I ultimately want to be. You kind of have this effect with Wikipedia, but that’s just because the content of Wikipedia is so astoundingly large. It’s unrealistic to think that the web as a whole – those small pieces loosely joined, as Alan Levine has called it – could be so uniformly organized as a site like Wikipedia. But if we had a different way of coding it or displaying it, we might be able to join the pieces better, right? That’s ultimately what I’d like – a smoother joining of the various pieces, so there would be less need to repeat content because viewers wouldn’t need to spend so much time orienting themselves to new pages. Call it extreme mashup. Or something.

(Side note: when I re-read the above part of the article a couple hours later, I thought to myself, “That’s what tabs and multiple windows are for, and why you can code your links to open in another browser window. You haven’t thought of anything helpful at all here – just a way to confuse the cluttered screen a little more.” So I haven’t really rethought the web so much as stated something someone else thought about 20 years ago. That’s my kind of thinking.)

For two (maybe what is above here is more than one, but I consider all that talk about the tutorial I created to be one, kind of like I consider questions with parts A, B, and C to be only one, despite my students’ protests), I wrote a letter to my colleagues and included what I wanted to be a small statement of justification for why I was launching the knowledge repository web site (I don’t use the term “repository” when trying to pitch the project). It accidentally turned into more than a short statement, and I probably lost my audience by drawing it on too long. Oops. I’ll stick it here for the sake of repetition and historical reference, as well as a follow-up to my recent tirade against working with colleagues.

Ha – I just spoke of my own work as being worthy of historical reference. It makes it sound important, doesn’t it? I shouldn’t have to mention that I happen be the historian that might reference it, but I will to make sure no one thinks I think too highly of my own stream of thinking.

In terms of explanation, or to sell you on the need for the project, I will say just this. I believe we have in this department a fairly constructive and well-functioning community of practice, but being educators, we work in isolation – we’re “loosely coupled” pockets of independent workers who get to interact on occasion but rarely have the opportunity (or often the desire) to collaborate deeply.

We also work in a highly politicized industry with a fantastically large bureaucracy, where top-down initiatives generally drive us crazy and accomplish little besides adding arbitrary items to our to-do lists. I am not one to put faith in the top-down process, and in that way I do not think there is much merit in trying to obtain slots for true collaboration during our professional time, like in-services.

Instead, I am a believer that we can make our own professional lives better from the bottom, by taking care of ourselves without too much worry for what the top thinks. What I am doing with this project is attempting to create a location on the web where we as fellow professionals can intersect during the moments when we need to intersect. I want this website to be a place where I can go for ideas from local colleagues who are part of the same environment as me. That is, I want resources and ideas from people who teach the same standards I teach to the same students I teach, while using the same resources, and I want these ideas to be available at the point of creation – the point where I choose to create a lesson or activity, whether it be during my planning time, or during my class, or when the custodian is the only person left in the building to respond to my verbal exclamations.
The site will not work unless folks are willing to use it during their regular time, but I’m hoping the idea is good enough that we’ll be willing to do that. I think if we are willing to give to the communal pot with this, we’ll each get in return more than we put in.

That said, I think getting started can be tough, and so I’ve gone after the grant money so we receive a little compensation for making the effort to launch this resource. Twenty dollars an hour won’t change anyone’s budget, but it doesn’t seem bad when you can get it and still be home by 5:00pm.

I look forward to seeing how all of you can help me improve my teaching.

That’s my schpeal and my day. Interestingly, I’ve had this article up almost all afternoon, and piecing it together has ended up becoming my task for the day. It served as a sort of glue or unifying factor to my afternoon, keeping me somewhere near the topic where I needed to be – kind of like that concept of web design I was discussing. But easier.

Blogs are good, and you’ve made it to the bottom of this article. I’ll leave you with this little image, which I’m declaring possibly the greatest picture I’ve ever taken.

Thanks for reading.