Wikispaces: Connecting the Music Classroom with the MySpace Generation
By James Frankel
Each December, I come with a list of New Years resolutions for myself, and for my teaching. My personal resolutions usually last a few weeks before I break them, but my teaching resolutions usually energize my teaching for the remainder of the school year. This year my resolution was to utilize Wikispaces with both my general music classes and my instrumental music program. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Wikispaces, it is a website located at: http://www.wikispaces.com that offers free web space for educators. You can set up as many websites as you’d like, registration is fast and easy, and creating a website is as simple as writing a Microsoft Word document.
What’s a Wiki?
Most people know the term wiki through the controversial online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, located at http://en.wikipedia.org. It’s controversial because of the democratic nature of wikis – they can be edited by anyone. This means that it is possible to find inaccurate information in each entry. There is a team of editors who are employed by Wikipedia to make sure that inaccurate edits are quickly corrected. I have had conversations with many teachers who do not allow students to use Wikipedia for research because of this, but I believe that Wikipedia can serve as an excellent example for students to be aware that not everything they read on the Internet is reliable. Teach them to confirm their findings on Wikipedia with other reliable websites.
As far as Wikispaces is concerned, teachers have the option to allow their students to edit any of the content that is posted on the website. You can track any edits and revert them, but I personally do not allow my students to edit. I use Wikispaces purely as a place to create and host my websites – especially because of the Discussion Board feature that Wikispaces comes with. While there are some cases where the full editing capabilities of Wikispaces might be useful (writing a group story in Language Arts, or teaching students about the editing process) I haven’t found one for my situation just yet. But give me some time.
Setting Up Your Wikispace
When you log on to the Wikispace website, you will find an option in the upper left hand corner of the homepage that says “Make A New Space”. Next you’ll be asked to name your site, and decide whether it is Public, Protected, or Private. The Public and Protected versions are free. I would suggest creating a Protected site that allows users to view the site, but gives you the option of whether students can edit. A Public site allows anyone to view and edit. The Protected site is the best option, but there is a fee of $50 annually. Once you’ve named your site, you are ready to go. First you are taken to your home page that has an “Edit This Page”. When you click it you are presented with what looks like a blank Word document. You can import pictures, movies, audio files, and documents (up to 10MB each) as well as write text for your site. You can also create links to outside websites as well as links to other pages in your Wikispace. Creating new pages is also very simple – just click on “Make New Page” in the upper left hand corner, name it, edit it, and then link it. You can also create menu items for easy navigation.
The most important feature of Wikispaces is the ability to create questions in the Discussion Board section. When you click on the Discussion tab, you can enter subject headings and questions for your students to answer. In order for them to answer, they will need to join Wikispaces – they need to create a screen name (I strongly suggest they use only their initials) by entering an email address. Once they have joined Wikispaces they have the ability to create their own Wikispace – and they will.
Implementing Wikispaces into the Music Classroom
I have created Wikispaces for my 6th & 8th Grade general music classes and for my band program, and they have been extremely successful. By successful I mean that the students have been visiting the site quite frequently, and the discussion threads have been very insightful. In the two weeks that the sites have been up (at the time of this writing) the band site has had 20,000 hits, and my general music sites have over 10,000 hits each. That’s very impressive. The discussion posts have been very active with over 400 postings by the students. Managing these three sites has become quite time consuming, but I am finding that the discourse going on with my students has totally energized my teaching. It is amazing to read what 6th graders write. They are all intelligent, insightful, and savvy online personalities. What they write doesn’t always match up with their in class personalities. My shyest students are my most active posters.
In my general music classes I use the Wikispace site to post all of the notes from my PowerPoint presentations, as well as examples of student work and links to relevant websites. My 8th Grade general music class studies the history of Western Music. For the Renaissance unit, I have created a separate page for the unit with all of the notes, and links to relevant websites about the music, literature and art of the period. In addition to the content, I have a discussion thread that offers students a place to post their reactions to music that I play in class for them. I also place unannounced trivia questions about music on the discussion board for extra credit. My students often answer these questions during school, and are almost always correct.
On my instrumental music Wikispace, I post all of the rehearsal information as well as other announcements. Each lesson group has their own page and I post their weekly assignments on these pages. I also created a survey on the site (using a website located at www.advancedsurvey.com) to allow the students to vote on a piece to be played on the Spring Concert. I also post discussion questions asking students to give their reactions to our past performances and performances at our school. There has been a overwhelmingly positive response to the site, and my band students are always talking about the discussion from the previous evening in rehearsal.
Connecting with the MySpace Generation
The positive response that I have received since creating these Wikispaces has made me realize that my students are part of the MySpace Generation. They have online lives that seem separate from their school lives. They are confident online and write very well. My sites have become a safe alternative to some of the social networking sites that are out there. They are connecting with their friends who share a common interest – music. They are very aware of netiquette – being friendly online – and self-govern when anyone slips up. The discussion threads provide insight into how and what students think about the music-making process.
One of the features of the site allows the site organizer to track the activity of the site using the “Manage Space” option. You can see how many visits your site has, how many edits, how many messages, and how many hits. I have found myself checking these statistics frequently, and have been stunned at the sheer amount of activity. I believe that by creating these sites, I have extended my classroom to an almost 24-hour-a-day place for learning – in a way that the students connect with. I am looking forward to seeing how these sites take shape over the remainder of the school year. I strongly urge you to try creating a Wikispace for your music classroom.
As always, if you have questions about Wikispaces or anything about music technology, email me at: email@example.com.