Welcome to the age of the wikitext! Fontaine, D.

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Fontaine, D. ( 2008, May/June). Welcome to the age of the wikitext! MultiMedia & internet @ schools. Vol. 15, Iss. 3.

An Annotation by Jeffery Ayer

Funds are difficult to acquire in districts these days, with budget cutting, economic downturn, and political strife all part of the equation. In this article, Fontaine argues that using new technologies like wikis and blogs can significantly save school districts money, if and when they begin to take advantage of what they have to offer. “Training teachers in differentiated learning – also called differentiated instruction – has helped alleviate some of the issues, but the educational community then found another major obstacle to instruction. The lessons in schools had changed, but the textbooks they used had not,” claims Fontaine. For one, Web 2.0 can become a new resource (and free at that), and it can easily fit into the confines of any district’s differentiated instruction initiatives. Fontaine later writes, “By embedding audio, video, interactive tutorials, simulations, and edu-games, the students will have almost limitless depth on curriculum topics. If you add screencasts, podcasts, and text-to-speech widgets, you’ll have the potential to differentiate instruction to reach every student across the entire intellectual spectrum.”

Fontaine later cites Will Richardson, who wrote Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, who said, “Teaching is a collective effort, not an individual accomplishment.” There are budgetary arguments to be made, but as Fontaine says, “If we are to prepare young minds for the creative thinking of their futures will certainly require, then it is our obligation to use every tool in our toolbox to effectively impart that knowledge.”

He also points out that Web 2.0 shows that the role of teachers is no longer just to share information; rather, teachers need to “given [students] the skills to evaluate, organize, and apply” the information they gather from the internet and various online resources, including collaborative sites like Wikipedia. Most importantly, perhaps, Fontaine says that by nature, this process is student-centered and information literacy!

And as if his arguments weren’t thorough enough, he also points out the strength of constructivist/inquiry-based learning, where questions students pose drive the curriculum. By using wikis in particular, this is exactly what is happening in and outside of the classroom.

The big caveat, however, is the digital divide (access for all students). “As long as the digital divide separates students from accessing the internet at home, a wikitext will probably remain a supplement rather than the primary text.” Still, Fontaine recognizes the power (and weightlessness) of a potential online textbook, and a significant way, if districts truly invest, in saving a lot of money (the investment comes in the form of staff development using the aforementioned technologies).

In closing, Fontaine lists four online samples of what he calls wikitexts, and he outlines the three educational areas a collaboratively built wikitext would address, including “multiple means of representation (by giving learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge); multiple means of expression (by providing learners with alternatives for demonstrating what they know); and multiple means of engagement (by tapping into learners’ interests, offering appropriate challenges, and increasing motivation).”