PLC tip: Working together with wikis and Google Docs

As many of you know, I’ve written a pretty popular book about PLC implementation called Building a Professional Learning Community at Work.

My publisher—Solution Tree—sends me out on the road during the summer to present to audiences of teachers and principals on tackling the inevitable challenges of getting PLCs up and running.

One session that I deliver regularly introduces teachers to the ways that digital tools can be used to make the work of learning teams more effective and efficient.

Karen—a teacher from Orlando who came to my session in June—dropped me an email this week looking for a bit of help. Here’s what she wrote:

I enjoyed your session “Using Digital Tools” from the PLC conference in June. I now have a question: Can a WIKI be used for teams to create shared lesson plans? Meaning each teacher contributes to the plans in one location…or is there another digital tool for this?

Thanks for any help~

Thought you might be interested in my reply. You can find it below.

_______________________________________

Hey Karen,

Good to hear from you and I’m glad that my session in Orlando is still on your mind! Without a doubt, digital tools have made the work of my PLC more efficient and effective—and considering how hard the work of a learning team really is, anything that makes us more efficient and effective is worthwhile.

To answer your question, when my learning team is trying to create shared lesson plans, we use Google Docs (http://docs.google.com).

Google Docs is a free tool that lets users create a wide range of common documents—Word Docs, Spreadsheets, Forms, PowerPoint Presentations—online.

More importantly, Google Docs lets users share their documents with others.

What that means for a learning team is that YOU could create a document—common assessment, lesson plan, student handout—-and then you could give your colleagues access to edit the document online.

All of the edits made by one of your peers will show up automatically on the online document—which is really cool.

Sometimes my team and I will sit around with our laptops and a data projector working on a common assessment at the same time.

That saves us the hassle of having to try to understand the changes that someone would like to make to a question or to the layout of our document. Instead, the person who wants to make a change can do so and we can all instantly see what he/she is thinking about.

Other times, we create a document, divide up responsibilities, set a deadline for completion, and then work on our own time.

On a lesson, one teacher might be in charge of writing out a set of procedure steps that teachers can follow, one teacher might be in charge of adding background content knowledge that we expect students to know before starting the lesson, and one teacher might be in charge of developing a question that we can use to assess student learning when the lesson is over.

Regardless of the process that you use with Google Docs, when you’re finished, you can download your final product in common forms—Word documents, PDF files, Excel Spreadsheets, PowerPoint or Open Office presentations.

It’s nice.

You can see an example of a shared document that we created together here:

http://snipurl.com/saunitplan

The teams that I work on don’t use wikis to CREATE shared documents. Instead, our wikis are used to WAREHOUSE the shared documents that we create.

So after we’ve made something together in Google Docs and downloaded it into the format that we want it to be in, we store it in the appropriate sections of our wiki—which is almost always organized by the units that we are required to cover in our curriculum.

Check out the wiki for my current learning team:

http://6sci.pbworks.com

I’ve been working on the Scientific Method unit a lot this weekend:

http://6sci.pbworks.com/w/page/27520987/Scientific%20Method

Do you notice how each unit page includes the same kinds of content items—-I Can Statements, common assessments, potential lessons?

That content wasn’t created directly in our wiki. Instead, it was created with other tools and services. All that we’re trying to do with our wiki is store our newest content in the same place so that it is easy for everyone to find.

It’s a lot like the three ring binder that teams have traditionally used to organize their shared content. In the unit binders that my team used to create, you would have found this exact same content organized in much the same way.

The difference is an important one, though: Our wiki is available from any Internet-connected computer.

That means we can access important content from anywhere without having to carry a binder around.

Better yet, ANYONE can access our content from any Internet-connected computer.

That means our principals, instructional support teachers, elective and physical education staff and parents can all explore the work that we are doing with our students—-which saves us time because we don’t have to send dozens of coordinating and communicating emails to everyone who is interested in supporting our students.

Essentially, I think professional learning teams should be using collaborative document creation services like Google Docs to develop things like common assessments, rubrics, exemplars and shared lesson plans.

Once that content has been created, I think professional learning teams should organize their shared content on a wiki that can be accessed by anyone who is interested in what is happening in their classrooms.

Does this make sense to you?
Bill

PS: Here’s a link to a phenomenal collection of resources on using Google Docs to support learning teams created by Mark Wagner:

http://www.edtechteam.com/workshops/2011-01-14

Hope it’s useful!