The (Failed) Case of the Winston Society Wikispace: The Challenges and Opportunities of Web 2.0 and Teacher Education

Apr. 02, 2011

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 11(2), 149-166, 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal team)

In this article, the authors examine the case of the Winston Society.
The Winston Society is a wikispace launched by high school English teacher Ed Cator to provide teachers with their own space to share teaching ideas, construct knowledge collaboratively, and work against the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and related educational policies.

This study started out with two key goals:
1. The authors hoped that a small, unobtrusive study might revive the wikispace and generate helpful suggestions from teachers on how to improve it.
2. The authors also hoped that a case study would help them unpack some of the contributing factors that seemed to work against the establishment of the Winston Society as an alternative context for teachers’ professional development and political action.

Study Design, Data Collection, and Data Analysis
The authors examined the participants’ retrospective explanations of the Winston Society’s failure through the wiki, questionnaires, personal communications, course artifacts, artifacts that indexed participants’ use of other social media (e.g., Facebook, Yahoo!), and a focal group interview.
The authors grouped similar responses together to establish thematic categories derived from participants’ own words.
The authors then combined several of these initial categories to flesh out what many teachers identified as important disconnects between the Winston Society and the ways of knowing, being, interacting, and doing they had experienced in K-12 schools and university-based teacher education.

Making Sense of the Failure of the Winston Society Wiki
Some participants mentioned the overwhelming nature of being new to the profession; others struggled with balancing their jobs as teachers and the demands of being graduate students or parents.

Most teachers’ comments suggested that they were not familiar or comfortable with social practices in education that were more participatory, collaborative, and distributed and less published, individuated, and author centric.
Participants in the study also expressed concerns about cultivating relationships in online spaces.
They also indicated a sense of disconnection from the people on the site or noted that they preferred face-to-face relationships over online relationships.

Finally, many participants recognized how Web 2.0 technologies enabled the rapid dispersion of knowledge across different social networks; however, participants also recognized potential risks in their educational views and practices being publically accessible and potentially dispersed to wider networks of people.

The Challenges and Opportunities of Web 2.0 in Teacher Education

This study data pointed to at least three alternative directions for the use of new literacies in teacher education.

1. The Challenge of Wikis: Negotiating Conventional vs. Digital Epistemologies
In this case, teachers and a teacher educator were not especially comfortable with new digital epistemologies.
2. Professional Communities and Affinity Spaces
Most of the Winston Society’s 15-20 users may have been professionally active teachers, but the wiki may not have constituted a tight enough community or narrow enough area of interest to create or support a dynamic community of educators and activists.
3. Professional Networking and Activism Through Social Media
In this particular case study, teachers seemed more interested in building or maintaining relationships and exchanging information than constructing knowledge collaboratively and often anonymously.
It may be useful for teachers and teacher educators to wrestle with the affordances and limitations of wikis and social media—and important differences between them.

Concluding Thoughts

The authors argue that the participants in this study saw the technological demands of the Winston Society as less threatening than participating in social practices that emphasized more participatory and collaborative knowledge-making, distributed expertise, and less published and individuated kinds of authorship.
The authors conclude that they have explored teachers’ disengagement with a potentially powerful wiki to help teacher educators recognize the opportunities and also the challenges and tensions that may be associated with use of wikis and Web 2.0 technologies in K-12 schools, university-based teacher education, and even digital spaces created by and for practicing teachers.

Updated: Jul. 30, 2013