Next to a blog or blog portal, a wiki is an essential tool for me in all of my classes. (If you’re unsure of what a wiki is, I’d recommend that you watch CommonCraft’s explanation and then check out edorigami, a wiki for 21st Century educators.) In brief, a wiki enables a group of students to collaborate on a shared digital product.
Ways of Using Wikis in the Classroom
I’ve gravitated to using wikis for two main purposes in the classroom. These are not mutually exclusive ways; rather, they might be seen as levels of use.
1. Class Information Centre
In its basic form, a wiki is a simple website and can function as an information hub for a course. I often have a page for each unit of study where I post assignments, rubrics, presentations, and other resources for students. I find it convenient to be able to refer students who have missed a class to the wiki where they can download anything that they’ve missed. It’s also a convenient place for me to collect electronic versions of short stories or other media that we might study throughout a course.
While this way of using a wiki does not take advantage of its full power, it may be adequate for some grade levels.
2. Group Project Centre
For my senior students at least, I usually have one unit of study that makes use of the collaborative nature of a wiki. Most often this is a novel-based unit, and I refer to our work on the wiki as virtual literature circles. In this level of use, student groups use the wiki to create an electronic lit circle portfolio. Most of their discussions about the novel are conducted face-to-face in the classroom, but they must discuss at least one aspect of the book via the wiki discussion page.
I find that student work on the wiki reflects their in-class discussions in a way that paper-based portfolios never could. For one thing, students can’t “forget” to bring their material to class put into the portfolio binder (always a difficulty in the past). For another, it’s easier for students to monitor their progress and encourage each other to get the job done. And finally, because the portfolio is visible to the whole classroom, and not just to me, they tend to take more pride in what they’re creating.
Steps to Starting an Educational Wiki
Begin setting up a wiki as an information centre for your classroom. Later on, as you familiarize yourself with it, you can adapt one or more of your group assignments to include an electronic component on the wiki.
Find a wiki service that works for you. Wikispaces is my favourite, but WetPaint does a good job as well. PBWorks is one of the easiest services out there, but I’ve found they limit the features on their free versions far too much. If you have a class Moodle, then you can simply add a wiki module to it.
Develop a code of conduct for your wiki and post a draft on the site. I often use this in an introductory lesson using the wiki, where as a class we can edit and save a final version of the code of conduct. (I’ve adapted the TeachersFirst Wiki Warranty to create a wiki code of conduct.)
Design an introductory lesson or two to ease students into the wiki. I’ve made the mistake of having students use the wiki for the first time when beginning their group assignment. The result was that students spent more time learning the technology than they did on their assignment objectives. Now I usually give them a very simple assignment the first day, such as creating a page with their name and writing three sentences about themselves.
Finally, before students launch into a group exercise, do all that you can to create templates for their work. I’ve found that when I ask students to create an electronic portfolio without giving them a framework on the wiki itself, the resulting work is erratic. But when I create a scaffold for them to build around, they seem to be able to focus on the content, which is what I want.
As with blogging, I try to check in early and often as students are starting out, and give them feedback on their progress. It doesn’t take long, however, for them to be off and running, and it’s a pleasure to see.
Image by Horla Varlan
Series image from ryan_franklin_az