Saturday, March 1, 2008

Wiki's and Whatnot

Recently in a podcast episode, I introduced some wiki tools and promised to elaborate on my blog. Well, I finally got around to it...

What's a wiki and why would I care?

The best teaching analogy would be to envision a whiteboard... not hard so far right? Well, in a classroom, you'd have a whiteboard where everyone could see it. There are many ways to use it. The teacher can write on it so the students could read it. The teacher could hand out markers and erasers so the students could write on the whiteboard for all to see as well. When I say everybody, in this case I mean everyone who had access to the room.

So far you follow, right? Well, there are some differences between your whiteboard and a wiki, but only a few.

1. Instead of a whiteboard, it's a web page (don't get worried, it's almost as easy as writing on a whiteboard). Of course with a web page you can provide links, pictures, and even video and animation.

2. Instead of the audience being the classroom, it can be the world (or only those in the world you let read it).

3. Each person you let write, edit, or erase on the wiki can be tracked to see what changes he/she made--Kind of like assigning each student their own unique colored marker.

4. The last major difference is that you have the ability to turn back the clock. That means that if some student in your class were to change your great example from "The Great Depression" into a "yo mama" joke, you push a button and relive your pre-momma depression era.

5. Time and space are not an obstacle. Don't need a custodian to open up the room at 9:30 pm to get the notes off of the board if you were sick, just log on at your convenience, any time, any where.

So, why would someone want to use a wiki? (Here's a long list of valid uses in education but here's a quick guide.)

Instant, simple, publishing. It is an easy way to get online and communicate. Here's an example of a math wiki that is basically a web page. It is authored only by the teacher and is a way to include lessons, Power points, worksheets, a class calendar and homework. It is essentially being used in place of a textbook for the class.

It's a great streamlined way to collaborate. We are always looking for ways to get students to work together and take ownership. With a wiki, you can track who contributes what, and lets them do so in a common format without regard for time and space constraints. A great example of students collaborating for a real purpose is at this AP World History Review wiki--students created a collaborative study guide.

Wider audience, possibly interactive. For authentic assessment purposes, a wiki is a great way to open up student work to the public. When students perform/write for an audience larger than their teacher alone, they concern themselves more with accuracy, effort, and overall quality. You can even open up the forum to others to write in. Here's a world-wide student collaborative story writing wiki.

So as you can see, there are plenty of great reasons to use a wiki in the classroom. Here are some other great resources to check out for wikis:

Wikis in Plain English- Quick video explanation of wikis.
Wiki Matrix- An online wiki comparison tool.
Curriki- The wiki for collaborating on curriculum.
Wikispaces- A popular free wiki.
Wetpaint- Another free wiki with a video explanation.
PBwiki- Offers ad-free wikis for educators.
Wikis in the Classroom- The "one stop workshop" for wikis in education.

Flickr Photo Credit: Sam Pullara


Mark said...


Great summary of wikis. I have used the commoncraft video to try and explain wikis before and now here is another resource. I am also using a wiki for a professional development group at my school. It is a bit scattered, but at least it has some teachers using it thinking about ways to use it in the classroom (you can find it here).

Mark Spahr

Jbailey said...

Mark, thanks for reading the post. I have recently been told that PBwiki has a 2.0 version in Beta that you can get in on currently. It's easier to use than their previous version and worth checking out.

I'd be interested about issues you may be having with filters blocking wikis and if you use wikis with students at all.

Mark said...


I will take a look at the pbwiki beta. Thanks for the link.

I do have issues with filters and student wikis. Our firewall blocks any site that is https and requires a secure log in. At my school, confidentiality issues are paramount and they also try to prevent any communication by our residents/students with the outside world.

What I have been able to do is to use Noteshare as a kind of wiki. It has some limitations, especially on the accountability end of things. It does not have a history like a true wiki would. But students are able to collaborate by sharing a notebook.

I am pushing to get moodle set up at my school which, among other things, would allow us to have a true wiki that would exist within the physical boundaries of my school.

I continue to enjoy the podcast and am almost finished listening to episode 9.