May 9

Using Wikis in the Classroom

What is a wiki?

For this one, I’m going to pull a direct quote from wikipedia, the most famous wiki.

“A wiki is a collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone with access to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites. The collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia is one of the best-known wikis”  1

Basically, it’s just a collection of pages, that provide a very simple way to edit, that anyone can edit.  You can choose to make it public, like wikipedia, or you can make it private, for example for a particular class. You can restrict the people that edit or view the pages via their access settings.This way, you can have someone be an editor, viewer, moderator or contributor.  (depending on how much you trust them)

Below is another video from Common Craft (obviously, I like Common Craft alot…and no, they are not sponsoring this page 😀 )

Where do I start one?

There are a variety of places. The main things that you have to consider are:

  1. Is it easy to use?
  2. Can you view and go back to page history?
  3. Is it free?

In addition to that, there is also added benefits such as:

  1. Being able to add rich media content.
  2. Being able to set different levels of users
  3. Adding discussion boards and other features.

I’m members of a whole heap of wiki engines, such as, and which are all free. By far the best I’ve found is Wetpaint.  Basically, because of all of the above points, and the fact that it is not only easy to use, but you can also choose nice layouts as well. Surprisingly, this does matter, as the “frostier” kids think that the page is, the more motivated they are to use it. You can use rich media very easily, it’s easy to expand, and the addition of a discussion board means that you have also include the  opportunity for students to discuss the issues addressed in the text component.

Roles in the Wiki

  • User: Join Discussions and Leave Comments
  • Writer: Edit pages, add images, and join discussions
  • Moderator: Manage pages, use all editing tools, promote or ban members, and invide others on private sites
  • Administrator: Access site settings and all the above.

I would suggest that the management of users depends on your purpose of using the wiki. If you have it for a class, and you only want students to view content and join discussions, then you would add them as users. However, the power of a wiki is that everyone is allowed to contribute (don’t worry, you can go back if someone ruins something), so I would add everyone as at least writers. With responsible students, I often add students (or even selected students) from the class as Moderators, so that they can assist in the management of the site, like adding pages.

Use in the classroom

Collaborative summaries work great using wikis as a tool for revision. I teach Industrial Technology, Mulitmedia at a HSC level. It includes a topic called Industry Study with 5 different sections: Structural factors, Technical Factors, etc…Most years, for revision for the HSC, I assign students groups and give each group a section of the topic, eg, strucutral factors and assign them the following task:

The following are the sections of the industry study component of the syllabus.
  • Structural Factors
  • Technical Factors
  • Environmental Issues
  • Sociological Factors
  • Personell (staffing) issues
  • OHS Issues.
In groups, you will be contributing the the construction of this website to summarise and address the industry study dot points. You should use the dot points on your page to structure your summary. Use your Industry Study Booklets for the content, and use in order to assist you to develop depth of answers in the topic.

You are also required to place something that may make the content more understandable, such as pictures, animations, videos that help explain the content, which can be inserted from you tube, or online photos etc.

You should also include questions from past exam papers that ask questions based on your topic. This page will help you.

A colleague of mine once commented that he did this quite effectively with students typing up information and then he would print it out, photocopy and distribute to all of his class. So why would he want a wiki? My reply was that students could edit each others work, if there were gaps of information, and students can continue to build on each others ideas, elaborating as you go. I’ve found that there is always one student who never has an extensive response. This way, students can elaborate on the ideas of others, and it’s never really obvious who that student is.

Which brings me to another great reason to use a blog. Building essay responsense.Students can answer an exam question, and other students can build on it, by adding and elaborating on the text. A colleague of mine uses this in Legal studies (in a word doc),  where the students build an exam response over the HSC Course. Initially, their knowledge of the content allows them to answer the question to a low level, then, when she brings in further content, students are invited to go back and develop their response further, by adding more examples of issues and elaboration on facts.  This is a great way to build student confidence, and to encourage elaboration and proof within writing examples.  This could easily be done with a variety of pages on a wiki, with different exam questions on each page, or different issues to be addressed on each page.  It also allows students time to organise, think about and construct responses, which is an advantage, particularly for gifted students.

Managing Group Work can also be done via a wiki, in a similar way to the common craft video above. Wetpaint allows you to create “To-Do” lists, and if all work is managed around the wiki, the teacher can also trace each individual’s contribution, through the “history” feature, and students can be marked individually as well as collaboratively for their particular efforts. Student discussions can also be tracked to determine whose ideas where used and whose discarded.

Annotation of Texts can be done very easily via a wiki. Here is an example that I have used in my wiki, where students have to annotate the translation of a HTML line.  Students can also do this easily with any form of written text, for example, a poem or essay.

What are some of the other uses that people have for wikis? It would be good to see some comments with examples of sites, but also some different ways that it can be implemented in the classroom.


Posted May 9, 2009 by shortcomp in category Uncategorized

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