Educational uses of wikis

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Jude Higdon in an article entitled “Teaching, Learning, and Other Uses for Wikis in Academia” defined wikis as websites that are “fully editable from a Web browser.”  Higdon intentionally omits any mention of multiple authors from his this definition.  Higdon argues that the “egalitarianism of the tool” was not the defining feature of a wiki and points out that in educators have reasons for limiting “members’ abilities to add, edit, and delete content” from their wikis.  Later in the article, Higdon provides six approaches to using wikis in academia.

  • Student Journaling
  • Personal Portfolios
  • Collaborative Knowledge Base
  • Research Coordination and Collaboration
  • Curricular and Cross-Disciplinary Coordination
  • Conference and Colloquia Web Site/Coordination

Of Higdon’s six uses, I am most familiar with using wikis to house a collaborative knowledge base and to coordinate research and collaboration.  I am using a wiki in the online course that I teach for these purposes.  Later this semester, my students will be using the course wiki to create a guide to free, web-based instructional technologies for K-12 educators.  I have also an example of a wiki used for curricular and cross-disciplinary coordination and several examples of wikis used to coordinate conferences.  I am skeptical of the value of wikis for student journaling; blogs seem better suited for journaling.  I also am uncertain about wiki use for personal portfolios.  This is primarily because I take issue with Higdon’s definition of a wiki.  There are several browser-based web page editing tools that in my opinion are NOT wikis.  Doodle Kit is one example.  In my opinion, wikis must allow for multiple authors.  An individual can use a wiki tool to create a personal portfolio, but for personal portfolios, I don’t see the wiki platform as providing any advantage over a personal website.

Barbara Schroeder at Boise State University described wiki use in three university courses in an article (pdf) entitled “Within the Wiki: Best Practices for Educators”.  An interesting fact quoted in the article is that only 16% of the U.S. online population knows what a wiki is.  Schroeder suggests that the main educational uses of wikis involve group collaboration.  Unlike Higdon, Schroeder places emphasis on wiki’s ability to “empower learners through a more democratic, open philosophy of learning and sharing”.  The wiki best practices suggested by Schroeder include:

  • Creating a culture of trust
  • Educating students about and holding them accountable to wiki conventions
  • Creating a common goal for participation
  • Using the wiki for authentic activities
  • Providing guides for using the wiki and sandbox for wiki exploration
  • Communicating clear deadlines
  • Defining roles for collaboration
  • Clearly stating course expectations
  • Modeling collaborative activities
  • Remaining patient with students when they struggle with the technology

Few of these best practices seem unique to working in a wiki environment, but nevertheless, they appear to be sound advice.

I’ve included a list of examples of wikis and wiki resources that I’ve found useful.  If you are interested in using wikis in your classroom, you may want to take a look at some of them.

Examples of educational wikis

k12 Teachers’ projects

  • Geoff Sheehy – An example of wiki used to teach high school English
  • Clarence Fisher – An example of a wiki used to teach middle school social studies.  The students’ research creates their textbook.

k12 School level Projects

  • iaspace – This project is an interdisciplinary project.  History, English, and Foreign Language classes (as well as some others) contribute to this project.  Students use an educator provided wiki template to create “Facebook-style” profile pages for historical figures and literary characters.

k12 National or international wiki projects

  • A Room with a View – Throughout the year, classrooms around the world provide pictures and descriptions of the view from their classroom windows.
  • Great Book Stories – Individuals or classrooms can contribute digital stories about the “great books” that they have read.
  • The Lunch Box Project– Elementary students around the world practice language skills as they discuss what they eat for lunch.

Wikis for online courses in higher education

  • Facilitating online communities – A hub for course information for an online course.
  • Connectivism course outline – Another online syllabus for an online course.
  • IP&T 286 – The wiki for the class I teach.  Again, it is an online syllabus for an online course, but there is also a part of the wiki that will be used for a collaborative project later in the course.

Educator Resource Wikis

  • Wikieducator – an online community for educational collaboration.
  • Wikis in Education – provided by the people at Wetpaint.
  • Educators Wiki – provided by the people at PBwiki.
  • WebTools4u2use – a great resource that appears to be the cooperative effort of a number of library specialists.
  • Educational Wikis – articles about and tutorials for using wikis for education.
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About Kimberly McCollum

I'm a former middle and high school science teacher and current stay at home mom.
This entry was posted in Graduate Work, Teaching, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Educational uses of wikis

  1. I have my ePortfolio on a wiki, but to be honest, it could have just as easily been a part of my blog: http://sarahstewart-eportfolio.wikispaces.com/

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  3. Great post Kimberly. I read the article “Within the Wiki: Best Practices for Educators” and got a lot out of it. I also went to your course website for 286. Looks like you are doing great things.

  4. sarajoypond says:

    A question, Kimberly:
    One of the puzzlements that keeps coming up for me on the subject of wikis for class use is “why do we keep having students re-invent the wheel every semester, especially when they usually only have time to re-invent the most basic parts of it…and we end up with a bunch of rather small, not terribly robust wheels that all get us about the same distance before the spokes break, if we manage to find them at all?”
    The reasons I can see for “starting over” every semester with content wikis for classes like 286 are convincing:
    – the students are unfamiliar with the technology and need to be able to start with the basics.
    – the students are unfamiliar with the content and need to be able to articulate the basics.
    Still, I wonder if there would be a way to tap those hours and that brainpower into more sequential development of existing resources…or other approaches that wouldn’t involve so much re-invention. I wonder if, despite the loss in focused control and direction [and other advantages one might have to sacrifice] such an effort would actually pay even greater dividends in terms of the empowerment students felt, the networking connections they formed within a wider community, the responsibility/drive they felt for future contribution, etc.
    Thoughts?

  5. Lyndell Lutes says:

    In reading Barbara Schroeder’s work, the term authentic came up several times. One thing that is attractive to me about Wiki’s revolves around this concept of authenticity. The interesting thing was that reading about Wiki’s was just an intellectual activity. It wasn’t until I actually edited a Wiki and then tried to describe the experience did a richness of understanding come. At the point where the intellectual merged with the accomplishment of something practical, the best word I could find to describe the experience was authentic. So now I understand Wiki’s better and authenticity too.

  6. David Wiley says:

    You say that “wikis must allow for multiple authors.” So the idea of a personal wiki (like TiddlyWiki) is an oxymoron I suppose?

    Also, you say, “Few of these best practices seem unique to working in a wiki environment, but nevertheless, they appear to be sound advice.” Are you arguing that wikis aren’t that unique from other websites, or that the author of this list has somehow missed the core of what a wiki is?

  7. @David and Sarah – I do find the idea of a personal wiki to be an oxymoron. You can use a wiki platform very effectively for a personal website or eportfolio and I think it makes certain types of editing easier. I just don’t consider it a true wiki unless it has multiple authors.

    @John – Thanks, I hope my students think we’re doing great things as well.

    @SaraJoy – I don’t think a wiki needs to be re-created each semester. In the course that I’m teaching now, most of the wiki as it currently is cannot be edited by students. The part that will be edited by students, and I hope will eventually become the larger part of the wiki is a guide to online technology for teachers. It’s such a huge topic that there is no way they can get it all covered this semester (if ever), plus it’s a topic that’s constantly evolving. Whatever students write this semester will provide opportunities for next semester’s students to edit and elaborate. I’m counting on carrying over one semester’s work to the next. I think that the continuity of the project will make it more authentic for my students.

    @Lyndell – I agree with you that authenticity is important. I’m trying to make my students’ wiki project authentic by giving them a real audience. They should be writing for other educators, not just themselves.

    @David – I didn’t mean to compare wikis to other websites when I commented on the best practices. I was comparing the suggested best practices to the training I received as a secondary school science teacher. Schroeder’s suggestions seemed to fall into few categories. For example she provided a general best practices for teaching students to use a tool, a wiki sandbox is the same principle as the first microscope exploration activity that many biology teachers use before having students actually use a microscope to look at cells. Schroeder also suggested that instructors clearly define deadlines and roles for collaboration. To me, that doesn’t seem different than the best practice for any other collaborative activity/group work that an instructor might assign.

    I believe wikis differ from other websites because of how they enable collaboration. However, I don’t find classroom wikis extremely different from other collaborative activities, except that they make it easier to collaborate asynchronously or at a distance.

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