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Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years ago


Wikis:  The Next Great Tool


"A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm"  Henrik Ibsen


In 2007, everyone can participate, and everyone can contribute to an ever-growing global conversation on just about any topic.


This contribution of content can be either individual or collaborative and has been facilitated by the emergence of a new set of online content creation tools such as blogs, podcasts and wikis.  Perhaps the most visible application of this new tool set is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia created by users from around the globe and hosted on a wiki platform.   The use of wikis has continued to grow; eBay has recently added wikis to their auction site, giving its membership the capability to collaboratively author articles about issues and topics concerning the use of the eBay service.  So, with this type of potential in mind, how can educators leverage the capabilities of wikis to create dynamic online collaborative learning environments for students?


What are wikis?


Wikis are online spaces for the social construction of understanding and meaning.  Imagine a Web page that anyone can contribute to by using readily understandable editing tools.  Generally, someone begins a wiki on a particular topic and invites others to participate in the construction of the content present at the wiki.   The content of the wiki is determined by multiple authors who utilize their individual expertise to collaboratively create online documents about a topic or topics.  As a result, wikis are always a work in progress and the content of a wiki is generally considered fluid and dynamic as is the communities of users that help construct them.


What are the benefits of using wikis in education?


Educators have been assigning collaborative student projects as long as their have been lesson plans.  Students typically worked on these in class, in the school library before or after school or met at some location at night such as a public library.  Wikis enable those same projects to go digital with students constructing projects online, 24/7.


Wikis are extremely flexible tools and have application to classroom, professional development and administrative uses.


Classroom:  Students can use wikis as research platforms that support collaborative investigation of a problem, for collaborative laboratory reports, for the construction of a WebEssay (an essay in a wiki that has images, text and supportive hyperlinks), for the student creation of a class “textbook,”and simply for collaborative writing projects.  The creation of wiki pages would also be an outstanding final product for online learning experiences such as WebQuests. Basically, a wiki can be used anywhere a collaborative student project needs to be constructed.


Professional development:  wikis can be used for collaborative planning of a workshop or conference.  Documents and other resources may be posted at the wiki prior to the start of the workshop and used during the conference for participants to create their own notes or content.  Pages can be developed within the conference wiki that encourage participants to return to the wiki to continue to add content that is reflective of the practices they learned at the conference or workshop.


Administrative uses:  use wikis to collaboratively create and edit policy documents among all stakeholders.


What types of wiki tools are available?


There are a variety of wiki tools available, either hosted online or available as open source software for installation on a server.  Additionally, there are wiki solutions available for learning management systems (LMS) like Blackboard (see LearningObjects.com); Moodle (an open source LMS) also supports wiki integration.

Moodle (http://www.moodle.com


pbWiki: pb stands for peanut butter and the site claims creating a wiki is as easy as making a peanut butter sandwich.  The ease of construction, the relatively easy to use interface, and attractive wiki design make this one of the top choices for educational wiki use.  pbWiki does present Google ads on its wiki pages and permits password protection of content.  pbWiki accounts are also supported with an RSS feed.  A user may choose to upgrade their wiki to access more robust features at a monthy cost.

(editor note:  )


Wikispaces:  An outstanding wiki tool and free for K-12 educators and even more important, free of advertising (educator accounts).  Wikispaces for Educators are also private so only “space members” can edit them-members are invited through an email invitation.  No advertising, the easy editing interface, and the private membership at no additional cost make Wikispaces an excellent choice for teachers getting started with wikis. 


EditMe:  EditMe is a full-featured wiki interface with multiple levels of authoring control and viewing (such as public view, public edit, public view, administrative edit, and more) through password protection.  The wiki pages offer extremely easy editing through a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) interface.  Editme does not offer free sites; a benefit is that EditMe wiki pages are free of advertising.


WetPaint:  WetPaint is a new player in the wiki hosting environment.  Wetpaint utilizes a very simple editing interface, offers password protection for registered user editing, and has a unique moderator option, where individual contributers can be designated as a moderator to monitor wiki content and user behavior.  Wetpaint wikis also produce an RSS feed for content distribution and permit users to define tags that organizes pages about the same topic together.  WebPaint’s wiki pages contain Google ads.


MediaWiki:  originally written to support Wikipedia, MediaWiki can be downloaded and installed on a server.  This installation typically would be handled by a school district’s technology department as access to a server and a more advanced understanding of server technology and programming is required.  MediaWiki page editing tools are somewhat more difficult to use, however the platform does offer a complete solution for schools to create a wiki environment that is tailored to their needs.


How do wikis work?


Wikis are basically Web sites that anyone can edit.  Users can create multiple pages that are edited by using simple interfaces, similar to what is available in basic Word processing software packages.  Contributors add content to the page and save, to create a new version of the wiki page.  Changes to the page are tracked as a page history, where anyone can see the history of the development of the changes.  Wikis also typically offer a discussion forum for each page, resulting in the potential for another type of collaboration.


Most Web-based wiki tools do have a free option.  Be sure to understand that free wikis typically contain advertising, typically Google Ads.  Teachers wishing to use a free wiki solution should contact school administration about school district policy concerning ads and school-related uses of the Web.


How much support is required to maintain a wiki?


Wikis that are hosted on the Web (pbWiki, Wikispaces) are generally very easy to construct, use, and maintain.  In fact, a teacher with typical technology skills can begin using Wikis relatively quickly.  Another benefit of this type of wiki is that there is generally very little technical support required-any type of interface support is handled by the wiki provider.  Teachers interested in using a wiki should consult school or district administrators about using a tool like a wiki (see potential concerns below). Open-source solutions such as MediaWiki require more robust support by the school district or server provider so that upgrades and fixes can be installed.


What are the potential concerns for using wikis in the classroom?


Wiki pages have the potential to be very useful for educators in a variety of ways.  However, their strengths can also be limitations.  Because they can be edited by anyone, wikis are subject to vandalism-individuals posting inappropriate content that distracts from the purpose of the wiki page.  As a result, wikis must be constantly monitored to remove any such posts.  Most wikis offer a notify feature so that when the content of a wiki is changed, a wiki Monitor/Administrator is notified of the change. Wikis may also receive spam, which also may alter the content of the page, or post an entirely new page to a wiki that contains inappropriate material.  From a classroom standpoint, wikis do not necessary address the age-old question of one student doing all the work on a collaborative project, so teachers must closely address the changes to the wiki (through the wiki history) to develop a clear understanding of student contribution for assessment purposes.


Examples:  Are there examples of education wikis?


David Warlick’s Presentation Handout Wiki


This wiki is a rich resource of educational technology ideas and supports the presentations of David Warlick.  Registered users can contribute content to the wiki handouts.  Participants in David’s session can also use the wiki to take notes on the session, assuming appropriate connectivity.


Podcastercon wiki


This wiki resource supports collaborative pre-conference planning for Podcastercon 2006 and also hosts content on each session that all participants can add to.


High School Online Collaborative Writing


A wiki that features the collaborative writing of various high school authors.


Bud Hunt’s Wiki


The wiki of Colorado teacher Bud Hunt, which contains very useful information about school blog policy, created by a number of users.




This is a collection of textbooks that can be edited by anyone, the site contains printable pdf format textbooks.


Educational Blogging Wiki (http://supportblogging.wikispaces.com/Educational+Blogging)

This wiki was created to support the educational uses of blogs and contains information about student and teacher blogging, as well as the potential educational benefits of blogging.




A wiki where students can build the story of where they live.


Mrs. Davis’ Westwood Schools Wiki


An online space for Westwood schools students with a variety of student projects, including an interesting student analysis of various Web 2.0 tools.


Library Success:  A Best Practice Wiki (http://www.libsuccess.org/index.php?title=Main_Page) 

As the name suggests, this wiki is a collection of best practices for all types of libraries and the issues that impact them.




Just for fun, this site allows you to contribute a single line to a wiki drawing, and then vote for the inclusion of other lines in the drawing.


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