Wiki round-up

I’ve been doing some thinking lately about collaboration – partially, this has been spurred by my new love for pinterest (watch for a post on that coming soon!).

But today, I thought I’d talk about wikis. In particular, with midterm season fast approaching, I’m toying with the idea that wikis – if used properly – could be an awesome tool for class-wide, student-led exam review. I like the idea of the students themselves building an evolving knowledge base (with variable levels of involvement from the instructor).

First, let’s be clear what we’re talking about. A wiki is:

A web site that lets any visitor become a participant:  you can create or edit the actual site contents without any special technical knowledge or tools. All you need is a computer with an Internet connection. A wiki is continuously “under revision.” It is a living collaboration whose purpose is the sharing of the creative process and product by many. One famous example is Wiki-pedia, an online encyclopedia with no “authors” but millions of contributors and editors. The word “wiki” comes from Hawaiian language, meaning “quick” or “fast.”

The shining example- love it of hate it – is, of course, Wikipedia. Wikipedia’s detractors cite the open-acess format and the ability of anonymous “non-experts” to write seemingly authoritative and potentially inaccurate entries. However, if you are using a wiki within the format of your course, you can easily limit access (both setting limits about who can see the wiki and who can write entries; I know that Wikispaces, for example, allows one to set viewing and authoring to members-only) and assign identifiable usernames.

Why wikis? Above, I mentioned exam review and building a knowledge base, but we also want to think about the skills students are using when they interact with course content in the wiki format. The big appeal of a wiki is its collaborative nature and the ability to engage in such collaborative behavior across time and space. Thus, I’m thinking that wikis really might be a great fit for distance learning / online courses and courses in which it is especially challenging for students to get together outside of class (for example, professional practicum students). In these scenarios, a wiki might solve some real collaboration problems and build some community.

Likewise, a wiki could be especially beneficial if one of your goals as an instructor is to have the students create an authentic and reflective artifact together. There are some significant benefits to collaborative learning that we, as educators, might want to harness. In particular, these are my favorites:

  • A team approach to problem solving while maintaining individual accountability.
  • Students are taught how to criticize ideas, not people.

Hmmm. Maybe the whole world needs a wiki? More concretely, I also feel like this is pretty adaptable across the disciplines / topics within a given course.

So how might a professor get started? Here are some concrete tips (adapted from seven thirty-five a.m.):

1. Physically, on paper, sketch out the structure of your wiki (whether it’s a drawing, word web type graphic organizer, an outline, etc.).  Once you conceptually see this on paper it may be easier to assemble and organize it. Note that you, as the instructor, will need to build and maintain the “skeleton” and rely on the students to add the “muscles”.  Definitely review the STOLEN principle wiki page on optimal wiki design!

2. Put some content or samples on the wiki so that your students have a guide as to what they may be doing. Students may not have experience with writing wiki entries. Show them what success looks like! But, stress to the students that your example is just that — an example. Do point out the essential features of your example that they must include in their work.

3. Before students log on or create accounts:

  • Set ground rules. A good rule of thumb is to tell students that the rules they follow on campus and the rules for other university-affiliated computer use and behavior must also be followed on the wiki.
  • Set guidelines for user names, if you are using a wiki tool that requires students to create user accounts. You will want to establish a convention that allows the students to be identifiable to you and to each other, but that does not reveal too much personal information.

Beyond exam review, here are some other ideas for using wikis in your class:

WebQuest: Every group will be responsible for locating websites related to their topic, and then annotate, rank, and organize them using the wiki. By the end of the course, the students will have different wiki pages (one per topic) with a list of valuable references that they can use in the future.

Community notes:For courses in which students are required to attend performances or lectures outside of class, students can write up their reflections on the wiki, highlighting important points from readings and class discussions and making this connection clear for all students. Encourage / require other students to comment on the notes.

Group Portfolio: This option will likely vary, depending on your discipline and goals.

Project Management: Perhaps the major goal of your course is to produce something – a TV commercial, a play, a vaccine clinic, a campus awareness day, etc. – you might use the wiki to allow students to communicate about different facets of the project.

If you are just building your own familiarity with wikis, you may opt to offer this to your students as a supplementary tool with no academic credit attached, to grade simply based on participation or not using a credit / no credit approach, or you may wish to provide more detailed feedback. If you are wanting to take the plunge with providing detailed, specific feedback, here’s a base rubric you could use (to which you could add your own content-specific or course-specific goals).


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