A wiki is a body of writing that a community is willing to know and maintain.

            – Ward Cunningham, founder of the first wiki (1995) 

 

I know I have disagreed with Will Richardson from time to time in my previous blog postings about how easy some Web 2.0 tools are to use in the classroom but when it comes to the topic of wikis, I couldn’t agree more.  I have seen with my own eyes that wikis are truly one of the easiest collaborative Web 2.0 tools educators can use in the classroom.  I’ve introduced wikis to teachers, who by their own admission would say that they are reluctant, at best, to introduce ICT applications in their classrooms, and had them using wikis effectively in their classes in a relatively short period of time. 

 

Some of these teachers have taken what they have learned about wikis and applied them to other areas of their lives which is my ultimate goal with students. One teacher used a wiki to plan her teaching trip to Africa with her fellow teachers from across Canada from Teachers Without Borders; another teacher used a wiki to keep track of her child’s sports team.  It’s these types of applications to real life that I believe make wikis so accessible and authentic learning experiences for students. 

 

If planned with care, wikis in the classroom have the potential to simulate real life work experiences in which individuals are required to work together as they brainstorm for ideas, develop plans, locate information in a variety of media, present findings and/or solve problems.  They have the potential to serve the needs and interests of any community, large or small and add to the collective wisdom of those that have gone before to help those who will come after. 

 

Wikis are perfect for creating updated lists or collections of links for further investigation. They are places where questions can be asked and answers supplied by anyone willing to take ownership of the topic and the site. They act as virtual “bulletin boards” where anyone can change anything as long as they have the password (Lamb, 2004, p. 1, 2).   They are great for organizing “life in the fast lane” and yet have a “check and balance” feature built right into them (i.e. the other contributors) for a sober second, or third, or fourth….look just in case one gets too frazzled by the frantic nature of our current society.

 

Personal Wiki Success Stories

 

I was first introduced to wikis  or “quick-webs” by a former student of EDES 541, Michael Friesen a teacher-librarian from Winnipeg (perhaps some of you have had the pleasure of learning with him in previous U. of Alberta TL-DL courses).  When the talk around our teacher-librarian meeting one day came to setting up our own virtual libraries, Michael encouraged us to give pbwiki  a try.  And so I did, and although I found out in our class last week that my virtual library  has a way to go to be exemplary, as I began to work with my pbwiki site, I began to see the educational possibilities of this truly innovative Web 2.0 tool.

 

 

I have since gone on to work with other teachers designing lessons and projects using pbwikis.  In one of the projects, I collaborated with one of our science teachers to design a project that taught the students about various endangered species (the science teacher’s part) and several information literacy lessons (my part) while learning how to use a Web 2.0 tool that they could use in the future.  This wiki-based project was designed in such a way that the students had to work individually on their own wiki pages, comment on others’ pages using constructive feedback, and work with others to help save endangered species.  I believe like Lamb discusses in her article on wikis, that one of the best ways that wikis can be used in the classroom is to “construct wiki problems that offer multiple solutions” to teach students how to solve problems while working collaboratively and respecting the viewpoints of others.

 

My primary goal in designing this particular lesson using a wiki was to raise the lesson first proposed by the teacher – pick an endangered species, research it and give an oral and written report to the class – beyond a lower thinking level to a level where critical, higher level thinking and reasoning were needed in an authentic learning experience. I am pleased to say that this was achieved and when the other science teachers in my school heard about our project, they couldn’t wait for me to work with their classes. 

 

I have also used a pbwiki as a pre-reading activity for a novel study, Touching Spirit Bear.  For this wiki, I worked with our literacy teacher (who knew nothing about wikis when we first started) to design a lesson in which the students were broken into groups and asked to become experts about a different aspect of the novel – bears, Alaska, Tlingit culture, Totem poles, sentencing circles – using various forms of media and share their learning with others.  The wiki was used primarily as an easy access to questions for the groups and relevant websites. After completing several readings about wikis this week, if I were to use the wiki again, I would also use it as a place where each group collected, wrote, edited and shared their work with others teaching them how to attach videos or perhaps create a podcast about their information or group sharing sessions.  I think using wikis to improve writing since contributors can easily see the changes made to the text as the wiki is changed

 

Although the use of wikis was never suggested by the authors, I based both of the previous pbwikis on models I found in David V. Loertscher, Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan’s book, Beyond bird units: 18 models for teaching and learning in information-rich and technology-rich environments. I highly recommend this and their earlier publication, Ban those bird units!: 15 models for teaching and learning in information-rich and technology-rich environments for any teachers looking for a way to create high-level thinking units particularly at the middle and high school levels.  The science project used the “Problems/Possibilities Jigsaw Puzzle Model” and the ELA project used the “Concept Jigsaw Puzzle Model.” 

 

On a personal level, I’ve used a pbwiki as a sharing tool in one of my Masters level courses in which a group project had been assigned.  The wiki was a great way of keeping track of where we were in the project, who was doing what and when and what resources we had and where they could be found.  When it came time to write our paper, we put everything on the wiki and took turns editing it until we were all satisfied.  Talk about a truly collaborative effort!

 

Cool Cat Teacher Inspiration

 

Since I have some experience with wikis, I thought it important to share some of my work with you.  I have been inspired by another teacher, Victoria Davis, whose “Cool Cat Teacher” blog I have been following for this course since early September, 2008. She has demonstrated to me just how significant the sharing of information and knowledge can be using Web 2.0 tools and how committed some people are to the concept of “creative commons.”  Among the whole host of ideas, tools, information and thoughts Victoria has freely given to her no-doubt loyal followers, I have enjoyed and learned immensely from a series of emails she has been sharing between herself and a teacher using wikispaces for the first time.  I was thrilled that our instructor chose to attach Davis’ blog which included these converstions on her trailfire about wikis. I continue to be amazed by all the generosity, sharing and learning that is going on in the Internet due to the social networking tools of Web 2.0!  

 

True to form, Victoria Davis also shares what she knows about the Web 2.0 classroom and wikis, in particular, in a presentation she gave for a K12 Online Conference in 2008.  Her presentation, “Wiki collaboration across the curriculum,” including notes and handouts, can be found at:  http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=38 Topics she includes are:

  • Wiki Background
  • Why students need to know how to wiki
  • A brief overview of the active portion of this project
  • The pedagogical use of wikis in the classroom
  • Wiki assessment strategies
  • Common questions from school administrators

 

If you are planning to use wikis in the classroom, I highly recommend watching her video about wikis where she explains in detail her “Pedagogy of a Wiki-Centric Classroom.”  You also will not want to miss her “Wiki Grading Rubric” that she has attached to the presentation site. 

 

I created a wiki-creation PowerPoint presentation for teachers wanting to learn more about wikis and how to get started.  The presentation could also be used by students who are learning how to work with wikis in the classroom.  I have also created a “quick-start” sheet for teachers as a quick reference guide.  I have linked both of these presentations for my staff and students on my virtual library homepage under “Library Resource Tutorials” so they can access this information anywhere.

 

Why do wikis work?

 

In 1995, Ward Cunningham set out to create “the simplest database that would work.”  And work well his “wiki” did since it became the prototype for one of the most important and popular sites on the web today: Wikipedia. Wikipedia, now the world’s largest encyclopedia with over two million entries was built on the concept that the accumulated knowledge of many is greater than the accumulated knowledge of few.  I have to admint that I wasn’t a fan of using wikipedia for research but now that I have a greater understanding of what it is and how it works I can see that it can be a powerful source of information.  Watch Michael Friesen’s take on the use of wikipedia as a research tool (used with permission): is-wikipedia-evil 

 

Ward gave us a model that is the basis for several free online wiki-building tools including pbwiki, wikispaces, wetpaint, and wikia.  These wikis are characterized by having their own “mark-up” language that requires no html knowledge to contribute content (Lamb, p.1).  Pages are easy to create and link to each other, and links to all types of media can be made in a few simple steps.  Unlike a blog which has one identifiable author, a wiki finds it strength in the unlimited number of people that can contribute to it and edit it.  What keeps others from damaging the work of others you might ask?  The sense of pride and ownership of all those who have contributed to the site.  Besides, even if anyone does chose to “damage” a site, the previous change can always be brought back easily by the administrator since earlier versions are stored in its online database (which is fully searchable, I might add). (Arreguin, 2004, p.2). 

 

I particularly like the way Lamb describes online wiki security.  He writes, “Think of an open wiki space as a home that leaves its front door unlocked but doesn’t get robbed because the neighbors are all out on their front steps gossiping, keeping a friendly eye on the street, and never missing a thing.”  In this sense, it’s the community that keeps the order in the wiki rather than being imposed top down from a higher level authority (p. 3).

 

Why do wikis work in schools?

 

Wikis work in schools for the same reason wikis work anywhere else – a sense of ownership of the wiki, itself, and the knowledge that the wiki (if the teacher choses to make the site public) can be read by anyone.  In my experience with wikis in the classroom, I have found that if students know their wiki will be shared with others or needs to function as a resource site for others, they take pride in their work and try hard to write as clearly as possible. I have had in various classes students trying to add inappropriate comments but they quickly learn that it’s futile to do this because: 1) I can easily revert to the previous entry;  2) I can set the system to either send me an email or an RSS feed every time a change is made and by whom; and 3) other students will give them a hard time because they don’t want their work damaged – so they quickly give up.  As such, wikis are perfect vehicles for teaching students their ethical responsibilities while online and thereby building their “network literacy” skills.  

 

 

Here you can rely on encountering playful minds. Putting up a wiki page is like tossing a ball of yarn into a basket of kittens.

            – Why Wiki Works, Peter Merel

 

Part of the joy of wikis is that it’s interesting to see what students will do with wikis if given the chance.  I agree with Lamb who writes in “Wide open spaces: Wikis, ready or not” that teachers need to take a step back in the classroom and let their students take charge of the process.  As can be seen in Davis’ diagram of how wikis function in the classroom, the teacher only accounts for a portion of the instruction – the students through the wiki are responsible for working together as they become a part of the learning process:

 

 

Potential Problems with Wikis in the Classroom

 

I noticed when listening to Victoria Davis speak about wikis in her presentation that she has the same rule as I do when it comes to editing: no student is allowed to edit anyone else’s work.  This rule is intended to teach students that everyone’s work is to be honoured and respected as a valuable contribution to the work as a whole.  Students are allowed to work with others to make group editing decisions and they can edit their own work but no one can go online and delete another person’s work.

 

The other problem with wikis that I have found is that only one student at a time can work on a single page.  This means that this must be worked into the planning process when designing how the wiki will be used and when. 

 

Wiki Ideas for the Classroom

 

As I prepared my blog posting this week, I have seen many ways that wikis can be infused into classroom.  Although this list is by no means exhaustive, some of the ways I have seen wikis used in the classroom have been:

Class hot lists of references

Frequently asked questions

Help pages

Homework review

Class and Internet links

Class updates and up-coming events

Virtual libraries

Puzzles

Student advice pages

Collaborative writing

Collaborative glossary

Close reading

Exam reviews

Expert reviews

Galleries of pictures, videos, and/or podcasts

Restaurant and movie reviews

Book reviews

Who’s who page

Sign up for events page

                                         

My New Wiki Learning This Week and Final Reflections

 

To demonstrate my learning this week about wikis, I did two things:

 

1)      I updated my existing virtual library pbwiki  to a pbwiki 2.0 and added a few new apps (calendar and places to see). It’s fun and easy to add new apps to your space to make it more inviting and personal.  With pbwiki, you can add any Google app that you want so you can keep changing them to keep the space interesting and exciting.  I also added my podcast of Eric Walters to my virtual library.  All I needed to do was add the address link when I was editing a page and it suddenly appeared.  Too easy!

 

All the great features in the original version are still included in pbwiki 2.0 but now pbwiki has a more stylized interface, the graphics are clearer and the sidebar much less cluttered.  Other new features are:

·        Pages can now be organized into folders which I think is great for organization;

·        The access controls have been improved.  Now it is possible to choose which pages you want to have blocked and/or edited.

·        Access to the pages is much easier; now you don’t have to scroll to the bottom of the page since it’s right at the top;

·        You know from looking at the first page at the top when the page was last edited and by whom and you can clearly see the latest wiki activity underneath the sidebar;

·        The link to “All pages” is much clearer; now it’s found at the top of the page rather than mushed together at the bottom; how to manage the pages has been made simpler with a delete check-off box to delete pages and it’s easy to see the latest versions by clicking on the “number of revisions.”  This is an important feature of wikis and students need to understand how this works differently from a document, webpage or blog that only stores the latest version. 

·        The new “comment” box at the bottom of the page.  If students are used to commenting on blog posts, this will be an easy feature for them to understand.

·        Pages and items can now be tagged to aid the search process.

 

2)      I signed up for a wikispaces account and designed a wiki to be used in the library. The purpose of this was to compare the two most popular wiki sites – pbwiki and wikispaces – to see which I thought was better to use in an educational setting. I found that the two sites were very similar and I had no difficulty moving from one interface to the other.  Since wikis are all designed according to the same principals, it appeared to me that if you know how to use one wiki, you can use them all.

 

Like pbwiki, it’s simple to sign up for an account and start working right away.  You’ll want to make sure that you sign up for an educator’s account so that ads won’t appear on your school wiki.  If you forget to do this, you’ll have to pay $5.00 a month to keep the ads off your site.

 

Wikispaces has an amazingly clear “help” section which was obviously written for those who are not confident with web 2.0 tools.  It’s pretty hard to go wrong and even if you’re not sure about something, you can keep going back to check the instructions or watch the instruction video again until you understand how to work something.

 

There’s more opportunity to “play” with the look of your wiki using wikispaces.  I think being able to personalize your site with various colours and formats would be appealing to students.  I was able to add our school’s logo in the left hand corner just by browsing for a file in My Pictures.

 

If I was setting up a wikispace for my class, I liked wikispaces offer of just sending them all your students’ information and they would create access to the site for you.  Like pbwikis, it’s possible to limit who can see the site, who can edit it and lock specific pages.  It’s also very easy to add links, videos and although I didn’t try it, I’m sure podcasts could be linked with ease, as well.

 

I really liked how easy wikispaces makes it to edit and link the pages.  If you’re using pbwiki, you have to create your sidebar links separately; in wikispaces, your linked pages automatically appear in your sidebar.  I also liked how you can send “mail” to others from your wiki and how easy it is for others to comment on the site.

 

My one major criticism of wikispaces is its word processing system.  Its way too limited for my liking and I think my students would agree.  I couldn’t change the text size and fonts and I found it really difficult and sometimes impossible to bold words and change text colour.  When I used a pbwiki with my students last year, the first thing they did when they began to add information was to change the text size, colours and fonts.  They’re used to being able to do this so I don’t think they would like wikispaces as much as pbwiki in this regard.

 

In the end, I would say that either site would be ideal for students and educators.  Wikispaces is a bit flashier up front but students have more control with the word processing with pbwiki.  Although a staff could decide which type of wiki they all should use, I don’t think students would have any difficulty switching formats if necessary.

 

WIKIS REALLY ARE THAT QUICK AND EASY!

 

Please visit my wikispaces site and see what you think.  Like creating a podcast, it took me much longer to figure what I wanted to say or include and how I wanted to say it than learning how to use the actual tool.  I’ll let the unit speak for itself but just know that my primary objective was to design a wiki that simulated a potential “real-life” experience for the students in which they would have to work with others to solve a problem using a wiki.   I wanted my students to understand just how effective wikis are as a way of sharing information between individuals and how the knowledge of many is greater than the knowledge of one.

 

References

 

Arreguin, C. (2004).  Wikis.  In B. Hoffman (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. Retrieved October 20, 2008, from http://coe.sdsu.edu/eet/Articles/wikis/start.htm

 

Cunningham, W. (1995). Why Wiki Works. In J.W. Maxwell & M. Felczak. (n.d.). Success through simplicity: On developmental writing and communities of inquiry.  Retrieved Oct. 19, 2008, from http://www.wildwiki.net/mediawiki/index.php?title=%E2%80%9CSuccess_Through_Simplicity:_On_Developmental_Writing_and_Community_of_Inquiry.%E2%80%9D#_ref-4

 

Davis, V. (2008). K-12 Online Conference.  Retrieved Oct. 20, 2008, from :  http://k12onlineconference.org/?p=38

Lamb, B. (Sept./Oct. 2004).  Wide open spaces: Wikis, ready or not.  Educause Review, 39(5).  Retrieved Oct. 19, 2008, from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0452.pdf

 

Loertscher, D.V., Koechlin, C., & Zwann, S. (2004).  Ban those bird units: 15 models for teaching and learning in information-rich and technology-rich environments. Salt Lake City, Utah: Hi Willow Research & Publishing.

 

Loertscher, D.V., Koechlin, C., & Zwann, S. (2007).  Beyond bird units: 18 models for teaching and learning in information-rich and technology-rich environments. Salt Lake City, Utah: Hi Willow Research & Publishing.

 

Merel, P. (n.d.) In Why Wiki Works.  Retrieved Oct. 19, 2008, from http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhyWikiWorks

 

Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for the classroom. California: Corwin Press.

 

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