Wikis, the anyone can edit anytime website

This description, taken from Will Richardson’s book, Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts and Other Powerful WebTools for Classrooms (p. 55) introduces us to the versatility of wikis.  Depending on the wiki program you choose to work with, they are simple, quick (short form of the Hawaiian, wiki wiki, p. 55), collaborative, non-linear, dynamic web sites that can be used by teachers and students for a variety of purposes that I’ll talk about in this posting.  A video by Common Craft illustrates the simplicity and dynamic nature of this web 2.0 tool:

When I began considering how I would approach the topic of wikis, it seemed to me that  the best place to start was with one of the most famous wikis of all, Wikipedia.  This is both a controversial yet impressive wiki that, as Will Richardson writes, “is attempting to store the sum of human knowledge” with “3 million separate entries.” (p. 55)  This is no mean feet and could certainly not grow at the rate it does without the constant contributions of individuals who are interested in the value, need, and role of Wikipedia.  In schools, there often seems to be suspicion surrounding the trustworthiness of information found on Wikipedia but Richardson reassures the skeptics – “there are vastly more people who want to make it right than those who want to make it wrong.” (p. 56)

Wikis in school=real collaboration

“From the hands of people just like us with the concept that everyone together is smarter than anyone alone.” (Richardson, p.57)  Whether we’re talking about inter-district collaboration, professional learning communities (PLC’s) or students collaborating on a writing assignment, wikis bring people together.

The world of wikis expands far beyond Wikipedia and some quick searching proves this.  There is Wiktionary, Wikirecipies, and Wikiquotes, Wikibooks, Wikijunior to list a few.  The power of collaboration from diverse contributors makes these sites real treasure troves of inspiring resources.  So, as long as Wikipedia is among the “top 10 search results students are using, (p. 58) educators need to understand what it is and how it is created so that they can guide their students to become astute, 21st century researchers.  As Richardson states, “as we continue to move toward a world where everyone has access to ideas and where collaboration is the expectation rather than the exception, wikis can go a long way toward teaching our students some very useful skills for their future.” (p. 59)

Wikis and my professional development

As a student in the TLDL program, I have created a wiki and read a great many through researching various topics.  While I am very much on the learning curve with web 2.0 tools, creating a path finder wiki was a valuable experience during the inquiry course.  I can certainly see creating others for various purposes in future learning, especially if a study group is working together on a topic.  In the larger classes, the small study group format helps ease collaboration by reducing the stress of trying to manage discussion and sharing with 30 or more other students.

Anne’s pathfinder wiki

Throughout the posting, I will list some of the wikis that I found particularly helpful to my library teaching situation.

In an article called, “Working Wikis” Ellen Ullman (Aug 2010) discusses the use of wikis by professionals in a school district in New Jersey.  “With a wiki, we can be the expert or invite an expert to comment.  Everyone can put in their two cents, and in real time.” (p.18).  Wikis benefit teacher, administrators, parents and students.  “Two more benefits of wikis are their historical value” as well as the fact that attachments are available for teachers. (p.18)

Doug Achterman in his article, “Beyond Wikipedia” lists “five features of wikis that can make them an effective tool in facilitating such collaborative efforts:” (p.19-22)

  1. Ease of use
  2. Spaces for students to create products individually, in small groups, and as a whole group.
  3. Ability to create a non-linear document structure through hyperlinks.
  4. A built-in mechanism for reflection and metacognition
  5. A means of tracking individual, small group, and whole group progress through an assignment.

Whether for professional collaboration or student learning, theses features of wikis make them a dynamic and manageable environment for creating and sharing.  Other features of wikis not listed above that make them such adaptable sites for learning, sharing and collaborating are:

  • graphics can be added
  • links can be inserted
  • annotations added
  • there’s room for reflection (discussion tab)
  • Power Points can be included
  • audio and video can also be added (Richardson, p. 62)

Students and wikis

I haven’t taught with wikis yet.  I don’t work with any teachers directly who use them or have indicated an interest in using them yet.  There are teachers in our district though who have used them in their classrooms with great success and positive outcomes.  I am currently working with two colleagues using Edmodo for novel studies because of the secure nature of this tool but from my reading and research, there are many teachers out there using wikis to achieve similar goals.  Wikis can be completely open to the public or password protected or accessible only by registered users so the security concerns can be managed as the circumstances require.  These features, of course, may vary from program to program

Wikis in the classroom allow learning to expand beyond textbooks.  As Richardson states, “One of the most obvious ways is to create an online text for your curriculum that you and your students can both contribute to.” (p. 61).  The wiki can expand to other teachers and students and “become a resource, a showcase for best practices.” (p.61).

I am particularly interested in wikis for elementary schools and found some helpful resources that talk about teaching wikis to younger learners.  “Wee Wikis:  Implementing the Use of Wikis with Elementary Students” by Kendra Molen (2009) reminds us that students need lots of support and clear expectations about how to communicate in the wiki and now to navigate within it.  It’s a step by step process but definitely possible for students as young as 7  years of age.  Think of the comfort these kids will have with web 2.0 tools by the time they are in high school.

Another author in this field, Kristin Fontichiaro, in an articled entitled, “More than Friendship:  Social Scholarship, Young Learners, and the Standards for the 21st Century Learner” (2009) also emphasizes modelling expectations and recommends jobs for each member of a group so that each student is accountable for their contribution.

Choosing wiki software

Wikispaces is my preferred program for wiki creating because of its clean, uncluttered format but there are others including:

Creating an account with Wikispaces was very easy and getting started, also very easy.  Some of the other wiki creating programs are complicated by comparison and very busy looking as well.  You have to choose what suits your needs best.

Wikis and librarians

Web 2.0 for Librarians and Information Professionals (2008) by Elyssa Kroski is a resource I have enjoyed working with for the breadth of topics and accessible format.  In discussing wikis, Kroski describes wikis this way:  “This new form of bottom-up, social publishing harnesses the wisdom of crowds and defies barriers such as time, place, and technical know-how.” (p. 41)  This is perhaps one of the biggest factors that make learning web 2.0 tools so critical for educators is that our students are already creating and contributing online – this is their world and we need to be guiding them to be safe and effective communicators out there.

Kroski also goes on to discuss the ways in which librarians are using wikis:

  • subject guides
  • library resource reviews
  • intranets
  • staff training
  • library websites
  • event planning
  • collaborating and learning
  • knowledge bases
  • (p. 47)

If we’re wondering how to use wikis in our own libraries, her list certainly gives us some starting points.  The list is also not exhaustive so in a district, region or province, wikis could serve to link and support librarians  (school, public or academic) as they endeavor to incorporate web 2.0 tools into their library settings.

Dana Dukic, a librarian at Kowloon Junior School in Hong Kong, writes in an article, “Wikis in school libraries” about a wiki called LibraryZone (2007) which is worth a look if you haven’t already bookmarked it.  It was built with Wikispaces and is “freely available to educators working in K-12 schools.”  “LibraryZone wiki was initially set up as a research skills tutorial” but expanded to include units of study, resources, feedback and a student quiz for a unit on ladybugs.  “The quiz is created in a program called Hot Potatoes.”

The reference list at the end of this article has several wikis cited, some of which were of particular interest to me.  They include:

Once you explore one wiki, you come upon many many more interesting wikis that you can incorporate into instruction and use as exemplars when teaching about wikis and how they can enhance, expand and broaden the horizons of your students.

On a personal level, I haven’t used wikis though my daughter did created one about three years ago when she was interested in collaborating on the subject of gymnastics.  She learned how to get set up with Wikispaces in no time but didn’t keep it up after her interest changed to another sport.  I remember that it was exciting that there were other girls out there who wanted to join her wiki.  I’m a runner but haven’t sought out wikis on running – will have to check that out when I have a moment.  First, I want to explore the possibility of an online book club at school using a wiki.  Many great examples exist so I’ll take my students on an armchair “wikitour.”

Kroski, E. (2008). Web 2.0 for librarians and information professionals. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers Inc.

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin Press.

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