My Wiki Experience
It seems like such a long time ago already since I was introduced to wiki’s. Back in fall 2006, I was taking EDES 545 and our class held much of its discussion and assignment posting on a wiki. This was my first experience using a wiki and I remember feeling some anxiety over using this “new” technology. I really didn’t have a choice whether I used a wiki or not and so I dove right in. While using the wiki as a primary vehicle for communication in our class, I wanted to test out a wiki in my classroom (at the time, I was a grade 5/6 classroom teacher). I set up a wiki for literature circles for my class. I organized it so we were studying 6 different novels and each group had 4-6 students in it. It took some work on my part to set the pages up for each novel but other than that, the process went quite smoothly. My class had not heard of wikis yet and this was something that I told them they were going to be the “guinea pigs” for. Before I go any further, I have to let you know that the class I had this year was your dream class that I’m convinced you only see in your career once. Anything I threw at them, they embraced and ran with, especially when it came to technology. Literature Circles with the wiki. Well, my class really loved working on the wiki and it was amazing how they held one another accountable for their work more through technology than they did face to face. Students even explored and commented on other group’s wikis about their novels, which was quite interesting. Almost all of my students in the class had Internet access at home and many of them did additional work on the wiki outside of class time (which was not required since I set the wikis up with sufficient class time to complete all work due to not all students having access at home). I was extremely pleased how this worked out for my class and I even invited other teachers (including the t-l) in the school to comment on the student wikis.
Another forum of wiki that I have been involved in is a wiki that teacher-librarians in my school division have established called the learning library. The purpose of this wiki is for all t-l’s to contribute towards a resource page that all teachers can access at any given time. The hope is that it will become an ongoing resource page that continually evolves and grows so teachers don’t have to spend hours researching on their own. I find it interesting that in the teaching profession that there are still a great number of teachers that do not want to share their resources with others. This is another forum for teachers to open up and share what they are doing in their classrooms throughout our system. To date, I would say that this resource has not been used much due to a few reasons. First, many t-l’s that were introduced to the learning library wiki are not very wiki savvy and have not gone back to the page since it was introduced at a t-l meeting late last year (even though everyone was given the opportunity to log in and contribute together in a group). Second, time. Need I say more? Finally, I don’t feel too confident that this wiki has been shared by t-l’s with teachers in their schools. Why not? I’m guessing it is linked strongly to the t-l’s comfort with the wiki as well as time. I think it provides a wonderful opportunity for teachers and t-l’s to collaboratively plan and research but getting people to use it is the real challenge.
There is no shortage of professional literature that states the many benefits of wikis for educational purposes. Wikipedia alone, in my mind, is an amazing resource that has seemingly endless amount information on any possible topic. What I find great about wikipedia is that the information is current and continually updated, so you don’t have to wait for the next publishing of the world book encyclopedia to be issued to have the latest and greatest information (which on some topics is out of date by the time the encyclopedia’s are printed). The whole idea of having an online collaborative resource from people anywhere in the world at any given time is truly an ingenious invention. Wikipedia’s page on wiki offers a good overview of the basics of a wiki.
The concept of offering the ability to edit a page by anyone some may feel is opening a can of worms.
“Most people, when they first learn about the wiki concept, assume that a Web site that can be edited by anybody would soon be rendered useless by destructive input. It sounds like offering free spray cans next to a grey concrete wall. The only likely outcome would be ugly graffiti and simple tagging, and many artistic efforts would not be long lived. Still, it seems to work very well.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WIKI)
A person who maintains a wiki post is faced with the challenge of keeping up with revisions on a wiki to ensure the material is appropriate and correct. Otherwise, a wiki could be “graffitied”. Control of editing a wiki can be given to specific individuals who register with an account but some argue that this goes against the true purpose of a wiki.
Free You Say?
Yup, it’s true. Just like so many other things on the World Wide Web, you can create your own wiki through several websites. Here are a few of the most popular. In brackets I've included the link for the page associated with education for each site.
pbwiki (pbwiki education)
wetpaint (wetpaint education)
wikidot (wikidot education)
I took a little time to explore the above wikis and what they have to offer for educators like us. In the past I have only used wikispaces personally and professionally and I have found it to be an excellent site to use, navigate and teach with. It is very user friendly and students have had nothing bad to say about using it.
Wetpaint was the one website that really stood out from exploring their educational page. I found a variety of ready made templates that you could use for a variety of purposes such as posting class information (syllabus), daily updates, assignments, etc., as well as group work wikis for students. As I think ahead into the school year, I may venture out of my wikispaces comfort zone and try wetpaint. Each of the wikis mentioned above have great educational possibilities and they are all ad free when used for educational purposes, a nice touch so students aren’t distracted by other information on their page.
Students learning from and with one another. This is what wikis promote. We speak so frequently about collaboration as professionals and how beneficial it is to us in the field of education but do we live this in the class? Sure we all do group projects from throughout the year and we know who contributes to the projects. This is another means to have students publish their thoughts, learning’s, opinions, and frustrations through the World Wide Web. A collaborative approach that is as simple as edit, write and save can empower students to learn from one another in a different way. As the video “Wiki’s in Plain English” by commoncraft states, wikis are the best way to organize and coordinate input.
Richardson’s chapter on Wikis in Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms offers a great overview of wikis and how they can be used in the classroom. He also offers some insight into Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia and what challenges we face within schools with such resources.
There are so many ways to use wikis in our classrooms and the ease of creating this powerful learning tool is about as easy as it gets for even those who are not web 2.0 savvy. I’m looking at setting up a few wikis to link on my virtual library webpage in the not too distant future. I’d like to set one up for my senior literature group as well as one for a creative writing project with a class. It would be interesting to try wikis in a variety of ways to see how learning outcomes are affected when using this technology. Darn, another good idea I need to try out. You’d think the hamster would get worn out by now wouldn’t you?