The benefits of utilizing wikis in the classroom

September 24th, 2012 by Monika Jankowska-Pacyna

wiki imageA wiki is an online tool for sharing and managing information in one centralized location. It eliminates the need to resend documents/files from one person to another and allows multiple users to curate the content.

Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites, to build file-storing websites and to record personal notes or share ideas. You may also see wikis used by organizations to manage and share content. If you or students in your program have ever used Wikipedia to look for information, you have successfully accessed a wiki where various users can contribute to the content.

Explore the Wikis in Plain English video to learn more about wikis.

You might also want to review 7 things you should know about Wikis to gain insights into how they can be used with students and among colleagues.

Wikis:

  • can be private or public

  • offer web page features – images, links and control of content

  • allow users to edit any pages or to create new pages

  • allow for easy linking between different pages, files and external sites

  • involve users in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the website landscape

  • track changes (allowing users to revert to older versions and see who made changes)

  • provide revision history

  • allow users to create pages with indexes and a table of contents

  • have a “backlink” feature, displaying all pages that link to a given page (only some wikis have this feature)

  • offer search features

Terms

Wiki – is a Hawaiian word for “fast”
Wiki has been backronymed by some to “What I Know Is”
Wiki page – a single page in a wiki website
The Wiki – the entire collection of pages, usually interconnected by hyperlinks and other pages
Wiki farm – a company that offers server(s) space to host wiki software services

Wiki software

Wikis are typically powered by wiki software that is hosted online by a provider or needs to be installed. PBworks or Wetpaint are types of wiki software. AlphaPlus and many other literacy organizations use PBworks wiki. Other popular wiki software includes:

http://www.wikispaces.com/
http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki
http://info.tikiwiki.org/tiki-index.php
http://www.pmwiki.org/
http://www.centraldesktop.com/
https://www.dokuwiki.org/dokuwiki

PBworks allows users to work as a team to create documents, manage projects, and share files on an easy-to-use, online platform. It offers various service packages, but many organizations choose to use the Basic free educational option. Adding a page is as simple as clicking on the Create a page link. Editing a page simply requires users to go from View mode to Edit mode (button is located right next to View mode), make the changes and click Save.

Explore the PBworks User Manual to learn more about PBworks and its features.

Wikis at AlphaPlus and other programs

At AlphaPlus we use private wikis to collaborate on projects and manage editorial content. We use a public wiki to share information we discussed in our Tech Tuesdays.

Within the first year of using wikis, we have created hundreds of pages and we continue to use them on a daily basis. AlphaPlus’ wikis are private, restricted to those who are invited to have specific access to them. But we also allow guests to access our wikis.

ENews, our monthly newsletter, is edited through the use of a wiki. We create the content and then share the link to the content page with our editor, who logs in and edits the content. The editor’s changes are tracked in the page history, allowing us to see what changes were made.

Wikis significantly reduce the amount of emails we exchange and allow us to quickly and easily access files, information and resources from any location, whether we are in the office, at home, or at a conference or meeting. It also makes it easier to keep track of the latest file versions and updates.

Many other literacy organizations create wikis to collaborate with colleagues and share information and resources. Click here to find out how Literacy Link South Central is using wikis in their network.

Wiki examples

There are many private wikis in the field that we can’t provide access to, but below are examples of public wikis you can access and explore:

http://newliteracy.wikispaces.com/
http://wiki.literacytent.org/index.php/Main_Page
http://wikisineducation.wetpaint.com/
http://meblog.pbworks.com/
http://www.elearnspace.org/enabling/wiki.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
http://123digitalcitizenship.wikispaces.com/
http://chriscraft.pbworks.com/
http://disruptiveinnovators.wikispaces.com/
http://theconnectedclassroom.wikispaces.com/
http://davidwarlick.com/wiki/pmwiki.php
http://educationalwikis.wikispaces.com/
http://edubloggerworld.wikispaces.com/
http://digitales.wikispaces.com/
http://pedagogytools.pbworks.com/

Using wikis with students

Wikis are also a great tool to use with students. At the Labour Education Centre, practitioners used a wiki to build a simple website for the Literacy and Basic Skills class. They used it to share class handouts and resources, provide links to websites, post pictures from various events and share recipes and job postings. Introducing the wiki allowed the practitioners to use the computers in the classroom and blend the traditional learning with an online component.

For each class, the students were encouraged to go to the wiki and access the handouts or assignments. The practitioners would offer ongoing support but this approach allowed students to manage their learning process, develop their computer skills and become more independent and sure of themselves. They also had a chance to access and revisit the content at home. We noticed that many were keen on doing more than they were asked to because they were excited about working with computers and with the things they were learning.

Some of the computer savvy students quickly noticed that using a wiki wasn’t difficult and asked if they could contribute content to the wiki. They wanted to add their recipes or job postings they came across.

For these students, developing a project or assignment where they could build and collaborate on a wiki would be a great assignment. They could use the wiki to gather information and pictures, even to present the results of the research. For example, they could work together on developing a wiki with their favourite recipes. Each wiki page could have a recipe and a picture of the finished product. Who knows – maybe later it could even be developed into a printable book!

If you have questions about wikis, would like help in setting up a wiki, or have a wiki you would like to share with others, let us know at info@alphaplus.ca

Join us for a Tech Tuesdays session on October 2, 2012 at 3 pm ET to discuss this and other ideas on using wikis in the classroom.