The Classroom Wiki

Wednesday, December 3, 2008  

When the topic of wiki use in classrooms comes up, many teachers assume this means using Wikipedia with their students. Teachers become rightfully concerned with their inability to control and/or verify Wikipedia's content and how to protect the privacy of their students. But wiki technology is much bigger than Wikipedia, and many teachers are finding success with private classroom wikis. Private wikis allow teachers and students alike to benefit from the technology without all the privacy and content concerns of public wikis. The remainder of this article provides some considerations for teachers who want to use a wiki in their classroom.

Ways to Use a Wiki

Because wiki is such an open and simple technology, there are countless ways to use it with your students. Consider any activity that involves collaboration among students. Good starting points are group projects or individual projects that contribute to a single larger body of work. One teacher I worked with had each student pick a U.S. President to report on. When they were done, a single page put them together into a multi-Presidential report that all students could learn from. Another chose to have groups of four students report on major events of a specific decade. When done, a cohesive time line of the last 50 years of U.S. history was available for all. With projects like these, students feel like they're contributing to something larger than themselves, and knowing that peers and perhaps parents will be seeing their work adds an element of pride unavailable in work simply handed in to the teacher.

Another option is to have each student complete the same assignment on pages that only they can see and edit. This requires some extra setup on your part, but this effort is easily made up in not having to grade different topics for each student. If this level of control is needed, be sure to test student logins to make sure they can edit their private page and that other students can't see it. The real benefit comes when all the work is handed in, and you open up access so that students can see each other's work. This provides valuable insight into how peer work differs, and adds the element of pride knowing that peers will see their work.

In both cases, a wiki that provides the ability to comment on pages can add a fun peer review element to projects. Students love to comment on each other's work and read the comments about their own work.

Selecting a Wiki

If there isn't an established wiki platform at your school, you will have to do some research into the various wikis available. Once you've started, changing platforms will be very disruptive, so making the right choice up front is important. Wikis can differ significantly, and some of these features are particularly important for teachers. Here are some things to look for in a classroom wiki:

  • The product should not have advertising, regardless of who's getting the revenue from it. Students get enough advertising throughout their day without having it on their classroom wiki. Also, it can be hard to control the content of ads that will appear on your classroom wiki.
  • The product should not include a lot of branding from the service provider. This is just another form of advertising, and can be a distraction for students. Find a provider that provides the least cluttered interface possible. You may want to decorate it with class colors and a mascot logo - but these decorations should be yours, not the logo and tagline of the hosting company.
  • The wiki should carefully protect the identity and content of its users. This can be a significant legal matter and should not be taken lightly. The site should require a login to view its content to keep out public viewers and search engines. Don't rely on people not guessing the address of your site. Also, your students' user accounts must not be part of a larger social network. For example, some hosted wikis list the most active users on a public page.
  • Unless your school system has provided a wiki platform, the product should be hosted. Getting a school's IT department to install and maintain a wiki is almost always more trouble than it's worth. And unless you have an IT background yourself, setting up hosting and installing and maintaining wiki software will be a major distraction. You also risk finding yourself with a broken wiki and not knowing how to fix it. Fully hosted and managed wiki products are the best bet.
  • It should be an affordable but paid and professionally supported service. Free services can be fickle in terms of availability and support. Also, they usually have advertising. What happens if the wiki is not up during class?
  • Finally, test the provider's support. Ask a question and see how fast and informative the response is. If your students hit a stumbling block in the middle of a big project, you won't want to wait a couple of days for the support staff to respond.

EditMe meets all of these criteria, and has been used and re-used for many private classroom wikis. Why not try us out for yours?



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