Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wiki Wiki

I believe wikis are possibly the most misunderstood and under-appreciated web tool available to educators today. It is so simple but so powerful, yet many teachers cannot figure out what goes on in a wiki and how to use it for their classroom.

Wikis are a direct result of the Web 2.0 revolution; that is, web pages that can be changed or edited by anyone. The monster example, of course, is Wikipedia, which is a public encyclopedia that can be edited and added to by anyone in the world. I still run into people I would consider tech-savvy that don't understand Wikipedia is not a standard encyclopedia, like Britannica, etc. People can write anything and present it as the truth. (Wikipedia is monitored, and obvious falsities or inappropriate statements are often deleted, but more ambiguous statements often remain.) For this reason, Wikipedia must never be used directly as a source. Its real value is that properly cited pages can provide numerous links to legitimate sources. Wikipedia also shows the traits of a good wiki. Visual elements are used very often, including pictures, video and audio files. And those who wish to edit the pages find a simple, user-friendly interface. 

Our studies this week led us to look at a couple of educational wikis created by teachers. I hope all educators check out such wikis, because they offer students a real-world learning experience that combines creativity with collaboration. It can be fun for the students and the teacher. Mrs. Lodes' "Treasure of Learning" wiki uses a pirate theme to bring her students into the wiki page. The theme is age-appropriate, which is very important. Visually, the pages are colorful, but I do think some of the images are distracting. On one page there is a widget apparently called "wall wisher" that I found to be way too busy and unreadable.

It is possible that my browser was causing this, but it is worth remembering that teachers should make sure the students can properly access the wiki with a choice of browsers. I also found this wiki that is made for history teachers. It is very interesting to me as a history teacher, but I still think it's too busy. Movement on a page is cool, but in very small doses, in my opinion. I have seen boring wikis too, but if I had to err on one side or the other, I think I would prefer not enough graphic elements, rather than too many.

Looking at this wiki that deals with literacy tools, the overall feel is so clean and subdued that I find it very appealing. One concern would be with the sheer number of links on the page. The table of contents is quite long as well. Still, the intended audience is educators seeking resources, so in that aspect the site delivers in spades. Every link I clicked on was current; and that is important to remember when constructing a wiki or blog. Many times links go dead, or change. Site administrators must make sure their links are still active. This wiki was created with Wikispaces, which happens to be the tool I use to experiment with creating wikis. I am hardly and expert, and I was certainly intimidated at first, but I found the creation process to be fun and productive.

This is something I want to communicate to other educators: Creating wikis is not tortuous, and the results can be tremendous. The greatest positive in my opinion is the collaborative aspect of wikis, the ability for students to post their work to a page that all can view, comment on, and even add to if they wish. For groups of students, or entire classes, this is invaluable. And the work is saved forever. Next year's class can build on what this year's class does. Or teachers can compare last year's accomplishments with this year's. Teachers can also evaluate their own progress. How did the students respond this year compared to last year? And parents can monitor the entire process, if desired. It's a great way for teachers to keep a record of the work being completed. And once students learn how to use the wiki, teachers can basically step aside and let the kids go at it! (Not completely of course!) 

I'm sure creating and maintaining a wiki page is a daunting task to many teachers. One reason -- maybe the biggest reason -- I am seeking the MET degree is to help teachers get over their fears and learn how to use wonderful tools like wikis.


  1. I admit to using Wikipedia on a regular basis. It provides a springboard when I am researching a new topic or when I want something factual quickly. Of course, if I find something relevant I always check the references to verify the information. I think poor Wikipedia has been maligned. It can be a wonderful resource if used properly.
    I love your idea of using it as a reflection tool for teachers to evaluate their own progress. What a great way to look at your teaching methods and refine what works and what needs tweaking!

  2. You made an excellent point regarding the look and feel of the wikis. I have come across many wikis, as you said, that are either over-stimulating or boring. When designing a wiki, we need to make sure that we provide a finished product that gets the job done, but it also clean, easy to navigate, organized, and appropriately appealing. By this, I mean that graphics, etc should be appropriate for the target audience and should not distract or take away from the information and the goal of the wiki. Cute images and sounds are great when creating a wiki for elementary school students, however you must be sure that they don't distract the students from the task at hand. Regardless of the target audience, you want to make the wiki visually appealing - it it hard to hold interest when you give your audience a plain white page with just a bunch of black text. A balance must be found and the wiki checked for appropriateness before it is published.

    I agree with Val's post regarding Wikipedia - It has been given a bad reputation. I love to use it as my starting point when beginning a new project. I have found links to many great resources through Wikipedia. Although I would never allow it to be cited as an academic resource in a paper or project, but it can be a great starting point for finding credible resources.

  3. Nice work Robert! You’re blog still amazes me. I love how open and honest you are. This is truly going to be a reflective place for you to read when you become a teacher and see how your views have changed. You’re browser was not the issue on the “Treasure of Learning” wiki that you visited. It seems that Kristina’s kids went a bit crazy with Wallwisher. I agree with the business of the history wiki that you reviewed as well. Animation should be on the light side or else it is distracting to the viewer. This is a good tip for teacher websites as all. Less is more! I too prefer Wikispaces to PBWorks or another format because a teacher can make student accounts without using email addresses pretty easily.