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What is a Wiki?

A wiki is a type of free on-line writing space that allows users to add, modify and update its pages. If something is missing or incorrect in a wiki and permissions allow you to edit the wiki, you can easily add your thoughts or make changes to the wiki. It is essientially a fully editable web site.

  • Ward Cunningham used the word "wiki" to describe the collaborative tool he developed. Wikis were named for the "Wiki-Wiki" or a Hawaiian adjective for "quick"
  • Anyone can post material without knowing HTML or a programming language.
  • The most famous wiki is the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WikiPedia
  • Wikis are often referred to as "collaborative web sites." People who contribute to a wiki understand that their words may be deleted or changed by others.
  • The last draft of a wiki is given the highest importance. Each time the text has been changed a new version is saved. The writing process and changes to the text can be observed through these older versions.
  • Wikis offer the ability to discuss changes before they are actually made, and track who editted what and when.
  • The process is the product. Meaning is developed and guided out of the social interactions at the point where text is created.

One of the most obvious benefits of using a wiki is the ability to offer a quick way to collaborate textually, while creating a content rich web site. Where the knowledge of the group is greater than an individual, and the end product is the result of the groups interactions.

Quick Ideas Around Classroom Uses of Wikis

  1. Use for student projects where group members need to contribute at different times and from geographically diverse locations.
  2. Use for collaborating on ideas and organizing documents and resources from individuals and groups of students.
  3. Use as a presentation tool where those who attend a workshop can contribute to future versions of the workshop.
  4. As a group research project for a specific idea.
  5. Manage school and classroom documents.
  6. Use as a collaborative handout for students.
  7. Writing: student created books and journaling. (i.e. Wikibooks)
  8. Create and maintain a classroom FAQ
  9. As a classroom discussion and debate area.
  10. A place to aggregate web resources.
  11. Choose a topic on Wikipedia, break the topic into facts, students verify the facts using their information literacy skills, and make changes accordingly (Citing sources).


Community of Practice Theory (see Wegner)

Knowledge-Building Networks (see Carl Bereiter and Marlene Scardamalia)

Design Patterns for Eduwikis (See Bernie Dodge) These patterns outline several methods for using wikis in educational situations:

Micropedia - A tiny, focused version of Wikipedia. The range of content is restricted to a pre-defined domain. Each entry is a definition or at least a description of a single entity

FAQ - Similar to a micropedia in that the focus is typically narrow. Structurally, though, the wiki is organized around questions and answers.

Consensus Document - Collaborative creation of a document that reflects agreement by parties that began with widely differing points of view and goals. Needs to be embedded in a scenario with role descriptions and a plan for assigning roles.

Branching Story - Revival of the text adventures of 25 years ago. Story begins with a description of a setting followed by internal links based on action choices the reader can make. Each choice leads to a new entry describing what happens next.

TreeSim - A branching tree simulation in which choices and consequences are revealed. Structurally similar to a branching story except that the essential elements of a story (conflict and resolution) are missing.

Ant Farm - A simulation of a selected time and place with multiple actors. Like a branching story except that there is no single protogonist.

Exegesis - A dissection of a single, dense text. Multiple words or phrases are linked to additional internal entries, each of which can contain external references.

(Reference Bernie Dodge)

(Also see Wiki Pedagogy by Renée Fountain for a more detailed approach to pedagogy)

Wiki Software

There are three main types of wiki software that may be more relevant to you: software that you install yourself or web sites that host wikis for you.

Hosted Wikis

Hosted wikis, often referred to as wikifarms, offer open and/or password protected wikis with different levels of customization and extendibility. Some of these wiki farms are free others offer paid features.

A few examples are: [1], PeanutButterWiki, SeedWiki, Wikia, and Wikispaces.

Wikispaces also offers advertising free wikis for educators.

Server-Side Wikis

This wiki software is installed on a web server, MediaWiki, which is hosted on TeachingHacks.com is an example of this type of installation of a wiki.

A few examples are: MediaWiki, Docuwiki, and Twiki.

Desktop Wikis

This software is installed on the local computer and does not require a web server for administration. It works for the end user and are not shareable on the web.

A few examples are: VoodooPad (Mac OS X), WikidPad (Windows) or Instiki (Windows and Mac)

Delicious.png Del.icio.us "educwikis" links

Tag your social bookmarking account with "educwikis" using del.icio.us to appear below, and share resources
with other educators.


Practical Advice for Classroom Use

Model Collaboration

Don't expect that the novelty of using a wiki in your classroom is going to motivate your students to continue to use it. Model the type of collaborative behaviour that you would like to see your students exhibit through the use of the wiki. Students might start almost in a discussion type of building experience, where students ideas and opinions emerge, and are consolidated as the content is forming.

You might consider the organic growth of a wiki as new ideas are developed from older ideas, as one of the most beneficial aspects of using a wiki in the classroom. Think of Wikipedia as a model, whose content is constantly being refined, reshaped and improved. Examine the writing style that is being developed as students' use their group voice.

You might encourage your class to moderate their own spelling and grammar, rather than something that's teacher directed. Keep them enagaged with the topic of the wiki, while focusing on their ownership of wiki content. The tone of the wiki is set up by the teacher through discussion both online and offline, and the "Style Guide."

Assigning Roles

Assigning specific roles to students which might also help to ease students into the use of a wiki. The role might be assigned, with the understanding that these students are still free to contribute to the wiki in any of the other roles outlined. A few examples might be:

Innovators: Find new ideas that relate to the topic and include those ideas into the wiki.

Debaters: Challenge the information presented in the new ideas through discussion, in order to help legitimize or debunk new information.

Researchers: Look at connections between the wiki content that has been created and provide links to research that discusses that content. Check that the facts that have been included in the wiki are correct.

Protectors: Stop spammers or editing that detracts from the content being created, and check for plagiarism in order to protect the integrity of the wiki.

Editors: Formating the text so that it is more appealing. (i.e. blod, italics, font size) Correcting spelling and grammar errors in the text.

Assigning Tasks

Another way you can help students to engage in the wiki is by assigning a task list to students.


Fact Checking and Plagiarism:

Linking the Wiki:

Create New Content:

Looking at Contributions

A wiki offers educators a look at how students contribute to a working document. It also gives the educator the ability to see how students can work together on a document and what their contributions are.

  • By looking at the recent changes section in a wiki educators can see where and how students have collaborated in the wiki.
  • By selecting (diff) beside the recent changes, educators can see what students have contributed in comparison to the original text.
  • By selecting (hist) beside the recent changes, educators can see what students have contributed in comparison to any other changes that have been made to the text.

Recording Accomplishments

Be sure to establish the appropriate conventions of co-authoring texts since students names will not appear on the last draft of the front-end of the wiki. You can help students to record their contributions to the content of the wiki. One way to do this is have them electronically sign pages that they contributed to.

Using The Style guide

Is a guide that relates to the specific customs and culture of the wiki. This outlines how one is asked to model their contributions in this particular collaborative environment. A style guide may include specific wiki formating. This is an example of the very extensive Wikipedia:Manual of Style and the Style Guide for this wiki.

Publishing Controls

The amount of publishing control a visitor to a wiki will have depends on how the wiki administrator has set up the software. In general, the wiki administrator can make changes to the user interface of the wiki. This might include different wiki themes, the navigation and other customization features. This is usually on the outside or around the main text of the wiki. The inside area, or the area where the main content is located is often set-up so that others can edit and add content to the wiki.

Publishing controls can take many different forms, here are a few examples:

Personal Publishing:

A wiki can be used as a personal brain dump, where one user (the wiki administrator) has access to the wiki and everyone else becomes a viewer of the content.

Group Publishing:

A group of people have access to the wiki - usually dome through user-names and/or passwords that are given out by the wiki administrator. Few have access to edit, change and add pages on the wiki, but all can view.


Changes can be made by anyone who visits the wiki, changes and additions are monitored by the group as a whole. A good example is wikipedia. This type of permissions allow you to collaborate with the world.

Private Wikis

Wikis may be used for a number of different purposes which limit access to the wiki. For example, if the wiki is located on an intranet you are automatically limiting access to the wiki.

Access may also only be granted with username/password to all of the content of a wiki - (PBWIKI example set to private)

Or you may not want to have contributions from anyone else, but a select group of people.

Rules and Guidelines

Hopefully school and school district "Acceptable Use Policies" will be able to inform school and educator developed wiki policies and guidelines as they are developed.

In general a district wiki policy should cover issues related to student identity on the World Wide Web, in order to prevent students from including specific identifying information in classroom wikis, such as full names, photos and emails. A district wiki policy should also include guidelines for posting information on a wiki that is inappropriate, inaccurate or where postings may bully another student.

It is a good practice to develop the rules and guidelines for your wiki with your students and ensure that they have a positive tone. As in a traditional classroom, students are more likely to abide by rules that they have developed than ones imposed on them.

This is also a good time to layout any rules or citation guidelines that you would like student to follow when referencing other content whether online or offline.


  1. Understand that this site is an extension of school. All school rules apply, even if you come to this site when you are not at school.
  2. Use the name that you were assigned by your teacher.
  3. Never, ever, put your last name on this site.
  4. Never, ever, put your e-mail address, home address, phone number nor any other means of contact on this site.
  5. Never make any changes or add any sorts of content to the site that are inappropriate.
  6. Do not make changes to this site that are outside the instructions and intent of this wiki.

Reference: WikiGPS for 7th Grade Social Studies

Editing Wikis

Wiki Markup

Many wikis use special codes that allow you to format the text, tables and images that appear in the wiki. The type of markup that you use will help to determine what your text, hyperlinks and images will look like. Some examples of wiki markup around text and hyperlinks.


Some wikis will allow you to include HTML code when you edit the wiki. You can use your favourite web editor (i.e. Nvu, Dreamweaver or Frontpage) to create the text how you would like it to look, and then cut and paste the code into your wiki.


Other wikis include a graphical user interface that has an HTML area which converts what you create into the appropriate wiki markup or HTML code. This 'what you see is what you get' approach to editing a wiki is a very easy for the beginner. Wikispaces uses a WYSIWYG editor in their wiki software.

What Obstacles You Might Face

  • Wikis conflict with traditional assumptions about authorship and intellectual property.
  • Students are sometimes reluctant to contribute to wikis because they lack confidence in their writing, they worry about not receiving credit for contributions, or they do not like their ideas, words, contributions being revised or deleted without consent.
  • Some teachers and students are uncomfortable about the advantages and disadvantages of public writing.
  • Some technology averse students do not like having to learn how to use wikis and/or find even the relatively simple steps for editing or posting work daunting.
  • Because Wikis are not presentation software, use of visuals and design options are limited.
  • Although selecting "restore" to replace content that was inavertently deleted or intentionally hacked is easy, the editing process is nonetheless a hassle.

Reference For Teachers New to Wikis

Wiki Workshops

There are many self-paced wiki workshops that will help you explore the pedagogy behind using wikis in the classroom, as well as guide you through creating a wiki. These are a few that will help get you started using wikis.

Video Tutorials of PBWiki

Blogs, Podcasts, Wiki's & Screencasts presentation by Sue Lister

PBWIKI Overview presentation by Sue Lister

WikiRadio by Brian Lamb (very funny!)

Wikis in Education An interview with Victoria Davis and Adam Frey (Interviewed by Steve Hargadon)

Uses of Wikis EDUCAUSE Pocket Edition (podcast)

Wikimania Conference Archived conference materials (audio, video, and text) from this conference on Wikis.

Assessment and Evaluation Resources

Evaluation Tools

Evaluation Methods

General Resources

These resources will get you started, as well as provide a few more ideas around wiki uses in education.

Jon Udell Screencast on Wiki's

Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not EDUCAUSE Review by Brian Lamb

Pedagogical Potential of Wikis

Using Wiki in Education

WikiPatterns This site contains a toolbox of patterns and anti-patterns, and a guide to major stages of wiki adoption that explores patterns to apply at each stage.

Uses and Potentials of Wikis in the Classroom by S. Pixy Ferris and Hilary Wilder

7 Things You Should Know about Wikis EDUCAUSE

Internet Encyclopedias Go Head to Head (A comparison of Wikipedia to Britannica)

USING WIKIS IN SCHOOLS: A CASE STUDY By Lyndsay Grant, Learning Researcher, Futurelab

Interactive Learning, Wikis in Education An Emerging Technologies Workshop brought to you by the San Diego County Office of Education

Wiki Tipster Explore Ways Wikis Can be Used

10 Interesting Wiki Communities


Documentary on Wikipedia


Weblog Issues

The Unfixedness of Knowledge: Discourse, Genre, and Mode in Wikipedia by Ulises A. Mejias

Criticism of Wikipedia on Wikipedia (Encyclopædia Britannica doesn't have an entry on it)

Errors in the Encyclopædia Britannica on Wikipedia

Will Wikipedia Mean the End Of Traditional Encyclopedias? Wall Street Journal Online

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