First: What is a Wiki?

Simply, a wiki is a website that anyone can edit easily using a regular web browser. The first wiki was developed in 1995 by Ward Cunningham, who named his project after the Hawaiian word "wiki-wiki," meaning "quick." If you can use a word processor, copy and paste, and send an email attachment, you can create a wiki. A wiki site may be as basic as a single page containing information and links by one author, or as complex as Wikipedia, the collaborative web-based encyclopedia, containing over 9 million articles in 250 languages, written, edited and constantly updated by thousands of users. (We won't debate the merits of Wikipedia at this particular moment, but most educators will concede that it has some value as a ready reference tool, and also that it can be used as a means for teaching students to critically evaluate online information sources).

Wikis in under 4 minutes, from our friends at CommonCraft:


A Few Key Wiki Features

  • Every version of every page is saved in the page History (anytime a user clicks Save), so it's easy to track changes and compare page versions. You can easily revert to an "old" page version if information is accidentally lost or changed in an unwanted way.
  • The History stores user information along with page revisions, which allows you to easily track and evaluate user (read: student) contributions.
  • A wiki's "permissions" may be set to Public, Protected or Private. Public - Anyone can view and edit the pages; Protected - Anyone can view the pages, but only approved members may edit pages; Private - Only approved members (who are logged in) can view or edit the pages.
  • A wiki site includes the ability to track page changes via email or an RSS feed. That's how Wikipedia vandalism/errors are corrected so quickly!
  • Most wikis include a Discussion feature for each page, allowing users to leave comments or discuss page contents.
  • Wikis use a very simple coding language called "Wikitext" or "Wiki Markup" to format the text, links and other content on the pages. Most users don't need to know about that, because they can use the Visual Editor (looks like the formatting toolbar in Word) to format their pages.

Why Wikis in Education?
Wikis encourage shared knowledge construction, as they are often built and edited by many users at once. Teachers and students can use wikis for publishing, organizing, and sharing virtually any kind of information – professional, creative or academic. Wikis are democratic tools that, implemented effectively, can enable students to take responsibility for learning outcomes, plan and make decisions, work together, publish to an audience beyond the classroom and, perhaps most importantly, teach others.

At is simplest, a wiki is a really easy way to make a website. At its most robust, a wiki is a collaborative, participatory, living, evolving content repository. (Of course, the quality of the content is what matters). Wikis can be used to support classroom learning, professional development, collaborative document writing, planning and resource-building. Essentially, a wiki is anything you want it to be.

Discovery Exercise

Check out the "educational" wikis below. Explore their organization and content. While there are essentially endless professional and administrative uses for wikis, I have slanted the selection towards those that include collaborative, student-produced content. As you look at the sites, consider how you might use a wiki to support student learning and/or your own teaching or professional goals. (I do not offer these up as the absolute best or most comprehensive wiki projects, just a variety of examples). Before you get started, read the task below, so you know what your blog post (http://richardsonbiology.edublogs.org) will require.

  • Holocaust Wiki Project - AP World History students create "branching stories" about families in the Holocaust. "They have to come up with realistic decision points, describe the pros and cons, address the consequences of each decision, and fill it in with a narrative that reflects their research on the Holocaust." (Click Period 1, 2, 3 or 4 at the bottom of the page to view student projects).
  • 1001 Flat World Tales - An ongoing global writing workshop emphasizing peer editing and revision. The challenge: "You are a modern Scheherazade. You must tell an 'amazing' story that keeps your King interested in order to stay alive. You will have an advantage over Scheherezade, though: you can draft and revise your story until the 'King' -- three or four of your classmates -- judge your story is good enough to allow you to survive."
  • FHS Wolves Den - Site to support eleventh grade English and U.S. History classes. Hub for class lectures, essays, novels, projects, links, learning applications, discussions, and more.

Task

Go to your class blog, http://richardsonbiology.edublogs.org, and comment under the wiki post sharing your thoughts and observations about wikis in general and also the educational wiki projects you have explored. Provide details/examples from the wikis -- e.g. What did you notice about their organization, content, tools used, learning outcomes? What was missing? What could you do differently or better? In your post, please also share initial ideas you have for wiki use in the classroom or personal learning.