I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about wikis lately, primarily because they’re probably the easiest Web 2.0 tool for teachers to begin using.

Sometimes I’m blown away by the fact that wikis are free!  After all, I think I’ve got about five or six different wikis cooking right now.

I’m using this wiki to create daily current event reading lessons with a few colleagues on my hallway, this one to house the materials that I put together for presentations on using digital tools in the classroom, and this one to house the materials that a buddy of mine and I have put together for presentations on professional learning communities.

I’ve also done a bunch of work with wikis in my classroom—and I’m not sure that I’ve hit the motherload there yet.  I did stumble across this pretty incredible wiki recently—and I’m planning on trying to use it as a model with my own students someday.

As I look at more and more wikis being created by students, I think the following four traits is what defines “wiki goodness” to me:

Accurate Content:  The initial fear that every teacher has when approaching work with wikis is the constant risk that students will learn to embrace a tool that may just promote the sharing of inaccurate content.  With the much-publicized horror stories of false information appearing on major wiki sites like Wikipedia, we’ve become hesitant to embrace wikis as a teaching tool.

And in some ways, these fears are justified.  Because wikis are open websites that can be edited by anyone at any time, content on wikis is often changing—and at any given time, wikis can contain information that is just plain wrong.

But in many ways, that risk is what makes wikis such a valuable teaching tool!  The most accomplished wiki-educators don’t shy away from inaccurate content posted on classroom wiki projects.  Instead, they embrace it as an opportunity to teach students about the importance of judging the reliability of online sources. 

While they are constantly pushing students to proofread their work for accuracy—and while they value accuracy in the products that are produced by their students—they also recognize that content errors are new opportunities to teach students about information literacy. 

Deep Linking:  Higher level learning experiences require learners to read and react to information.  Synthesizing and evaluating content created by others is essential before new understandings can be developed. 

In wiki work, evidence of this synthesis and evaluation can be seen in the number and quality of resources linked to on a wiki page.  As new content is developed, links from a variety of reliable resources are inserted to provide evidence that supports the thinking of the authors. 

Deep linking forces students to make connections between their own beliefs and external evidence.  It also serves as an additional opportunity for classrooms to have conversations about judging the reliability of online sources.  Wiki pages with extensive links to credible sources are more likely to be trustworthy than those with limited links to questionable sources. 

Evidence of Group Revision:  Wikis are designed for collaboration, plain and simple.  They are tools that facilitate the asynchronous work of groups around content that is of shared interest.  As a result, accomplished academic wiki pages have evidence of extensive group revision. 

Page discussion boards include ongoing conversations about quality and content—and a careful exploration of the page history button (generally found somewhere in the header or footer of each wiki page) will reveal an extensive collection of previous versions.

In many ways, group revision is the greatest challenge for teachers interested in incorporating wiki work into their classrooms because students are inherently tentative about making meaningful edits to one another’s work.  Used to the traditional isolation of the American classroom—where collaboration has generally been somewhat simple or superficial—peers generally use wiki pages as places to post their own content, rather than to make changes to content posted by others. 

Over time and with constant modeling, however, students embrace the collective nature of wiki pages and begin to make meaningful revisions to the work of their peers. 

Quality Presentation:  Accomplished wikis are really no different from accomplished writing in any other format:  They demonstrate the use of age appropriate grammar, punctuation and spelling.  Writers recognize that effective communication depends on their ability to create pieces that are easy to understand and unencumbered by mistakes.

For many teachers, wikis become natural forums for reviewing grammar and spelling rules with students!  Because errors are almost always going to be present in constantly changing work being created by kids, wikis are built-in, real world opportunities for proofreading practice.   

Accomplished wikis also demonstrate age-appropriate levels of visual presentation.  Images and embedded video are often used to enhance wiki pages.  Creators maintain a balance, however, between appropriate use of multimedia content and digital overkill, recognizing that interactive elements can distract readers.

Do these categories make any sense to you?  Am I leaving anything out in my quest for wiki-nirvana?

I kind of feel like this is my own quest for the Holy Grail!


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