Part one: Teacher tips for wiki projects

If you’ve noticed even more technology entries here on the Radical than normal, that’s because I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently for my second book.

Titled Plug Us In: 5 Easy Steps to Integrate Technology into Your Classroom and scheduled to be published by Solution Tree in the fall of 2010, my goal is to show teachers how to use technology to introduce students to the kinds of enduring skills that we all value—information management, collaboration, communication, problem solving etc.

Today, I finished polishing a set of teacher tips for wiki projects that resembles my recent series of teacher tips for classroom blogging projects.  I figured you’d be interested in seeing an excerpt from Plug Us In where I share a series of 8 suggestions with teachers interested in integrating wikis into their work with students.

Here are the first four suggestions:

Once your students are comfortable with the characteristics of good wiki work and aware of a set of specific, defined roles for participation, you will be ready to start projects using wikis as a tool for the coproduction of content. To make this work more approachable and productive, consider:

Starting with one classroom wiki: At their core, wikis are about sharing information. Students working together can use wikis to document what they are learning about concepts connected to the curriculum, to organize their thinking on topics of deep personal interest, or to generate shared solutions to problems built from the collective intelligence of a group. The challenge, however, is finding enough content to fill a wiki!

That’s why it is best to keep your initial efforts simple and clean, creating wiki projects that are completed by entire classes instead of individual students. Consider having small groups design, monitor and manage stand-alone pages in shared classroom wikis focused on classroom content instead of creating and maintaining entire wikis on their own. Doing so will ensure that your wiki builds quickly without overwhelming anyone with your first digital efforts!

Modeling classroom wiki projects around Wikipedia pages: Whether traditional teachers like it or not, Wikipedia will likely remain the most visible example of wikis in action for a long, long while. It has caught the attention of millions of users already, it is built on simple and sustainable software, and it taps into the natural human desire to share.

Because of its size and influence—and because your students are likely to have used Wikipedia as a research source at some point in their school careers—consider using Wikipedia as a model for your own classroom wiki projects.

Creating a classroom encyclopedia covering the content you are studying in class or a comprehensive collection of solutions to one common problem will be a motivating and productive task for your students. Groups can be assigned particular topics to tackle or charged with detailing the strengths and weaknesses of one potential solution, creating pages mirroring the format of Wikipedia entries.

Conceptually, using Wikipedia as a model for your classroom wiki project will make your expectations approachable—and give students samples to refer to while completing their final products.

Providing groups with initial structures to follow and content to explore: While using Wikipedia as a conceptual model for your classroom wiki may provide your students with a sense for what it is that you are trying to create, it may also completely backfire.

Wikipedia is, after all, a vast resource with sophisticated and polished entries on an almost mind-boggling number of topics. Looking at your blank wiki on the first day of your classroom project and knowing that Wikipedia is the standard that they are to be compared against, your students may end up absolutely intimidated!

To make initial efforts seem more doable, work to add extensive content to your classroom wiki ahead of time. Create page templates complete with tables of contents that detail required content—Description of Problem, Potential Solutions, Fatal Flaws, Final Thoughts—for each group. Design one or two sample pages that students can refer to.

Include extensive collections of supporting materials that students can use while researching. Share simple step-by-step directions for using the wiki tool that you have selected, post checklists and rubrics that can guide student work, and point to sources of embeddable content—photo warehouses, video sharing sites, free digital tools for creating interactive content—that students may find useful.

Systematically frontloading your classroom wiki can help to convince your classes that their efforts can produce an impressive final product rivaling Wikipedia.

Using wikis to enrich and/or remediate: For many classroom teachers, finding differentiated learning opportunities for students who’ve mastered—or are struggling with—required concepts can be an intimidating task. Classroom wikis, however—especially those designed to detail solutions to problems connected to required classroom content—can make independent work simple for everyone.

Because classroom wikis are constantly changing, they are natural sources of never-ending opportunities for students in need of differentiation. Advanced students can create new pages for your wiki, introducing challenging concepts in approachable ways.

Students who finish work early can proofread content for accuracy, correcting factual errors, adding essential information, and pointing out flaws in the solutions proposed by their peers. Students in need of remediation can explore links embedded in classroom wiki pages to learn more about topics being studied.

Using classroom wikis as tools for remediation and enrichment will help to make the time and energy that you invest into organizing wiki work worthwhile—and will help your students to see your wiki as a valuable learning tool instead of simply as a graded task to be forgotten.