On Wednesday, I posted an excerpt from a book I’m writing about teaching with technology titled Part One: Teacher Tips for Wiki Projects. Here’s the second—and final—post in that series, detailing four additional thoughts for teachers interested in using wikis with their students:
Discussing wiki vandalism: The openness encouraged in communities that embrace wikis as a tool for knowledge building can also lead to the intentional destruction of content. Users with no real attachment to wiki projects sometimes decide to delete entire pages or to add inaccurate—or inappropriate—content to wiki pages on purpose. Work that students have spent hours creating can literally be erased in an instant.
Users who intentionally destroy the work done on wikis are called vandals—and any teacher interested in wikis must reassure their students that vandalism is not a cause for major concern. Because wikis save every version of each page separately, work can be quickly restored as soon as vandalism occurs. While replacing damaged pages can be frustrating, it is important for students to know that nothing is lost forever on a wiki.
Keeping wikis open for viewing but closed for revision: All wiki services provide users with a wide range of viewing and editing settings. Wikis can be completely closed, requiring users to log in to see and/or edit content, or completely open, allowing anyone to view and edit without invitation. The best starting point for classroom wiki projects is to leave your wiki open for viewing, but to extend editing privileges to just the students in your classroom.
By doing so, you’ll ensure that your students benefit from the motivation of creating work that can be seen by a larger audience while also ensuring that the content created by your classes can’t be destroyed by outsiders simply looking to cause trouble. Extending editing privileges to just the students in your classroom also means that you’ll be able to monitor the kinds of work that each student in your class is doing online.
If you choose to grade contributions to classroom wiki projects, you can quickly identify the changes made under each student’s username—and if wiki vandals strike, you’ll be able to hold students accountable for their digital decisions.
Using RSS feed readers to monitor changes to wiki pages: Monitoring the content posted on—and changes made to—classroom wikis is often a concern that teachers wrestle with early in new digital projects. Wanting to ensure that students are acting responsibly, teachers worry when they are unable to see what kinds of work their classes are doing online together.
To make monitoring manageable, consider using an RSS feed reader—discussed in more detail in Chapter 1—to track changes to individual wiki pages. While enabling RSS feeds on wiki pages will require that your wiki remain open for the world to see (a digital risk that some teachers are unwilling to take), you will quickly and easily be able to skim the contributions—new comments, edits, images, and content—being added by the students in your class.
Naming and training student editors: Even after setting up RSS feed readers to track the content being added to classroom wikis, teachers may find that monitoring ongoing wiki projects for quality can be simply overwhelming—especially when students are highly motivated and making dozens of revisions per day.
Uncomfortable with unmonitored pages and unable to find the time to keep up with the new work being added to classroom wikis, teachers end up pulling the plug on projects rather than risk being embarrassed by poor final products. To avoid this all-too-common end result, consider training student editors to be responsible for tracking the changes made to individual pages in your classroom project.
Student editors can visit wiki pages several times a week, checking new contributions for accuracy and appearance. When errors are found, student editors can make instant changes—or can contact student authors and ask that they polish the work they’ve added. Page monitoring responsibilities can be assigned based on a student’s demonstrated interest in a topic of study, motivation to revise and edit content, or willingness to take responsibility for a classroom’s collective efforts.
While page monitoring responsibilities will be limited as groups begin shared projects, class wikis are likely to cover enough unique topics over time that every student can take responsibility for one page of content.
So whaddya’ think of my Teacher Tips for Wiki Projects? Are there any important concepts or practices that I’ve left out? Did I argue in favor of a practice that you disagree with?
If you were to rate the suggestions that I’ve made in order of importance, which suggestion would you place first? Why?
What barriers are keeping you from starting classroom wiki projects in your room?
(PS: You can find a collection of resources and handouts designed to support classroom wiki projects posted here.)