Despite the constant instruction that many students face around exam time to “absolutely never use Wikipedia to help with your assignments”, could the structure of the wiki and its open source nature prove to be beneficial to teaching and learning in the classroom?
Given that I’m a teacher trainee, I have an unspoken obligation to lean on the side of ‘the classroom is a no Wikipedia zone’. However, there are more to wikis than Wikipedia. A wiki is a web site that lets any visitor become a participant, it allows you to create or edit the actual site contents without any special technical knowledge or tools. Pretty handy, right?
So then, why use a wiki? Wikis are generally used by people collaborating on projects or trying to share things online, for instance, travels journals from abroad and collaborative cookbooks. In other cases wikis are used for free expression, such a s a youth group online graffiti space. The greatest potential that lies in the use of wikis for educational purposes is the student participation in the on-going creation and evolution of a wiki.
Sounds like a tricky thing to integrate into the classroom, doesn’t it? Here are some neat ideas to give you an insight on how to use a wiki in the classroom:
- Listings and commentary on independent reading students have done throughout the year.
- Collaborative book reviews or author studies.
- A virtual tour on your school as you study “our community” in KS1.
- A primary class “encyclopaedia” on a special topic, such as explorers or history, which can be continued and added to each year.
- A travel log from a field trip or non-field trip that the class would have liked to take as a culmination of a unit of study. For example, our (non) trip to the moon and what we (wish) we saw.
- Detailed and illustrated descriptions of scientific processes. For instance; how mountains form; a wiki “fan club” for your favourite authors.
- Family tradition wiki – primary students share their family’s ways of preparing holiday dinners or celebrating birthdays (either anonymous or not) and compare them to practices in other cultures they read and learn about.
Of course if you’re looking for any justification for implementing such a teaching strategy then you have Blooms Taxonomy to back you up. Wikis build creativity skills, especially elaboration and fluency; they also help to build creative flexibility in accepting others’ edits. Something that may become increasingly important as a child grows and has to continue working in group projects. Wikis encourage a hitch-hiking on ideas, a type of creative elaboration and analytical thinking. It encourages the learners to dive deeper and in more detail into the topic their wiki revolves around: If X is true, then what about Y? And because a wiki is continuously under revision, the introduction of wikis for collaborative projects will also introduce and reinforce the idea to learners that a creative piece is never “finished”. Even though there are many creative benefits, the connections to Blooms Taxonomy continue on into: synthesis & evaluation; engagement; interpersonal; writing; and metacognition.
When creating a wiki for a collaborative project in the classroom, there will be many basic decisions that need to be taken into consideration:
- How do you envision using the wiki? (How will you explain it to parents?)
- Who will be able to see the wiki? (The public? Members only?)
- Who will be able to edit the wiki? (The public? Members only? Vary by section?)
- Who will be able to join the wiki? (students only? Parents? Invited guests? The public?)
- What parts of the wiki will you “protect” (lock from changes)?
- Who will moderate the wiki for appropriateness etc.?
- Who will have the ability to reset changes?
- Will you, as the teacher, be notified of all changes?
- Will the wiki have individual or global memberships? (by individual students if you want an individual record of who made changes, or with one log-in per group or class?)
An issue with any implementation of teaching strategies is safe guarding and security. In order to guarantee the safety of the learner’s information on their wikis, it is vital that you can make the following settings in your wiki:
- Protect certain pages from changes, preventing accidental erasures. These settings should be located in the manage space/page options or settings.
- Set the entire wiki to private view, making it only visible and editable by members, if such is your school’s policy. Again, this should be in the manage page options or settings.
- Set the entire wiki to protected or member-only editing, if you wish to prevent non-student visitors from making changes.
- Make sure that any wiki tool you choose permits YOU to view and edit the page.
The other issue, of course, is copyright protection. Wikis CAN include writing, images, sound and video files. Most wikis will fall under a special copyright agreement called Creative Commons. This essentially means that any content users place on the wiki can be used by others under a “share and share alike” arrangement. Meaning at all Creative Commons must be properly cited.
Like most of the digital texts strategies I’ve mentioned so far, I’d recommend integrating wikis into the classroom. Despite its potential issues it holds many benefits for teachers and learners alike. Just remember when you start out using wikis in the classroom to be careful of the content they carry and that it’s a time consuming strategy. Like most strategies, it won’t bear fruit overnight.