Wiki Basics

(The following is based upon the "Wiki Walkthrough" by Teachers First)

What is a wiki?
A wiki is a web site that lets any visitor become a participant: you can create or edit the actual site contents without any special technical knowledge or tools. All you need is a computer with an Internet connection. A wiki is continuously “under revision.” It is a living collaboration whose purpose is the sharing of the creative process and product by many. One famous example is Wiki-pedia, an online encyclopedia with no “authors” but millions of contributors and editors. The word "wiki" comes from Hawaiian language, meaning "quick" or "fast."

Who uses wikis?Wikis are used in the “real world” (outside of K-12 schools) by people collaborating on projects or trying to share things online, such as family information and photos, technical information from users of a product, and data from a research and development project. In K-12 education, wikis are being used by educators to conduct or follow-up after professional development workshops or as a communication tool with parents. The greatest potential, however, lies in student participation in the ongoing creation and evolution of the wikis.

What is the difference between a wiki and a blog?A blog shares writing and multimedia content in the form of “posts” (starting point entries) and “comments” (responses to the posts). While commenting, and even posting, are open to the members of the blog or the general public, no one is able to change a comment or post made by another. The usual format is post-comment-comment-comment, and so on. For this reason, blogs are often the vehicle of choice to express individual opinions.A wiki has a far more open structure and allows others to change what one person has written. This openness may trump individual opinion with group consensus.

Why Use a wiki?
  • Build greater connections between new and old knowledge by allowing student-created structure for the information and ideas.
  • Build on the best of Bloom: Students use synthesis and evaluation constantly and consistently when they work on a wiki.

  • Build creativity skills, especially elaboration and fluency. Build creative flexibility in accepting others’ edits!
  • Encourage “hitch-hiking” on ideas (a type of creative elaboration and analytical thinking: If X is true, then what about Y?).
  • Introduce and reinforce the idea that a creative piece as never “done.”
  • Increase engagement of all students.
  • In lieu of being passive “consumers” of their peers’ presentations (where they doze and ignore), wiki makers respond, change, and improve.
  • Culminating projects no longer have to end!!
  • Develop interpersonal and communication skills, especially consensus-building and compromise, in an environment where the product motivates interpersonal problem-solving.
  • Develop true teamwork skills.
  • Improve the most challenging phase of writing process: revision, revision, revision!
  • Increase flexibility to consider other ways of saying things.
  • Build an awareness of a wider, more authentic audience.
  • Stimulate discussion and metacognition (where developmentally ready).
  • Help students articulate issues about ownership, finding, different conceptualizations of the same content. These can be sophisticated challenges, even for the best students.

Before you start your wiki with your class(es), consider the following:
  • How do you envision using the wiki?
  • 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?)

Wiki Ideas Across the Disciplines

Wiki ideas appropriate for most subjects and grade levels:
  • The wiki as the organizational and intellectual epicenter of your class. Wiki all assignments, projects, collaboration, rubrics, etc. (Screencast Videos…)
  • STUDENT WORK -Products of research projects, especially collaborative group project. Remember that the products do not have to be simply writing. They can include computer files, images, videos, etc. Creating an organizational structure for the content is an important part if the project.
  • Study guides made by student groups for themselves and peers: each group prepares the guide for one aspect of the unit or responsibility rotates: one unit guide per semester.
  • Vocabulary lists and examples of the words in use, contributed by students (ongoing throughout the year).
  • An annotated collection of EXAMPLES from the non-school world for anything: supply/demand, capitalism, entrepreneurship, triangles, alliterations, vertebrates or invertebrates, etc. Include illustrations wherever possible.
  • What I Think Will Be on the Test wiki: a place to log review information for important concepts throughout the year, prior to taking the “high stakes” test, AP test, or final exam. Students add to it throughout the year and even from year to year.
  • A travelogue from a field trip or NON-field trip that the class would have liked to take as a culmination of a unit of study: Our (non) trip to the Capital and what we (wish) we saw.
  • An FAQ (or NSFAQ- Not So Frequently Asked Questions) wiki on your current unit topic. Have students post KWL entries and continue adding questions that occur to them as the unit progresses. As other students add their “answers,” the wiki will evolve into a student-created guide to the topic. Example: Civil War FAQ or Biomes FAQ. You may find that the FAQ process can entirely supplant traditional classroom activities, especially if you seed a few questions as the teacher. This would also depend on whether you have consistent computer access on a daily basis, a luxury many schools do not have.

Wiki ideas for math:
  • A calculus wiki for those long problems so the class can collaborate on how to solve them.
  • A geometry wiki for students to share and rewrite proofs. What a great way to see the different approaches to the same problem!
  • Applied math wiki: students write about and illustrate places where they actually used math to solve a problem.
  • Procedures wiki: groups explain the steps to a mathematical procedure, such as factoring a polynomial or converting a decimal to a fraction.
  • Pure numbers wiki: student illustrate numbers in as many ways possible: as graphics to count, as mathematical expressions, etc. Elementary students can show graphic illustrations of multiplication facts, for example.

Wiki ideas for science:
  • A student-made glossary of scientific terms with illustrations and definitions added by the class (using original digital photos or those from other online Creative Commons sources, such as Flickr). Linking to separate pages with detailed information would allow the main glossary list to remain reasonably short.
  • A taxonomy of living things with information about each branch as you study Biology over a full year.
  • Designs of experiments (and resulting lab reports) for a chemistry class.
  • Observations from field sites, such as water-testing in local streams, weather observations from across your state, or bird counts during migratory season. Collaborate with other schools.
  • Detailed and illustrated descriptions of scientific processes: how mountains form, etc.
  • A physics wiki for those long problems so the class can collaborate on how to solve them.

Wiki ideas for social studies:
  • A mock-debate between candidates, in wiki form (composed entirely based on research students have done on the candidate positions).
  • A collaborative project with students in another location or all over the world: A day in the life of an American/Japanese/French/Brazilian/Mexican family. (This one would require finding contacts in other locations, of course).
  • A collection of propaganda examples during a propaganda unit.
  • Detailed and illustrated descriptions of governmental processes: how a bill becomes a law, etc.
  • A “fan club” for your favorite president(s) or famous female(s).
  • A virtual tour of your school as you study “our community” in elementary grades.
  • A local history wiki, documenting historical buildings, events, and people within your community. Include interviews with those who can tell about events from the World War II era or the day the mill burned down, etc. Allow adult community members to add their input by signing up for “membership” in the wiki. This project could continue on for years and actually be a service to the community. Perhaps the area historical society would provide some assistance, if you can get them to think beyond the closed stacks of their protected collections!
  • A document-the-veterans wiki for those in your community who served in the military. Interview them and photograph them, including both their accounts and your students’ documentation and personal reflections on the interviews.
  • A travel brochure wiki: use wikis to “advertise” for different literary, historical, or cultural locations and time periods: Dickens’ London, fourteenth century in Italy in Verona and Mantua ( Romeo and Juliet), The Oklahoma Territory, The Yukon during the Gold Rush, Ex-patriot Paris in the Twenties, etc.

Wiki ideas for language arts:
  • A continuing story in which your class adds sentence using new vocabulary words and writes and adventure story in collaboration with the entire class. They will NEVER forget the meaning of the words as they read and re-read their story each time they visit to add. The story can be a single version or branch off into multiple versions and endings.
  • A collection of mythological allusions found in “real life” while studying Greek/Roman mythology: Ex. Mercury cars- why are they so named?
  • An online writer’s workshop or poetry workshop with suggested revisions from classmates. Start with drafts and collaborate. Make sure students use the notes tab to explain why they make changes.
  • Summary and discussion of a scene of a play, a poem, or even chapter by chapter of a novel, with groups taking responsibility for different portions
  • Literary analysis of actual text on the wiki- with links to explanations of literary devices, a glossary to explain vocabulary, etc. Try it with a scene from Shakespeare or a sonnet! Each student or group could be responsible for a portion, then ALL can edit and revise to improve the collaborative project. You will be amazed how much they will find and argue.
  • Collaborative book reviews or author studies
  • Creative projects, such as a script for a Shakespeare scene reset in the 21st century
  • A travel brochure wiki- use wikis to “advertise” for different literary, historical, or cultural locations and time periods: Dickens’ London, fourteenth century in Italy in Verona and Mantua (Romeo and Juliet), The Oklahoma Territory, The Yukon during the Gold Rush, Expatriate Paris in the Twenties, etc.
  • Character resume wiki: have literature classes create a resume wikis for characters in a novel or play you are reading. Both creativity and documented evidence from the literature are required (use notes to indicate the evidence from the text).

Wiki ideas for other subjects:
  • A virtual art gallery with ongoing criticism and responses regarding artwork found online or originals from your art classroom.
  • A catalog of musical styles or musical instruments.
  • Collections of recipes for a family and consumer science or world language class.
  • A collaborative project with speakers of a foreign language and in another location: A day in the life of an American/Japanese/French/German/Mexican family. (This one would require finding contacts in other locations, of course).
  • A movie review wiki for teens hoping to find the best date flick?
  • A humor study wiki for gifted students trying to learn the fine art of spoof and satire, including visual as well as verbal.
  • Collections/montages of examples of an abstract concept, such as “surrealism”- why do you can this surrealist?- explain/refute.
  • An orientation wiki for the next students to come to your middle or high school.
  • Make a nutrition wiki with ideas for ways to eat healthy at local restaurants.
  • A careers wiki. Have students interview people about their jobs and write up descriptions of different career paths. Invite the workers to add their own input and pictures, as well. Keep this wiki as part of an alumni project for your high school students investigating school-to-work options.
  • Buy a Car wiki- interest, financing, car dealer info, car model reviews, etc (in driver ed, math, or business class).
  • Consumer wiki- student articles on consumer issues and warnings, including the local mall, area businesses, even cell phone plans. This is great for students learning about consumer rights.
  • Get a Job wiki- share info on good/bad places to work and why.
  • Let students create a “study hall” wiki for their assignments and prep for upcoming tests in your class and others.

Helpful Links for Developing Your Class Wiki


List of Educational Wikis

Student Created Wiki Example

Tools / Tutorials

Wiki Walkthrough

Wikispaces for Educators

Wikispaces Video Tutorials

50 Ways to Use Wikis for a More Collaborative and Interactive Classroom