Thing 5: It's a Wiki Wiki World


You may have noticed that the Marist Learning Web 2.0 course content is presented in a wiki. A wiki is a great tool for delivering instructional content on the web. I can edit the pages from anywhere, right in my web browser, without a lot of technical knowledge. It's free, and offers me online storage space to upload pictures and files. I don't need help or permission from a tech person to get started. I can easily re-organize the content and add new pages with a few clicks. I can attach files, add pictures and embed video, audio, slide shows and other media.
MOST IMPORTANTLY, I can invite others to help me develop the content.
If need be, we can all work on the wiki in our pajamas.

What is a Wiki?

Simply, a wiki is a website that anyone can edit easily using a regular web browser. The first wiki was developed in 1995 by Ward Cunningham, who named his project after the Hawaiian word "wiki-wiki," meaning "quick." If you can use a word processor, copy and paste, and send an email attachment, you can create a wiki. A wiki site may be as basic as a single page containing information and links by one author, or as complex as Wikipedia, the collaborative web-based encyclopedia, containing over 9 million articles in 250 languages, written, edited and constantly updated by thousands of users. (We won't debate the merits of Wikipedia at this particular moment, but most educators will concede that it has some value as a ready reference tool, and also that it can be used as a means for teaching students to critically evaluate online information sources).

Wikis in under 4 minutes, from our friends at CommonCraft:

A Few Key Wiki Features

  • Every version of every page is saved in the page History (anytime a user clicks Save), so it's easy to track changes and compare page versions. You can easily revert to an "old" page version if information is accidentally lost or changed in an unwanted way.
  • The History stores user information along with page revisions, which allows you to easily track and evaluate user (read: student) contributions.
  • A wiki's "permissions" may be set to Public, Protected or Private. Public - Anyone can view and edit the pages; Protected - Anyone can view the pages, but only approved members may edit pages; Private - Only approved members (who are logged in) can view or edit the pages.
  • A wiki site includes the ability to track page changes via email or an RSS feed. That's how Wikipedia vandalism/errors are corrected so quickly!
  • Most wikis include a Discussion feature for each page, allowing users to leave comments or discuss page contents.
  • Wikis use a very simple coding language called "Wikitext" or "Wiki Markup" to format the text, links and other content on the pages. Most users don't need to know about that, because they can use the Visual Editor (looks a bit like the formatting toolbar in Word) to format their pages.

Why Wikis in Education?

Wikis encourage shared knowledge construction, as they are often built and edited by many users at once. Teachers and students can use wikis for publishing, organizing, and sharing virtually any kind of information – professional, creative or academic. Wikis are democratic tools that, implemented effectively, can enable students to take responsibility for learning outcomes, plan and make decisions, work together, publish to an audience beyond the classroom and, perhaps most importantly, teach others.

At is simplest, a wiki is a really easy way to make a website. At its most robust, a wiki is a collaborative, participatory, living, evolving content repository. (Of course, the quality of the content is what matters). Wikis can be used to support classroom learning, professional development, collaborative document writing, planning and resource-building. Essentially, a wiki is anything you want it to be.

In this 2-minute video from PBwiki, teachers talk about classroom wiki use:

If you can't see the video because is blocked at your school, here is a TeacherTube version:

Discovery Exercise

Check out 5-7 of the "educational" wikis below. Explore their organization and content. While there are essentially endless professional and administrative uses for wikis, we have slanted the selection towards those that include collaborative, student-produced content. As you look at the sites, consider how you might use a wiki to support student learning and/or your own teaching or professional goals. (I do not offer these up as the absolute best or most comprehensive wiki projects, just a variety of examples). Before you get started, read the task below, so you know what your blog post will require.

Course participants will be invited to share their own school and classroom wiki projects.

  • 1001 Flat World Tales - An ongoing global writing workshop emphasizing peer editing and revision. The challenge: "You are a modern Scheherazade. You must tell an 'amazing' story that keeps your King interested in order to stay alive. You will have an advantage over Scheherezade, though: you can draft and revise your story until the 'King' -- three or four of your classmates -- judge your story is good enough to allow you to survive."
  • Code Blue - Sixth grade students learning about the human body open their own online "medical clinic."
  • Digital Research Tools (DiRT) - This wiki collects information about tools and resources that can help scholars (particularly in the humanities and social sciences) conduct research more efficiently or creatively. Whether you need software to help you manage citations, author a multimedia work, or analyze texts, Digital Research Tools will help you find what you're looking for.
  • Discovery Utopias - Middle school students answer "all of the great questions" of society (What is the role of government, What is the responsibility of the individual, etc.) and come to a collaborative consensus about what a society truly needs in order to reach for perfection and sustainability. Click the Discovery Utopias link at the bottom of the navigation area (just above the visitor map) to view the student projects.
  • Dr. Reich's Chemistry Wiki - Wiki site providing resources to support high school chemistry course and to showcase student projects.
  • FHS Wolves Den - Site to support eleventh grade English and U.S. History classes. Hub for class lectures, essays, novels, projects, links, learning applications, discussions, and more.
  • Go West - Third graders share their learning about Westward Expansion along the Oregon Trail.
  • Grazing for Digital Natives - Resources for educators about using new technologies in the classroom.
  • Great Debate 2008 - Collaborative project that provides students in grades 8-12 with an opportunity to lead an exploration and discussion of issues and candidates surrounding the 2008 presidential election.
  • Greetings from the World - A high school teacher in Croatia invites people from all over the world to share about their home countries using the Glogster "digital collage" tool. An ongoing, ever-growing collection of posts. Winner of the 2009 Edublog Award for Best Educational Wiki.
  • HUMS3001: Censorship and Responsibility - a great example of collaborative scholarship by university students. Students develop content and teach each other as they study "theoretical approaches to free speech, liberalism, censorship, and responsibility and apply them to contemporary debates in journalism, media, art, literary studies and academia." I especially like their explanation of "wiki spirit."
  • Kindergarten Counting Book - Photos to show each number from 1 to 100. (Wetpaint now offers ad-free education wikis).
  • Kubler Reading - Fourth grade students organize their of study Natalie Babbit's Tuck Everlasting on a wiki.
  • Math 12V Outcomes Portfolio - Twelfth grade math students create an online review for the entire math curriculum.
  • Primary Math - Primary students share their math learning with students around the world.
  • Mr. Lindsay's Classroom Wiki - Fourth grade classroom wiki. Includes student work, as well as class information.
  • Schools in the Past - First graders interview parents and grandparents to find out how schools have changed.
  • Small Stones - AP Calculus students write their own textbook by "scribe posting" a review of each day's lesson.
  • Springfield Township Virtual Library - Amazingly rich collection of digital library resources maintained by Joyce Valenza.
  • Thousands Project - Each month, Mr. Monson's fifth grade class posts a new question, hoping to receive 1000 responses from students and visitors from around the world.
  • UDL Tech Toolkit - a useful collection of resources for using online tools to support Universal Design for Learning. Collaboratively edited.
  • Welker's Wikinomics - Award-winning project supporting the teaching of AP Economics. Be sure to check out the Discussion Forum.
  • Westwood Schools Computer Science - Classroom wiki for Vicki Davis' (coolcatteacher) high school computer science courses.

A Few Further Resources (provided for your reference)

Two Sites for Creating a Wiki (provided for your reference)

In case you just can't wait to start your wiki, here are two good options, both of which offers Ad-Free, hosted wikis for K-12 Education. The features vary a bit, so you may want to investigate a bit before settling. One way to do that is to create a "regular" free wiki (ad-supported) to explore the features before asking for your educator site.


Read Vicki Davis' blog post Wiki Wiki Teaching about her first experience using wikis in the classroom. Do you think there may be a wiki in your future? Write a blog post sharing your thoughts and observations about the educational wiki projects you have explored. Provide details/examples from at least three wikis that you actually investigated -- e.g. What did you notice about their organization, content, tools used, learning outcomes? What was missing? What could you do differently or better? In your post, please also share initial ideas you have for wiki use in classroom, professional or personal learning. Please be sure to LINK to every wiki you mention in your post (HELP Video on Creating links in Edublogs), and include "Thing 5" in the title of your post.

Stretch Task

Check out a topic of interest in Wikipedia. Does the content seem valid, complete, well-written? Visit the Discussion tab to see if there has been any conversation or controversy about the article. Also look at the History tab and explore a few of the revisions. Post a blog entry reflecting on your Wikipedia experience. Be sure to include "Thing 5 - Stretch" in the title of your post.