Thing 8 (Week 10): Wiki, Wiki, What?


You may have noticed that the Griffin 23 Things Learning 2.0 course content is presented in a wiki. A wiki is a great tool for delivering instructional content on the web. You can edit the pages from anywhere, right in your web browser, without a lot of technical knowledge. It's free, and offers you online storage space to upload pictures and files. You don't need help or permission from a tech person to get started. You can easily re-organize the content and add new pages with a few clicks. You can attach files, add pictures and embed video, audio, slide shows and other media. You can invite others, including your students, to help you develop the content. A wiki allows you to collaborate with others, anytime, anywhere you have an internet connection.

What is a Wiki?

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. (Apparently, Wikipedia has given other Encyclopedia companies such a run for their money, that Brittanica is moving to a collaborative model.)

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 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 (like this course!), collaborative document writing, planning and resource-building. Essentially, a wiki is anything you want it to be.


Popular wiki creation sites for educators:

Wikispaces []
PBWiki []
Pikiwiki []
Wikidot []
Netcipia [] wiki + blog in one placepbwiki_logo.gif
Zoho [] full Office-like productivity suite + wiki

Educational benefits / classroom applications:

  • Students have ownership of the knowledge. They actively seek it, and they create it.
  • Students are given the responsibility to look after a publication with a global audience. It's not just their teacher reading their work.
  • High-level critical thinking is developed as students critique others' contributions for accuracy.
  • Increased information literacy skills are required as students check their facts for accuracy and correct errors discovered by their peers.
  • Create an online text for your curriculum that you and your students can contribute to.
  • Engage in collaborative projects with other classrooms and other schools.
  • Create collaborative stories and books.

Concerns and solutions:

  • A malicious author can sabotage a wiki's content. This is usually people's first concern about a website that can be edited by anyone. Fortunately, a wiki can easily be restored to a previous version by visiting the history function. The truth is, there have been few cases of wiki abuse. Sabotaged wikis do not last very long because viewers tend to restore the proper version when they see a problem.
  • Misinformation and untruths can be published as fact on a wiki. The very strength of a wiki is that this information can quickly be corrected. Bad information usually does not hang around long when conscientious people discover and correct the error.
  • How can information on a wiki be considered reliable if any bozo could have put it there? As with other forms of information gathering, you should check your facts against other sources. For the most part, though, the information on a wiki is accurate if it has been read by people who are knowledgeable about that topic. The combined knowledge of the masses tends to be more accurate than the solitary knowledge of an individual.
  • A wiki page does not like to be edited by two people simultaneously. To get around this, create sub-pages for the students to work on that are linked to the main page. This prevents two students from working on the same page at the same time.
  • A wiki can be set up to allow only authorized users to have editing rights. You can also create a wiki that only you and your class can edit.
  • Student privacy is paramount. Never publish last names or personal details of students. Teachers should discuss privacy issues with their students and ensure they do not create usernames that display their full identity.

Further reading:


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, these selections are slanted 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. Before you get started, read the task below, so you know what your blog post will require.

¤ NOTE: Course participants will be invited to share their own school and classroom wiki projects as part of "Thing 9."

  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Flat Classroom Project - Third year of this award-winning global collaboration between high school students in U.S. and many countries abroad. Students studied and reported on each of the ten "flatteners" presented in Friedman's The World is Flat, using a variety of Web 2.0 tools. This is true 21st Century collaboration.
  • 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.
  • Holocaust Wiki Project - AP World History students create "branching stories" about families in the Holocaust. "They have to come up with realistic decision points, describe the pros and cons, address the consequences of each decision, and fill it in with a narrative that reflects their research on the Holocaust." (Click Period 1, 2, 3 or 4 at the bottom of the page to view student projects).
  • 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 study of Natalie Babbit's Tuck Everlasting on a wiki.
  • Primary Math - Primary students share their math learning with students around the world.
  • Room 15 Wiki - Sixth grade classroom wiki. Includes book reviews and creative works by students, as well as class information.
  • Schools in the Past - First graders interview parents and grandparents to find out how schools have changed.
  • 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.
  • Turn Homeward, Hannalee - Fifth graders created a comprehensive study guide for this Civil War era historical novel.
  • Westwood Schools Computer Science - Classroom wiki for Vicki Davis' (coolcatteacher) high school computer science courses.
  • High School Online Collaborative Writing - massive wiki started by New York teacher Paul Allison in 2005. Many participants.
  • And now for some closer to home (i.e. Roycemore):
    • Give Us Laptops! - Sixth grade students researched the advantages and disadvantages of 1:1 laptop programs (1 laptop per student) and gathered the information together in this wiki. We are currently working on preparing the research to present to all Roycemore staff on our February institute day!
    • Shadvisory - My advisory's wiki, where we share thoughts on several topics and continue discussions after advisory sessions.
    • Monster Exchange Project - The Lower School club collaborated with two other classes in other states on this project. Each student drew a monster and posted a description of their monster to the wiki. Then students in the other classes then drew their interpretations of the monsters. Finally, we compared the original vs. the redrawn monsters in a Skype session, which everyone greatly enjoyed! (This is a private wiki; you will need to log in to see the content. You can use the user name "mymonster1" and password "monster" to access it.)

A Few Further Resources (provided for your reference)

A Few 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, each 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. Currently, I highly recommend Wikispaces.


PART 1: 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, and include "Thing 8" in the title of your post.

PART 2: Check your Google Reader at least every other day this week -- remember, you are skimming and scanning for items of interest, not reading every single entry! You are always welcome to adjust your subscriptions (delete some, add new ones, etc...).

PART 3: Look at the Google spreadsheet for our course and add the blogs of your classmates to your "blogroll". While you are at it, add some of your favorite blogs, too.

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. This is where you get to share your thoughts on whether Wikipedia should be used for student research or not. Be sure to include "Thing 8 - Stretch" in the title of your post.