October 3, 2011
Wikis in the Classroom: Three Ways to Increase Student Collaboration
I’ve long said that professors who want to explore teaching with technology should begin with a social media tool rather than a Learning Management System. Web 2.0 tools are simple to use, invite student collaboration, and are usually less administratively clunky and complex than an LMS.
One of the easiest and most powerful tools is the regular old wiki. Wikis are simply web pages that can be edited by their users. Instead of only carrying content from the administrator, they harness the power of crowdsourcing to create a powerful communal resource.
I use a wiki as the electronic hub of my face-to-face courses. The uses are varied:
All course information —syllabus, course schedule, assignments, handouts, etc. —is posted on the wiki. This means that students can check in to get information at any time without the multiple login steps of an LMS. I also find it much easier to update content on the wiki than the LMS. Plus, students considering taking the course can check out the syllabus before registering. It is beyond me why most colleges still only provide a name and short generic description of their courses to guide students’ decisions. Why not at least require instructors to put their syllabi into an online database?
I like saving current articles that relate to course content. For instance, I am constantly running across advances in genetics that fit perfectly into my medical ethics course. I put links to these articles into my wiki. Importantly, I encourage students to do the same so that they feel a part of a knowledge community that is exploring the topics together.
One interesting section of the wiki is called “Just for Fun.” This is a place for students to load links to funny stories or videos related to course content. You would be surprised how much is out there.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in education is keeping the good work our students do hidden from the public. While professors are supposed to make public their research to advance understanding in their field, student work is only seen by the instructor and the student. Why not make the best work public? Not only does this encourage students to do better work, but also makes that work a resource for future students. Other students can benefit from the work, and it can serve as a model of what the instructor wants from students.
I put my students into small groups and assign each the project of developing a learning module on a topic covered in class. The resulting module is posted to the wiki along with the other class content. That module needs to have learning content, such as a voice-over PowerPoint or VoiceThread, as well as an assessment module, like an online quiz, and recommended resources.
Consider a simple wiki as an easy way to dip your toes into the online waters.
As always, I welcome your comments, criticisms, and cries of outrage on the blog. In particular, I’d like to hear your suggestions on other uses of a wiki in the classroom.
PB Works – Formerly PB Wiki, this is an easy to learn and fairly powerful free wiki system. They recently upgraded the capabilities in interesting ways, which I haven’t even begun to explore yet.
Glogster – Fun platform that makes a wiki into a kind of online mosaic.
NU Medical Ethics – My own very simple wiki—you can do better.
Wikis in Plain English – Still the best introduction to wikis from the good people at Common Craft.
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I have two pbworks wikis for the courses I teach at UMass Lowell (ikesharpless.pbworks.com) and the Tufts Experimental College (animalethics.pbworks.com), and I use them for all of the above and one additional thing: weekly student uploads of links relevant to course material. It's a way for me to get my students to connect our readings to current events, and for me to integrate students who tend to participate less into class discussion without making them feel too vulnerable.Is PBWorks free? From their Web site it doesn't look like it.
It's a great idea, and I'd use wikis in class if I they were persistent over time. Our platform does wikis but they expire each semester, which sort of defeats the purpose.Wikiworks does offer a free platform - I actually have one paid one http://ikesharpless.pbworks.com) and one free one http://animalethics.pbworks.com). And I think my paid one has now migrated to being on the free platform, because I don't remember renewing it (unless they did it on me automatically, and sneakily).
The difference is minimal, and, other than a big 'for non-commercial use only' header, mostly concerns storage space allocations.
They work really well for me, although I haven't tried any other wikis, so I can't make a cross-comparison. But compared with Blackboard, it's night and day. If all you're looking for is a place to post documents, Blackboard is fine. But I use these every day to compile links I'll reference/play in class and to have students post regular updates.
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By: John Orlando, PhD in Teaching with Technology