Thursday, April 2, 2009

Wikis in the Classroom

A wiki, from the Hawaiian word meaning "quick", is a web page that can be edited by anyone. The wiki concept has exploded in popularity primarily due to the following of wikipedia. The beautiful thing about a wiki is the collaboration that is encouraged. Wikis are a pool of knowledge to which people can continuously add. In the classroom, a wiki can be a innovative tool to encourage collaboration and synthesis between students.

This year I decided to try a wiki assignment in my high school biology classroom. We were studying genetics, so I told my students that they were to find a current news report related to an application of genetics and post a summary to the wiki that I had created (I am using Wikispaces). Additionally, students were to read and reply to the post of one of their fellow classmates. We did this for three weeks. Each week my students posted one original summary and one response.

I was pleased at the end result of the project. I asked my students what they thought of it and received mixed reviews. Many of them complained that it was a lot of work because they had to think (imagine that!). Others reported that they learned a lot and enjoyed using the wiki. From a teacher's perspective, I liked the collaboration that the wiki fostered and the real-world research that was done by the students was much more engaging and challenging than reading from a textbook and answering section review questions. You can create your own opinion of our project by viewing our wiki.

The wiki created an excellent forum for exploration and discovery. Some of my students found applications of genetics that were new to me! It was fun to watch the posting list grow throughout the week and to track the responses that were posted. Each week there was always one fascinating post that garnered lots of response. Some of the more interesting posts include:
During this assignment we did have a few problems:
  • The school web filter blocked wikispaces, the domain we were using.
  • Students were required to create an account, a process that took nearly an entire class period.
  • Some students had trouble navigating the wiki.
  • Some students were not familiar with the concept of creating a hyperlink or editing a web page.
  • Some students had trouble remembering to post their assignment on time because it was a virtual assignment, not a paper assignment.
Several of the problems above can be solved by gradual and continued use of this technology. Once students are familiar with the process, they will feel more comfortable and enjoy the project. Wikis foster the higher order thinking skills that I am continually trying to build in my students. This has been confirmed by research completed by Wake Forest University. Because I believe the wiki is a helpful classroom tool I intend to expand my wiki use next year.

Dr. Ruth Reynard published a web article in the online version of the T.H.E Journal in which she examines some potential pitfalls of using wiki's in the classroom. These pitfalls pedagogical in nature rather than problems with the wiki technology itself. One of the main points Dr. Reynard makes is intentionality. Wiki assignments must utilize the primary values of the wiki technology (collaboration, and creativity) and have useful applications.

If you have had success in using a wiki in your classroom, please leave a comment with your tips and suggestions. If you haven't used a wiki before, I would encourage you to explore the technology-- it's a great classroom tool!

3 comments:

  1. John, I really like how you organized this project. I like how it stretches students to learn beyond the textbook and how it is a paperless assignment. Hopefully, the more that students use web 2.0 applications, the easier the process will become for them.

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  2. Hi John,

    I agree with your views on the potential for wikis in science class and the example you offer illustrates the wiki's potential for having students connect curriculum topics to current issues/news in science.

    I have used your class wiki as an example of this for my preservice student teachers. Thanks for your hard work!

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  3. Wiki's are rightfully getting increased attention in educational applications these days. After blogging about it myself a couple months ago, I turned faculty at my institution on to Wetpaint last month, and a couple instructors are giving it a whirl. Wikis provide a great collaboration environment that can be used in so many creative ways.

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