Part One: Teacher Tips for Wiki Projects

If you’ve noticed even more technology entries here on the Radical than normal, that’s because I’ve been doing a lot of writing recently for my second book. 

Titled Plug Us In: 5 Easy Steps to Integrate Technology into Your Classroom and scheduled to be published by Solution Tree in the fall of 2010, my goal is to show teachers how to use technology to introduce students to the kinds of enduring skills that we all value—information management, collaboration, communication, problem solving etc.

Today, I finished polishing a set of teacher tips for wiki projects that resembles my recent series of teacher tips for classroom blogging projects.  I figured you’d be interested in seeing an excerpt from Plug Us In where I share a series of 8 suggestions with teachers interested in integrating wikis into their work with students. 

Here are the first four suggestions:

Once your students are comfortable with the characteristics of good wiki work and aware of a set of specific, defined roles for participation, you will be ready to start projects using wikis as a tool for the coproduction of content. To make this work more approachable and productive, consider:

Starting with one classroom wiki: At their core, wikis are about sharing information. Students working together can use wikis to document what they are learning about concepts connected to the curriculum, to organize their thinking on topics of deep personal interest, or to generate shared solutions to problems built from the collective intelligence of a group. The challenge, however, is finding enough content to fill a wiki!

That’s why it is best to keep your initial efforts simple and clean, creating wiki projects that are completed by entire classes instead of individual students. Consider having small groups design, monitor and manage stand-alone pages in shared classroom wikis focused on classroom content instead of creating and maintaining entire wikis on their own. Doing so will ensure that your wiki builds quickly without overwhelming anyone with your first digital efforts!

Modeling classroom wiki projects around Wikipedia pages: Whether traditional teachers like it or not, Wikipedia will likely remain the most visible example of wikis in action for a long, long while. It has caught the attention of millions of users already, it is built on simple and sustainable software, and it taps into the natural human desire to share.

Because of its size and influence—and because your students are likely to have used Wikipedia as a research source at some point in their school careers—consider using Wikipedia as a model for your own classroom wiki projects.

Creating a classroom encyclopedia covering the content you are studying in class or a comprehensive collection of solutions to one common problem will be a motivating and productive task for your students. Groups can be assigned particular topics to tackle or charged with detailing the strengths and weaknesses of one potential solution, creating pages mirroring the format of Wikipedia entries.

Conceptually, using Wikipedia as a model for your classroom wiki project will make your expectations approachable—and give students samples to refer to while completing their final products.

Providing groups with initial structures to follow and content to explore: While using Wikipedia as a conceptual model for your classroom wiki may provide your students with a sense for what it is that you are trying to create, it may also completely backfire.

Wikipedia is, after all, a vast resource with sophisticated and polished entries on an almost mind-boggling number of topics. Looking at your blank wiki on the first day of your classroom project and knowing that Wikipedia is the standard that they are to be compared against, your students may end up absolutely intimidated!

To make initial efforts seem more doable, work to add extensive content to your classroom wiki ahead of time. Create page templates complete with tables of contents that detail required content—Description of Problem, Potential Solutions, Fatal Flaws, Final Thoughts—for each group. Design one or two sample pages that students can refer to.

Include extensive collections of supporting materials that students can use while researching. Share simple step-by-step directions for using the wiki tool that you have selected, post checklists and rubrics that can guide student work, and point to sources of embeddable content—photo warehouses, video sharing sites, free digital tools for creating interactive content—that students may find useful.

Systematically frontloading your classroom wiki can help to convince your classes that their efforts can produce an impressive final product rivaling Wikipedia.

Using wikis to enrich and/or remediate: For many classroom teachers, finding differentiated learning opportunities for students who’ve mastered—or are struggling with—required concepts can be an intimidating task. Classroom wikis, however—especially those designed to detail solutions to problems connected to required classroom content—can make independent work simple for everyone.

Because classroom wikis are constantly changing, they are natural sources of never-ending opportunities for students in need of differentiation. Advanced students can create new pages for your wiki, introducing challenging concepts in approachable ways.

Students who finish work early can proofread content for accuracy, correcting factual errors, adding essential information, and pointing out flaws in the solutions proposed by their peers. Students in need of remediation can explore links embedded in classroom wiki pages to learn more about topics being studied.

Using classroom wikis as tools for remediation and enrichment will help to make the time and energy that you invest into organizing wiki work worthwhile—and will help your students to see your wiki as a valuable learning tool instead of simply as a graded task to be forgotten.

8 thoughts on “Part One: Teacher Tips for Wiki Projects

  1. Yvonne

    Do you have multiple samples of what a classroom Wiki looks like? I am familiar with Wikipedia but have not found any classroom Wikis that I can make sense of? Do you have step by step directions on how to set one up? I loook forward to seeing some with explanations. Thanks!

  2. Fzzxtchr

    Mr. Ferriter,
    I enjoyed reading this post and will be on the lookout for your book. I am presenting at the Oklahoma Technology Assoc. Conference next month on this very subject. Wikis are very near and dear to my heart (although discussion boards were my gateway drug). I’d like to use some of your information (and I’ll certainly give you credit) if you don’t mind. Do you have some good examples of classroom wikis you have seen?
    If you are interested, my students work at http://thescienceclassroom.wikispaces.com . We have been using this as a virtual research paper over the last year, but I am transitioning to a virtual textbook. I am going to have students become subject-matter experts on small physics topics and then present this information to the class. I think of it as beginning with project based learning and then transition into something more traditional once they have become familiar with it. Any thoughts?

  3. Bill Ferriter

    Renee asked:
    Does anyone know of a way to create html code to embed powerpoint presentations, video, etc. that can’t be blocked?
    Hey Renee….I like your digital resilience. Good on ya’!
    As far as getting code that can’t be blocked by your district’s firewall, the only answer is to find a hosting service that isn’t blocked. If they’ve got Scribd on the lockdown list, check out another service like Slideshare or use Google Docs. When they block those two services, go find a new one.
    But remember, just because the content that your kids are creating can’t be seen at school doesn’t mean that the same content is blocked from home. The solution for you might be to use any service that you like to upload their content and then encourage students to browse and leave comments for each other from home.
    Of course, the best answer is to sit down with your principal or your district’s technology decision makers and explain exactly what it is that you’re trying to do. Support your argument with curricular objectives. Show them how leaving comments and publishing for an audience can support reading, writing, speaking and listening goals.
    Maybe then you can get a service or two unblocked!
    Hope this helps,
    Bill

  4. Bill Ferriter

    K wrote:
    The phrase “Plug Us In” conjures images of someone/something passive, waiting to be done unto. It doesn’t seem to jive with views you have formerly expressed of students.
    This is a really interesting point that I hadn’t considered, K!
    For me, the title “Plug Us In” refers to the almost complete lack of digital tools in today’s classrooms. So little is being done to introduce students to the ways that they can use tools they’ve already embraced to make learning more efficient.
    There’s also a more subtle reason for my choice: I want schools to move away from independent learning. Students should be ‘plugged in” to collaborative learning experiences and conversations with peers because that’s where true learning comes from.
    I completely see your point, though….devices that are plugged in don’t take independent actions, do they?
    Thanks for the suggestion—I’ll have to run that one past my publisher!
    Rock on,
    Bill

  5. Renee

    Can’t wait – Fall of 2010?
    I have an unrelated question that it just occurred to me your readers might be able to answer (fingers crossed). Our district is incredibly tight with the internet security (our students aren’t allowed to use wiki’s for school purposes – it just gets worse .. . ) but I have created a project and have figured out how to use Scribd to embed their finished projects in my own class page. Problem? School has blocked scribd and said projects won’t show up.
    I’m trying to create a way for students to truly publish what they do and be able to respond to one another, but tech is fighting me at every turn. Does anyone know of a way to create html code to embed powerpoint presentations, video, etc. that can’t be blocked?
    Thanks.
    Renee

  6. K. Borden

    Mr. Ferriter:
    “Plug Us In: 5 Easy Steps to Integrate Technology into Your Classroom”
    Something made me curious when reading the title. The phrase “Plug Us In” conjures images of someone/something passive, waiting to be done unto. It doesn’t seem to jive with views you have formerly expressed of students. Are students today passively waiting to enter classrooms to be plugged in, or is something else happening in the world and in student’s lives that teachers can use the steps to tap into?
    To quote something you ask often, “Does that make sense?”

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