We just passed 1,000 visitors to The 8 blog this week and I’m really excited that people are finding this resource beneficial. Looking through the blog posts I’ve done over the last few months, I realized that I haven’t featured one of my favorite Web 2.0 applications: the wiki. When most people hear the word “wiki,” they probably think of Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopedia. While Wikipedia is probably the most famous of the wiki genre, the word wiki actually refers to a classification of websites that allow joint editing. Think of a wiki as a word document that lives online. Depending on how the wiki creator sets up the site, the wiki can be altered by everyone or only by a select number of people.
Wikis work educationally by allowing students to build off one another and to make new connections as they’re contributing content. For those of you familiar with Bloom’s Taxonomy, wikis can help to situate students in the higher end of the spectrum (Application, Analysis, Evaluation and Synthesis). We can also look at wikis from a social constructivist standpoint. Learning is not solely based on an individual’s ability to acquire knowledge and skills but also on an ability to participate in a community. Applying this perspective to wiki use, when students use a wiki they participate in and help to develop an online community. By collaborating and communicating with other students in their online community, they contribute to the construction of new knowledge for all participants.
Besides being educationally beneficial to students, wikis also offer features that teachers will find useful. A teacher can track all of the changes made to a wiki so she or he can see which students made alterations to the site. The wiki also stores the entire history of a web page, time-stamping each change that was made over the page’s lifetime. Teachers can modify a wiki so that it sends e-mails out to alert users of any changes that have been made. A wiki also offers multiple layers of use where teachers can identify specific students as viewers, editors, or administrators. Lastly, teachers can make a wiki available for private use to a select group of students or for public use to any visitor to the site. With such a variety of features, a teacher can customize a wiki so that is appropriate to her educational objectives and considers the safety and security of her students at the same time.
While there are many different wiki hosting sites, I use wikispaces. Wikispaces is really easy to use and free. I like wikispaces because they were one of the first sites dedicated to supporting K-12 teachers by providing free wikis and allowing teachers to create usernames for the students without requiring individual email addresses for authentication.
So what can a wiki be used for? I think wikis can be powerful tools for any collaborative project where students can build off of the work from their classmates. If you need some examples, check out this list of classroom wikis that one of my Web 2.0 classes created.
If you’ve never used wikispaces and would like to try one out, check out the following introductory tour.