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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Wiki Wisdom: How to Use an Online Classroom Clearinghouse

Teacher Louise Maine offers tips for using wikis in class.
Grace Rubenstein
Former senior producer at Edutopia
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You don't need to be a technology whiz to bring the power of wikis to your classroom, says Punxsutawney Area High School teacher Louise Maine. In a year and a half since discovering the educational potential of this Web tool, she has learned enough to use a wiki as the hub for almost everything she and her science students do. (Read here about how she uses it.)

All it takes, she says, is the curiosity to explore new possibilities and the determination to search for help (whether online, from colleagues, or from students) when there's something you can't figure out how to do.

Here are a few suggestions from Maine for those venturing into the world of educational wikis:

  • Start small, and then build. Expand your use of the wiki a little bit at a time. Doing so helps teachers relinquish the kind of control they have in a more traditional classroom. Students may feel more comfortable with a gradual change, too.
  • Play. Explore other educational wikis. (Vicki Davis's CoolCatTeacher wiki is a favorite of Maine's.) Decide which ideas and practices you like, and use them. Maine, who says she's no computer geek, has found her way over technical hurdles through experimentation, trial and error, and her students' expertise.
  • Encourage collaboration. Do group projects that take thinking and learning to a new level. Rather than give assignments in which each group member is responsible for a different task, assign real-life, multiple-solution problems in which "all of the group members working together adds up to something much bigger than what any individual could have done alone." That's the whole point of the wiki. Expect to do more planning, but less grading.
  • Set ground rules. Be clear about goals and expectations. Maine had parents sign a "wiki warranty" early in the year. Her students know she can see any changes they make on the wiki pages -- be they constructive or devious. Last year, only one student was barred from the wiki due to repeated misbehavior.
  • Support students. This may be new territory for them, too. They need help with group-work skills, and they need reminders to look at the wiki after hours to find information and participate in discussions.
Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Carolyn 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You also assume that ALL students have access to computers at home. I work in an area where that is NOT the case. In fact, that is the exception. The majority of my students do not have a working, reliable computer with Internet access in their homes. School is the only place where they can get on a computer. How am I to expect them to do work on the computer outside of classtime? That is ridiculous.

Kyle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You may work in an area where computing is far from ubiquitous. Situation like that are becoming more of an exception. In my district >75% of kids can get online at home and therefore I find this useful. You should just breathe deep a few times and take it easy. Calling an article or a suggestion in the article ridiculous is a bit overboard, when it is simply because your school doesn't have the same resources. The district-to-district financial divide is what is ridiculous.

KS

Linda Takimoto's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too teach in a school where computers are not in the home for many but I vowed last year to not let that limit my teaching and the learning opportunities for students who do have computers. I look at it as part of my having high expectations for all students. I think that whenever we fall into the "they can't" mode then they really won't. I'm finding that the "they can" approach with follow up support and problem solving is more valuable for my neediest students. They all have access to computers in libraries and in some of their neighborhoods that is one of the safest places to be. Also, if families don't think their child needs a computer, they will never consider one as one of their many consumer choices. All families want their child to be successful and need to have current information about what will prepare them for success in life. Provide access, not excuses.

Linda Takimoto's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too teach in a school where computers are not in the home for many but I vowed last year to not let that limit my teaching and the learning opportunities for students who do have computers. I look at it as part of my having high expectations for all students. I think that whenever we fall into the "they can't" mode then they really won't. I'm finding that the "they can" approach with follow up support and problem solving is more valuable for my neediest students. They all have access to computers in libraries and in some of their neighborhoods that is one of the safest places to be. Also, if families don't think their child needs a computer, they will never consider one as one of their many consumer choices. All families want their child to be successful and need to have current information about what will prepare them for success in life. Provide access, not excuses.

Amy Frackman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have several kids who visit their public library where they can use their card to use the internet for free! It's also more of an inspirational environment. Many times, their work is better than their peers!

Tiffany Trevenen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Maybe wikis don't always have to be used OUTSIDE the classroom. Just maybe, if I'm with a small group, another small group could be working on a wiki in the class, or in the library, or wherever your school has access for them. Maybe some kids would like to have access afterschool @ school. hmmm...... I don't think the article said anything about "at home". There are many things that aren't "equal" when our students go home. Does that stop us from moving forward with the world in our classrooms and bringing the world to them? I hope not!

Brian's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Do those same students without a computer at home have a cell phone? iPod? iPhone? I see many people who tell me they can't afford to go out on weekends walking around with $400 iPhones. Can those students get to their public library to get online? Remember how expensive encyclopedias sets were? While a student in K-12 I was given projects to work on at home - where I did not have access to encyclopedias - and I had to get driven to the public library to spend hours there doing my work. That did not stop any teacher from assigning work to the class that required us to use encyclopedias. We all need to stop making excuses for integrating tech into daily classroom activities and assignments.

Rene Hahn's picture

Excellent point, Brian. The encyclopedia example is a great analogy.

[quote]Do those same students without a computer at home have a cell phone? iPod? iPhone? I see many people who tell me they can't afford to go out on weekends walking around with $400 iPhones. Can those students get to their public library to get online? Remember how expensive encyclopedias sets were? While a student in K-12 I was given projects to work on at home - where I did not have access to encyclopedias - and I had to get driven to the public library to spend hours there doing my work. That did not stop any teacher from assigning work to the class that required us to use encyclopedias. We all need to stop making excuses for integrating tech into daily classroom activities and assignments.[/quote]

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