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.