Wonderful World of Wikis

Many Orbs by Ate My Crayons, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Photo by Ate My Crayons 

As I sit here fretting over the finishing touches on my EC&I 831 final project, the Global Gateway wiki, it dawns on me that the glory of a wiki is there are no finishing touches. The goal is for it be a collaborative work in progress. I sincerely hope this happens. I have discovered so many terrific resources through Twitter without people even realizing they are adding to the wiki. Imagine what will happen when more people know they can contribute their resources and projects to this wiki?

I try not to refer to it as my wiki for although I feel deeply connected to it and I have spent countless hours with it for three months, it is not mine. It is a collective. I must say for me that is one of the most amazing and beneficial aspects of a wiki. It really rises up and meets the call for a space where we can build something together to be used by everyone. A place to collect and share but also to help make sense of the resources and information. It embraces the true sharing mentality. Many voices, many ideas, many perspectives.

I have become a complete wiki convert! No more am I the lurker of wikis for now I see the value of engaging and participating actively in their creation at any stage. Just add wikis to my list of new found loves (tools that is!) thanks to EC&I 831. Not only am I very excited to collaborate with others on the Global Gateway wiki, I am excited to start using wikis with colleagues and students. There is a vast amount of potential for the use of wikis in classrooms and schools. I know other educators have long been developing wikis, and I am late to the party. But I know late doesn’t mean the opportunity has passed me by for there are many great people who have paved the way and will support me on this journey.

As a way to reflect on my new wiki knowledge I thought I would share some resources for educators and highlight some of my discoveries about Wikispaces.

Common Craft yet again comes to the rescue with a great video to introduce the concept of wikis.

Wikis in the Classroom is a comprehensive slideshare by Vicki Davis. In this rich presentation she discusses:

  • What is a wiki?
  • Why use wikis in a classroom?
  • Pedagogical uses of wikis in classrooms
  • Examples of classroom wikis

Wikis in the ClassroomView more presentations from Vicki Davis

I have learned a great deal during my wiki creating adventure and I documented it all along the way in a Google Doc. I will spare you the full details of my questions, challenges, and victories but I thought a short summary may be helpful to others.

Great features:

  • Easy to use: If you can create a Word document you can create a wiki.
  • Free: For PreK to Grade 12 make sure you register for a wiki through Wikispaces for Educators. You can create student accounts without requiring student emails and you can moderator many features.
  • Collaborative: Users have the ability to add and edit content, begin and contribute to discussions, and attach comments to specific sections of a wiki page.
  • Support: There are a wealth of excellent online resources available to help educators integrate wikis into their classrooms (see my list below).
  • Variety: Collect and share resources, artifacts, ideas, discoveries and more.
  • Benefits for students: engagement, voice, personalization, assessment, active involvement in learning, and accessibility from home and school.

What I learned and will use in my next wiki:

  • Altering the appearance and making it look visually appealing was a challenge and I found I had to explore outside of my design comfort zone to achieve a certain look. In retrospect I would let some of my worries about the “look” go as this is not completely necessary for the wiki to be functional and successful.  Live and learn!
  • As with learning anything new there is a lot of trial and even more error. I did not do much reading about the details of “how to” before I dove in. This is traditionally my style of learning—leap in, find out what stumps me, and then go looking for answers. The good news is wikis are easy enough to jump into and coupled with the wealth of resources available, you will most definitely either overcome or accept the glitches.
  • To get started I found it helpful to organize and plan the initial pages by entering in titles and a line of text regarding the content of each page. I needed to create this structure for myself in order to slot in the resources I had already located. Although I later moved items around and added more pages, this point of launch was key in tackling the daunting, blank wiki.
  • Headings and tables became my best friends. It was very important to me that the content was readable and easy to navigate. I found it necessary to find a way to contain and present the information consistently on each page. If for no other reason than to maintain my sanity!
  • Linking and embedding allowed me to vary and expand the the content in the wiki.
  • The more I worked with the wiki the more I enjoyed it and saw its power. I think often as a consumer I miss the value of the tool but as a creator I can experience the possibilities.
Below are some fabulous wiki resources:
  • Educational Wikis This wiki’s goal is to answer: “How can I use wikis in education?”
  • Wiki Walk-Through A wiki create by TeachersFirst with easy instructions for getting started. Also includes ideas for using wikis with students of different ages and in different subject areas.
  •  PDPresenterToolkit A great resource for creating wiki PD experiences. Includes activities, slides, examples and resources.
  •  Wikispaces Help Fabulous and straight forward support to help tackle and understand the key elements of a wiki.

I am wondering: Have you used wikis with your students? What advice would you offer? What benefits did you discover?

Some people have wondered about the snow falling on my blog. It is very easy to do if you have a WordPress blog. Start the flurry on your blog!

2 thoughts on “Wonderful World of Wikis

  1. Thanks for this great post Tannis! I’m debating between starting a wiki or a wordpress blog for a project similar to your Global Gateway wiki but with more of a focus on using technology to specifically connect early childhood educators around the globe and am starting to think a wiki might be the way to go. One concern I have is how user-friendly wiki layouts can be (they seem somewhat limited?) compared with a blog site. What have you found? Have you heard any feedback about ease of wiki navigation (especially for new users)?

    – Maggie

    P.S. I’m sure I’ll be visiting your wiki again soon as I start building my site. You’ve compiled so many great global resources!

    • Hi Maggie,
      Thanks for your comments! I found the wiki very user-friendly (very much like working with a Word Document). In my opinion if you want something collaborative in which people can add and contribute easily to the content, a wiki would be a great way to go. If you set up the layout and pages up front it would be even easier for people to slot in their information and resources. There a widgets in the wiki, although not as fancy as in blogs, but you can import the code for a widget under “other” and create your our widgets (like the world population count on Global Gateway). As far as new users I am not certain, although I went in pretty cold to this wiki, only having added very limited text to other wikis, and I found it very intuitive. The only time I became frustrated was when I tried to create a certain appearance on each page and I couldn’t figure it out. In the end it was mostly “user error” 🙂 and after some researching I figured it out enough to make me happy with the outcome. Let me know what you decide to do, and if you have any more questions let me know, I’m happy to help!

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