Why Use Wikis In The Classroom?

A coworker of mine recently asked me for feedback on some ideas she had for creating a wiki in her classroom.  Her platform of choice was Google Sites, a terrific resource for using create class wikis.  During past school years, I have used both Google Sites and PB Works to create class wikis. While both sites worked well, I now prefer using Google Sites because A) students can easily login with their Google student email account, and B) I appreciate how seamless Sites ties into the other Google Apps we use.

I'm partial to Google Sites for class wikis.

After hearing the great ideas my coworker wanted to try in the classroom, she asked if I thought that a wiki would really be appropriate for what she wanted to do. This led me to think about what the real purpose of a wiki actually is.

I’ve seen many different student created wikis online and know that many educators would swear their pensions on their effectiveness. I’ve seen amazing examples of wikis I’ve wanted to copy to use in my own class, and I’ve also seen wikis I’ve wanted to avoid like the bubonic plague.  The difference isn’t so much in their design or the aesthetics, it’s in what function the wiki serves (or does not serve).
In my mind, the point of a wiki is to share knowledge. If students are not sharing knowledge with other students but keeping it to themselves, is it really a true wiki? A true repository of shared information? And as the teacher, if I am not designing a lesson or an experience that encourages the students to actually use the information their classmates have obtained to further their own knowledge, have I achieved what the point of making a wiki is?  If all I want to do is to have students learn something by themselves and horde that information to themselves, then maybe a class wiki isn’t the tool I should be using.

Beware of horrible wikis with no direction, ye!

As with most tools in the classroom (technology related or not), its best to have a clear idea of what tool you’re using and why.  To simply use a tool because it’s trendy is a waste of your time and the student’s.  But, trends are trends for a reason.
(By the way: I thought a wiki was a perfect tool to use for a coworker of mine. Case you were wondering.)

Google Sites – The Wiki Experiment

Many blokes have used Google Sites in the past as an effective wiki site for their classes.  I’ve giving it a whirl tomorrow for the first time.  In the past, I’ve used PBWorks, but have come to the conclusion that since all my students have Google accounts already, and since they can use other Google apps seamlessly (I.E. Docs, maps, YouTube, etc.), Sites just seems to be the most logical choice.

The purpose of starting this class wiki project is:

This class wiki will help you understand how the United States dealt with its status as brand new nation.  In the early years of our country, a government needed to be established, rebellions and wars were waged, and the wheels were set in motion to move the nation across the entire continent.

Your goal in completing this project is to add to the collective classroom knowledge of early American History.  Your wiki page will provide information on an important topic from this period in our nation’s history.  You will create your page with a partner and you will present your page to the class.  You will also need to visit your topic page from another class and provide comments.

When all is said and done, you will be knowledgeable about all of the topics covered in our project.  It’s interactive, techno-savvy, and fun!

Below are the due dates for different aspects of the wiki project and details on how to get started and what you need to accomplish. Have fun!

Last year was the first time I did it, and although there were some bumps in the road (inevitable) it worked really, really, well, and the students really liked the freedom and creativity it provided.

Take a quick gander at our site, and tell me what you think!