Your students, with just a little help from you, could create book-report wikis, 'what-I-did-this-summer' wikis, brainstorming wikis, poetry wikis, notes-from- class wikis, sixth-grade wikis, history-of-the-school or -community wikis, formula wikis, wikis for individual countries they might be studying, political-party wikis, exercise wikis...you get the idea." (Richardson, 2010, p. 66)
This online collaboration can sometimes lead to issues with online vandalism, where anyone can come in and edit the information incorrectly or even maliciously. Luckily, there are a few safeguards in place to ensure these online mischief makers do not cause too much damage. First, most wikis come with a feature that lets the users track all the changes made throughout the history of the wiki. If needed, the wiki can be simply reset to what it looked like before a bad edit was made. Second, wikis can be set to different access settings. They can either be public, where anyone can read and edit the site; private, where only selected users have access to edit and see the site; or protected, where anyone can access the wiki, but only selected members can edit the information. For classroom purposes, I like the idea of a protected wiki the most. I would want only my students and other approved collaborators such as other teachers or approved classrooms to be able to edit the information, but I would also want the information to be readily available to others so that my students can show off their learning and contributions.
The best way to understand how wikis can work in the classroom is to visit some real wikis used by real students! One simple wiki called Schools in the Past was created by and for a first grade classroom to learn what school was like many years ago. The students interviewed their grandparents on several different topics such as playgrounds, libraries, class size, and school rules. The students were able to not only record their own results, but also see their fellow students' findings and compare them to what their own grandparents had said all in one single, collaborative space. I like this wiki because it shows that students of almost any age can use them - they do not have to be overly complicated. However, I noticed that this wiki was set to public access, because when I pressed the edit button I had access to editing the whole site. As I said previously, I would probably set my class wiki to protected access. I also noticed that there was only one member listed in the Members section, presumably the teacher herself. I wonder, then, how the teacher was able to assess each student's contribution. Did the students submit the information to the teacher, who then typed it into the site? This would make sense given that the students are so young, but then are the students reaching the full potential of editing the site themselves? I would probably have my students create their own accounts so that they could each contribute to the site, I could assess their contributions using the Recent Changes tool, and the students would have access to edit other parts of the site as well.
This Go West wiki was created by and for a third grade classroom learning about the westward expansion and the Oregon Trail. I liked how there were different pages covering an array of topics - clothing, wagon, hardship and diseases, etc. Students contributed by creating graphic organizers, timelines, and even games and puzzles. The result was a comprehensive resource that covered much information on the topic, again by and for the students. This wiki is set to protected access, but there are only three members, presumably the two teachers and a student account. From what I could gather, the students probably all had editing privileges on the site via the student account and some shared password. The teachers were able to assess the students' contributions because they put their name on the sections they created (timeline by Benjamin, graphic organizer by Janie). However, I did not like that each section was created by individual students instead of through collaboration. I also did not like that there was one single student account, because it could possibly allow Benjamin to edit Janie's information without being caught, with no accountability to any one person. This would be another benefit to having individual student accounts.
The Discovery Utopia wiki is an example of amazing things that can happen when you give students autonomy on a wiki. Seventh and eighth grade students used a template covering many different areas of society (culture, industry, government, infrastructure) to explain their idea of a utopian society. The students then had to use the wiki as a platform to debate their ideas and come to a consensus on the laws and norms of an ideal utopian society. Not only that, the students then had to follow the very same laws and rules they created as they continued to work on the wiki. I like how there were designated students that others could go to for help with editing and contributing (whether this was the teacher's idea or the result of the utopian laws, I do not know). The wiki is under protected access, and there are 51 registered users, presumably the teacher and the students. There are links to real-life failed utopian societies, and there is a list of books that the students are studying to guide their learning. The students even had a page to debate whether or not they should be graded using a rubric. It is all quite impressive. I do have to say, it is a little overwhelming to think how much work the teacher - and especially the students - put into the creation of this wiki. I think I would want to start much smaller.
Starting small is exactly what Vicki Davis did when she introduced wikis to her computer science class. She had students research and create definitions of Web 2.0 terms and post them to her class wiki, then had the students go back and make comments on other sections to give the students experience and practice with the different features of a wiki. I think this is a great way to introduce wikis to both the students and myself. For example, I might start a Music class wiki and have students contribute information about different composers. Students could find, contribute, and edit information as they find it, and also add videos or recordings, photos, images of the sheet music, etc.
Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful Web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Publishers.