Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Infinite Wiki Machine

The tagline at the top of this blog says "ideas to help teachers and students thrive in the 21st century." Many of my favorite ideas involve the use of blogs - like this one. Our last post and last show here at the ITM discussed the use of blogs in education. Blogs can enable powerful two-way communication and learning, but sometimes a blog may not be the right tool. Sometimes a wiki works better.

When is a wiki better than a blog?

Each blog is generally one author's voice. Others can leave comments, but the main posts are written by a single person (or sometimes a small team of people, which is the case with this blog). Comments usually don't even appear on the front page of a blog - you have to click a link to view them. Also, blogs are organized chronologically, and it can sometimes be difficult to find important information that appeared on the blog in the past.

When you want a website that allows truly collaborative contributions and is structured in a flexible way, a wiki is the tool you need.

Wikis (which were actually invented several years before blogs), are websites anyone can edit - and if you can use a word processor, you can use a wiki. They are ideal for collaboration, especially among large groups of people, and are generally easier to navigate than a blog. (Often wikis have a navigation section that resembles a more traditional website.) Because anyone can edit a wiki, they have a feature that allows users to view a history of revisions - and revert to an earlier version if necessary. (Permissions can be assigned so that only certain users can edit a wiki in certain ways; teachers might assign permission to ther students and not other visitors, for instance.)

The Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that is collaboratively authored and edited by millions of users, may be the best example of a wiki. It can be both a great resource for students doing research and an authentic project that students can actually contribute too. Of course, because of the nature of it, it must be used with caution and it is a great place to begin conversations about information literacy with students.

Teachers and students are using wikis to create collaboratively authored online class text books, writing projects, and group projects. Wikis are perfect for sharing resources, whether within a student group or within a grade level or subject area teaching team. Like blogs, wikis have a place in effective professional development, particularly in professional learning communities.

Check out what Dan McDowell is doing with wikis in his social studies classes, or what David Conlay (pictured, with me above) is doing with wikis in his literature classes. My wife, Eva, uses a wiki to collect and share technology resources related to the state adopted Houghton-Mifflin reading series. I'm using wikis for almost all of my workshops now, and you can watch my video on the subject, Wiki While You Work, over at the k12onlineconference site. Visit the Educational Wikis site to explore many more wikis used for education. Know of any that aren't shared there? Feel free to add them!

Interested in starting a wiki? The folks over at Wikispaces are giving away 100k free wikis to educators!