Sunday, March 23, 2008

Shopping for A Wiki Tool?

When educators ask me what tool I would recommend as an entry point to using Web 2.0 in education, I usually suggest “wikis” as a quick way to get started. WikiWiki is the Hawaiian term for “quick” and you can’t get much quicker than a wiki when trying to publish content to the world wide web.

For the web publishing consumer who desires “flexible design elements” with the ability to create a stunning and unique “look and feel” for their web content, a wiki is NOT the right tool. But if you are looking for easy and quick when publishing content to the web, you can’t get much more “wikiwiki” or “quick” than a wiki.
(Photo Credit)

In his book, Raw Materials for the Mind: A Teacher's Guide to Digital Literacy, David Warlick, suggest that we "Avoid training teachers to use sophisticated web editing software. Teachers are not web masters... they are communicators. Help them to communicate" (p. 280). Wikis not only help teachers and students to communicate, but to collaborate.

ITM blogger, Mark Wagner’s post about wikis and CUE article, "Why Wiki?" provide a great introduction to the world of wikis, as does his K-12 online conference session “Wiki While You Work”. Commoncraft’s reputation for short-easy to understand videos, offers another ‘quick’ introduction to help beginners understand wiki’s.

But even within the “quick and easy” world of wikis, more and more new features are being offered to cater to the needs of various type of consumers – including the educator. The features are so many that sites such as have emerged to help you compare the features of over 100 wiki tools. Although such a matrix, can certainly help you understand the scope of features available with different tools, I believe that James Suroweiki and Malcolm Gladwell would agree that the best way to find out the ‘best wiki tool” for educators, is to ask other educators. I invite Infinite Thinking Readers to share their wiki experience in two areas. (1) What wiki features best meet the needs of educators and which wiki tools contain those features and (2) What are some examples of “wikis” used in exemplary ways in education.

I’ll start the conversation by highlighting two features that I feel are key to helping teachers get started with using wikis in their classrooms: 1) the cost of ‘free’ 2) simplicity.

If advertisements in exchange for “free” are keeping you away, check out sites like Wikispaces PBwiki, and WetPaint which offer educators “ad-free” wikis. Since 2006, the folks at wikispaces have been offering their Plus Plan (which usually sells for $50 a year) free to K-12 educators. This plan removes usage limits and advertisements for your educational wikis. It even allows you to set the wiki to private mode (where only “space members” can view and edit pages). To enroll in this program you must certify that your wiki space will be used for k12 education by signing up at

I usually recommend Wikispaces for teachers just starting out using wiki’s because it is one of the simplest sites to manage. It may have less ‘features’ than other wiki tools, but sometimes LESS is MORE, when you are looking for a simple easy way to get started. Beginning teachers don’t miss “extra” seldom used features and welcome the simplicity. The one feature that I did miss is the ability to change font color – until last week. Thank you, to Adam Frey, and the folks at Wikispaces for adding this feature.

Despite its simple, easy to use, interface, Wikispaces has included extra features that many educators will might find very useful as their use of wikis increases. Check out the “discussion” , “history”, and the “notify” me tab. The discussion tab allows users to communicate about a page without having to actually edit the page For example, a student can post new poetry on their page, and others can offer “comments” in the discussion area. The history tab allows you to ‘revert’ back to previous version of your wiki page, which is comforting in case of “accidentally” or “intentional” undesired changes. It also has a “compare” feature which makes for a great formative assessment tool for teachers looking to measure change over time in a student product. Finally the “notify me” tab is a great way for an educator to keep track of when someone makes changes to your wiki. This can be done with email notification or through an RSS feed. This will save an educator time, by giving him/her updates when their students or colleagues update their pages.

Even though the simplicity of wiki’s make them a very accessible tool to use in the classroom, the real key to using this collaboration tool lies in how these tools are used. Check out collections such as or to learn more ways to use wikis in education and to see hundreds of examples of education related wikis.

Other wiki tools I plan to cover in upcoming post because of their responsiveness to the needs of education are PBwiki, WetPaint and SeedWiki. Won't you help me, by sharing your favorite features of these wiki tools: What features you look for in a wiki tool and how has thus feature increases your effectiveness as a educator?