There's a Wiki in the classroom!

A wiki is a collaborative webpage (or website) in which members can each contribute and edit the pages. I’ve been exploring the use of wikis in the classroom through several free wiki hosting services. I’m very excited about the potentials of wikis, so much so that I hope to migrate much of the content currently on the Reasonable Answers blog onto a Wiki. I find that the wiki format is more accessible than a blog as an archive of resources, and it also paves the way for future collaboration with others who share a similar mission.

I created a class wiki for a summer school program that I am working with for gifted elementary school kids. My class of 5th graders is learning about Science and Engineering, and I am using a PBWorks wiki to enable the class to brainstorm on ideas and submit assignments online. The URL for the wiki is http://scen.pbworks.com. The wiki is password protected from the public for the safety of the students, but I have created a “Parent” account so that the parents could view the wiki and keep up with how it is developing. (Username: parent -- Password: ctyjhu)

One of the features that I like about PBWorks is that it allows for the speedy creation of multiple student accounts, even for students who do not have an e-mail address, which is important especially for some of the younger students. You can assign usernames and passwords (or have the students choose) and you will have a master list of all login information.

One problem that students quickly encountered on the first class wiki assignment was the “Edit Lock” function that PBWorks implements. Actually, the problem wasn’t the Edit Lock, it was the ability for other students to steal edit lock which caused the problems. We discussed the issue in class, and agreed on some strategies that would help keep students from stepping on each other’s toes in future assignments. The students decided that for future assignments, they would each type out what they wanted to include on a separate word processor program, and then copy and paste what they wrote into the wiki. This would minimize the amount of time each student would need the Edit Lock, and thus other students would not feel the desire to steal edit lock because they had been waiting for too long. The students also came up with the idea of having a unique text color for each student, so that they could clearly see who had contributed what to each page.

I also created free wiki accounts using Wikidot! and Wikispaces. Wikispaces gave me a hard time when I tried to create two separate accounts, one for school and one for Reasonable Answers, plus I didn’t really like the generic look of the Wikispace workspace, so I’ve been focusing more on Wikidot! It seems that Wikidot! offers some more features and room for customization for free accounts (especially after the free upgrade to an educational account) than PBWorks, and I am working on transferring the posts from my blog to the wiki. I like that Wikidot! can create separate sections for Bibliography and Footnotes, instead of just footnotes like other wiki engines (see here for an example of this that you can play with). Wikidot! does seem a bit more difficult to use in its syntax, and if you have the time to learn some of the commands it does seem more powerful and customizable.

I do wish that it had the classroom account feature of PBWorks, and I’m trying to figure out a way to convert files from other formats (eg. Word doc or HTML) into wikidot syntax, which would greatly speed up putting stuff on the wiki.

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