Using Wikis in the K-12 classroom

by Stephanie Chasteen on August 26, 2008

I just wanted to direct my K-12 teacher readers to a really nice post from one of the NSDL sponsored blogs “Exemplary Resources for Middle School Math and Science” about using wikis in the K-12 classroom.

Here’s an excerpt:

Wikis in the Classroom
Let’s take the course of study mentioned above as the example: Start with a single wiki page that outlines the concepts that will be covered throughout the year. Focusing a little more specifically on science, let’s say you intend to cover: weather, systems of the body, and electricity. Obviously there is a tremendous range of information that can fall under each of those categories.

As with any teaching strategy, wikis can exist as teacher-directed or student-directed exercises. On the teacher-directed end, some teachers choose to use their classroom wiki to seed their students’ learning. An example of this would be finding several web sites or videos online and linking or embedding them into the page for weather. This page can be used to give students an overview before they start the unit. The teacher controls the layout of the wiki, perhaps even locking the page for editing by others.

On the student-directed end, other teachers use the same idea, but allow their students to scour the Internet for the information. This allows students to choose what information is important to their learning.

For example:

After completing a section on the water cycle, Jeffery goes in the wiki and posts information about each of the stages. Jeffery happens to not be your most studious child, and he mixes up the concepts of evaporation and condensation. Allison logs on and reads the water cycle page, catches the error, and is immediately able to go in and fix the mishap. Allison also notes that there is more than one type of collection, giving details of surface runoff and percolation. Brittany, who hates to read, logs in and embeds a video from YouTube showing the stages of the water cycle.

{ 4 comments }

Nick August 27, 2008 at 11:40 am

This sounds like a good idea but I think traditional wikis miss the discussion that needs to occur in the example given. There’s no process to tell Jeffery that Allison fixed his mistake and Jeffery has no explicit reason to revisit that page once he edits it. The moderation of these conflicts is largely left up to a studious teacher to track and bring the conflicts up with the students. It shouldn’t necessarily be hands-off – the teacher is going to have to moderate a discussion to some degree – but the technology can definitely see some improvement to make it less time-consuming for teachers to manage.

sciencegeekgirl August 27, 2008 at 12:33 pm

That’s true, Nick, it does seem like it requires a lot of watchdogging from the teacher. The article that I quoted above goes on to say:

“But What If
The exchange between Jeffery, Allison and Brittany above probably sounds like the ideal. The reality is, at some point, Angel is going to log in and post some colorful explanation of a system of the human body, or delete someone’s hard work…or any number of other scary possibilities. The great thing about a wiki is that all changes are archived. As the teacher, you are capable of seeing just who made each and every change, when they worked on it, and go back to a previous version of the wiki before Angel’s little stunt.”

But that does require the teacher to go back and make those changes. Do the gains justify the work?

Nick August 27, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Do the gains justify the work?

Honestly, I’m not sure. Other than introducing the concept of collaborative editing at a young age, I don’t see a huge benefit to using a wiki as opposed to any other type of “science report” mechanism.

I think it becomes more important as students get into high school. Then you’re teaching collaborative editing and encouraging students to become an “expert” in a field. And that’s something they can start building on.

bob August 27, 2008 at 5:59 pm

I tried using a wiki in three 12th grade physics classes over the course of two years and from my experience I would say the gains do not justify the work. My goal was to build a student generated site of notes and example problems with solutions they could use for test review. I couldn’t get the students to buy into the idea. I provided some example pages, headers and sub-headers waiting to be filled in and no one cared. These are the top 10% of students in the school. The only time they even looked at the page was when they had to add something and then they added the minimum that was required. It was a pain to track everyone (even with rss), to follow up the students who had failed to make their required entries and to follow up with students who hadn’t met the goals of the assignment. Then there’s the issue of mistakes. The students are not going to go fixing other people’s mistakes even if they find them. It takes more self-confidence than most 17 year-olds have to fix a peer’s mistake in a public forum.

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