Category Archives: Wikis

What Can You Do with a Wiki?

When I gave my presentation about using blogs and wikis, one astute question a colleague asked was “why?” Why indeed? I don’t think educators should use wikis because it’s trendy. Educators have rightly been accused of dumping good educational practices in favor of trends before. Why should educators add one more thing to the already-full curriculum and take the time to learn and teach their students the technology?

Many answers probably exist to that question, but my reason for using wikis is that it enables students to connect with the world through their work. It makes classrooms flat and enables students across the world or across the country to work together on projects. When we English teachers have taught the writing process in the past, we have given lip service to the final step: publication. We tried to convince our students and ourselves that posting work on a bulletin board or hallway wall, or even in a literary magazine distributed to the students at school was publishing. Was it? I suppose in a narrow fashion, it was and is. But we have the technology to do so much more. Wikis and blogs enable students to truly complete that final step in the writing process and publish their work.

Once you are sold on the idea of using wikis, and it’s possible many of you aren’t there yet, the next question you might ask is what you can do with a wiki. What can you publish? Let me start with some examples of things my own students have done with wikis:

Keep in mind much of this was created because I was experimenting. My students were happy to follow along and see where it went. What you can do with a wiki is limited only by your imagination. Some ideas, admittedly oriented toward English, as that’s what I teach:

  • Create a literature circle where students can discuss a book they’re reading.
  • Book reports can go to a whole new level.
  • Online book discussions.
  • Writing portfolios.
  • Sharing links and information.
  • Reading journals.

If you know of a really cool wiki used for educational purposes, please share in the comments.

[tags]wikis, education[/tags]

Wikis for Educators

I gave a presentation at the annual GISA conference that I duplicated (with some tweaking) for the faculty at my school on using blogs and wikis in the classroom. I’m not an expert when compared to the likes of Will Richardson or David Warlick, et. al., but I have tried a few things, and for what my opinion is worth, I’ll offer it.

One thing my colleagues have asked me is which wiki software or service to use. This question is difficult to answer because 1) I don’t have enough expertise regarding the different options available, and 2) it depends on the personal preferences and expertise of the teacher.

The first question a teacher should ask when trying to decide which wiki service or software to use is whether the teacher wants the wiki to be hosted on his/her own website or a school’s website or does not care if the wiki is hosted offsite. If you want to host the wiki yourself, you will probably want to find wiki software and upload it to your own site. Note: this will not work if you don’t have your own domain. If you have a teacher site hosted by Blogger, Typepad, or, you will not want to choose this option (unless, that is, you also have your own domain or want to use the school’s website).

Wikipedia runs off software called MediaWiki, which was originally written expressly for Wikipedia. I downloaded and installed MediaWiki for personal use, and I have to say that I found it cumbersome to work with and difficult to learn how to use. I didn’t find their help files or FAQ’s were much help, either. While I am not an expert, I’m not a newbie, either, and I imagine the average person would be frustrated by the learning curve and give up. On the other hand, it does have some nice features, and if you are considering putting a wiki on your own or a school website and want to talk to someone who has been successful with MediaWiki, you might try Bud Hunt (view his wiki).

Another good software application for wikis is DokuWiki. I’ve played with it a little, and it seems easier to use than MediaWiki. Educators at Woodward Academy have had success with it. You might want to check out their students’ work and see what you think. I e-mailed them to tell them how much I enjoyed their wiki, and they were very approachable and nice, so they might be willing to answer a few questions about their experience with DokuWiki.

Plenty more wiki software programs exist, but I have to ask commenters who are more familiar with those programs to share their expertise, as mine is somewhat limited. I am more familiar with wiki services, and if you are new to creating and using wikis, I would strongly recommend you start with a wiki service rather than download the software and put it on your own site unless you have a compelling reason for not doing so.

First of all, I think it is imperative that the service you select is free. Teachers have to pay for enough materials out of pocket, and I don’t think it’s right. Thankfully, plenty of free wiki services, also know as “wiki farms,” exist.

My friend the Reflective Teacher selected a Wikispaces wiki for our Never Forget Project. I like Wikispaces. If you register for an Edublog, a free Wikispaces wiki comes bundled with your account. Wikispaces has an easy WYSIWYG editor, but I have to admit that a few of the features are not intuitive. Case in point, when I wanted to add a piece of HTML code to our wiki so we could have a ClustrMap and see where our visitors were coming from, I had to poke around for a bit before figuring out how to do it. In my opinion, it should be as simple as pressing the edit button and pasting the HTML. A point in favor of Wikispaces is that it is really customizable. You can choose from a variety of themes or even create your own theme with colors of your choice. The video tutorials are excellent. Wikispaces has Google ads along the side of the wiki, which I suppose helps Wikispaces keep our wikis free, but I have to say that at times, I didn’t think the ads were appropriate. For instance, when I looked at the site just now, the first ad was aimed at teachers who have “disruptive students” and want to “eliminate misbehavior in [their] classroom[s].” How encouraging is that for a student user? Please understand, I’m not picking on TRT’s choice of wiki. I think it’s a good one. And I should add that another teacher pointed out that if I simply e-mail Adam at, he will remove the ads, given that our site is for educational purposes. I assume this is true, as Wikispaces is currently offering 100,000 free wikis to K-12 teachers. These wikis have no ads and no usage limits. I think you should grab one of these while you can. You get 2 GB of storage with Wikispaces wikis. I had to grab one, just because the deal was way too good. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, as I’m pretty happy with my own current wiki host, PBwiki.

Many other educators, including myself, use PBwiki. PBwiki is also free. Users can choose from one of four themes. All of them are nice (well, I’m not crazy about “Bamboo,” but I like all the others), but this is a limitation if you want to go with a certain color scheme for any reason. One of the reasons I really like PBwiki is that my experience with their customer service has been great. Once when I was having trouble with my wiki, Ramit Sethi, the Vice President for Marketing actually fielded my e-mail personally and asked if he could call me to help me figure out a solution. He did, and we discovered that the problem was likely due to spyware on my computer. I don’t have a premium wiki, either. He did that for a non-paying customer, and that kind of service spoke volumes to me about their commitment to their customers. I have also found their tutorials and forum helpful. When I had a problem getting my students’ ClustrMap (I love those things) to show up properly on my site, it was another customer in the forum who showed me how to fix it. By the way, this is slightly off-topic, but when I told the folks at ClustrMap the solution I found, they upgraded me to ClustrMaps+ and listed me as a User of the Month for last January 2007. Educational wikis on PBwiki do not have ads! At one time, educational wikis did have ads, but they were fairly unobtrusive, and I never found them to be inappropriate. A small ad encouraging the user to upgrade to a premium wiki can still be found in the bottom right corner of of the wiki. PBwiki gives you 12.5 MB of storage, which is not as much as an educator wiki with Wikispaces. This could be an issue if you want to host a lot of files.

If you are a happy customer using another wiki software product or service, please share in the comments.

Coming soon: What about blogging software or services? Stay tuned…

[tags]education, wikis, Wikispaces, PBwiki, MediaWiki, DokuWiki[/tags]

What is Web 2.0?

I must have missed this one when it made the rounds, for it surely must have. My friend Roger brought it to my attention. Better late than never! If you haven’t seen it, you need to:

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Think about the ways in which this technology has already changed and will continue to change education — if we let it, that is. I am often exasperated by how little teachers are actually doing with Web 2.0.

[tags]Web 2.0, blogging, wikis, YouTube, education[/tags]

Never Forget

Holocaust PosterMy students will be collaborating with Mr. Murphy’s students on a project involving the Holocaust. His 8th graders, who are studying the Holocaust in literature such as the play based upon The Diary of Anne Frank, will chronicle the family histories of my students, whom Mr. Murphy’s students will interview. I teach at a private Jewish high school, and many of our students are the family members of Holocaust survivors. Students on both sides of the project are excited. I think Mr. Murphy, our students, and I all know that this could potentially be a big, life-affirming, amazing project.

Mr. Murphy posted our e-mails back and forth on his blog. I will lay credit for coming up with the idea squarely at his feet. All I did, as you can see if you read the blog, was offer to help in a small way. It was his idea to make our classrooms “flat” and reach out across the country to enable our students to exchange real stories, making history come alive. In the apt words of Mr. Murphy’s student: “We should make a book out of whatever we get. That way we have a history book that’s about the stories, and not just history.”

It could be delusions of grandeur, but I thought, yes! It could be a book! I am excited about this project. This couldn’t happen without current educational technology, namely blogs and wikis. I wouldn’t have ever cyber-met Mr. Murphy if not for his blog, and our students could never have collaborated on such a project. You’ll indulge me perhaps if I throw up a little appropriate (but somewhat nostalgic) tune that sums up how I feel:

Download link

[tags]Holocaust, flat classroom, blogs, wikis, education, collaboration[/tags]

Video or Podcast

Well, I’m taking Syb up on her suggestion.  I asked my IT colleague if we could tape my presentation on January 2 so I can share it here.  I don’t know yet if it will be a video or podcast, but I will let you know.  Don’t look for it to appear right away.  I still have to figure out how to do that part.

Faculty Presentation

Most of you reading this right now probably blog already, and many of you use wikis, too.  I have given a presentation at a GISA conference on using blogs and wikis in the classroom, but I was also really sick that day and don’t feel I did a good job.  I am determined to do a better job in front of my colleagues at a presentation I will be giving on January 2.  Those of you who use blogs and wikis in the classroom might be able to help me.  What do you wish someone had told you or taught you prior to using these tools?  What piece of advice would you give educators beginning to use these tools?  If you have used blogs or wikis in the classroom, can you point me toward those resources so that I can share them?

Blogs and Wikis

I waited until the site went live before announcing it, but I am proud to annouce the debut of my senior Short Story seminar class’s wiki for Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. It is almost complete at this point, and I am very proud of the job the students have done. I created the “portal” or start page, and they did all of the rest, including finding appropriate video and pictures and even creating an animated GIF for the title. They were enthusiastic about the project, and they were excited to share it with others in the blogging/wiki/educational community. Please go check it out! I will share any comments you make about the wiki with them, as I have password protected comments on the wiki so that only students of mine who know the password can comment. I could probably fix it so guests could comment at a future date.

In other news, a student of mine decided to do his “Moral Perfection” project on a blog, and he has now entered the blogosphere, having enjoyed the project so much that he plans to keep it up. I think it is OK to point you toward his blog, which is all about soccer (or, as he would tell you it is more properly known, football). Be sure to check out his explanation of the project. He’s already thinking about podcasting, and I haven’t even gone there yet!

Richard Beach, professor at the University of Minnesota, plans to use a screenshot of my Awakening discussion wiki (which my students did last year) in his upcoming book Engaging Students in Digital Writing, which will be published in 2007. I will give you more information about ordering if you like once it is published.

I made a decision this week. When I go back to get my Master’s, I will be majoring in Instructional Technology. As my department head reminded me, this — figuring out how to integration technology into education — is my passion. I had planned to get an advanced English degree, but I have to admit that as much as I enjoy reading literature and writing, grad school English didn’t much appeal to me. I thought about becoming a Media Specialist some years back, but I really still want to teach. I don’t want to go into administration. I’m ill-suited for it. However, I think teaching students about technology would be stimulating, satisfying, and interesting.