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:
- My senior Short Story and Composition seminar students created a wiki for the novella The Metamorphosis, which we read. Each student was responsible for a different piece — a plot summary or analysis, author biography, or links page. They enjoyed the process, and I think they did a good job with it. They even spent time creating their own graphics for the wiki.
- My freshman Honors Grammar, Composition, and Literature class did group projects on verbals. A special PBwiki template allowed them to plan the group projects on the wiki itself.
- My freshman College Prep Grammar, Composition, and Literature class created writing projects based on Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Bean Trees. Students linked their projects.
- Last year’s sophomore American Literature and Composition class participated in an online discussion about Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening (a screenshot of this wiki will appear in a forthcoming book by Richard Beach).
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.