The Wonderful World of Wikis

After being introduced to Wikis by Kirk and Thad, I began considering the possibilities of using a wiki in my Biology 20 class. I am fortunate this semester to be working with a small group of positive, enthusiastic and motivated students who are interested in learning about Biology, as well as, how they learn. We have focused on learning about their unique learning styles and finding study strategies that will help them in Bio and in the future.

As part of the Biology 20 final assessment, students have a choice to complete a final exam or create a portfolio of what Biology means to them. With a smaller class this semester, all of the students have chosen to try a portfolio. Now our road to creating wiki portfolios began with a class wiki. I set up a Biology 20 class wiki and had all of the students join. Our first use of the wiki was as a place to post questions that we had about current topics in class. After brainstorming our questions, we decided to use google docs to share information about specific types of virus. I created the main google doc and each student selected a topic and question to research and created their own google doc. The students then shared their google docs with me and I linked them into the main question page and we very quickly had the answers to our questions based on the work of the entire class. The following is a link to our google docs experiment. Virus and Bacteria Research – Bio 20

After we had worked through the student research, we debriefed on how we liked google docs. The pros were each student could easily create their own document, they could access it from school or home and any member of the class could easily see the information. The only downfall besides of course a few technological glitches was that I had to do all of the linking for the documents. So we started discussing the idea of using our class wiki as a space to post answers to our research questions. Our next attempt at wikis was a moderate success. Students quickly joined the wiki and started posting answers to our class developed questions; however, too many of us trying to post on the same page at the same time caused some answers to be deleted. So mid class we switched to a discussion forum, which worked very well.

And so began our journey into creating individual student wikis as a tool to develop their portfolios. For those of you wondering what a Bio portfolio looks like… let me explain. The Biology portfolio begins with the initial creation of a concept map of biology, followed a few weeks later by a what is bio paragraph. Then we go for a walk outside and examine Biology in the real world:) Students create a definition of Biology and define what Science, Technology, Society and the Environment mean to them. They create a personalized top ten list of what biological issues are important and they collect biology related news headlines and quotations. The goal is to develop what Biology means to them. In the major project aspect, students have a specific list of concepts, derived from the curriculum, which they must explain. The explanation must be in their own words and include a photograph(s) or image(s) of what the concept means and why it is important. At the end of the semester, we complete a second concept map, update our definition of biology and write a reflection. Traditionally, these have been submitted as scrapbooks, binders, or powerpoints.

After working with wikis, I suggested to the students that maybe we could try creating our portfolios online in a wiki format. After a quick survey, some students were all for it and others were somewhat skeptical. They asked me, “what would a wiki portfolio look like?” Good question, I thought to myself and I explained that I would set up a template wiki for them to take a look at. The following wiki is a brief overview – Bio 20 wiki portfolio. After viewing the wiki, the students agreed that they would try it out and here we are today.

As a I prepared to write this post, I asked my students to share their feelings about working with wikis. The following are the students’ responses to our wiki experiment. (paraphrased from their journals)

Starting a wiki was easy
○ They are useful because you don’ t have to print things off.
○ It’s an easy way of handing in assignments.
○ I work better on computers and it gives us another way to interact with our classmates and benefit from the resources they have found.
○ Working online gives us many different ways to add information to our wiki and portfolio
○ Even if some of us are quieter in class, the wiki allows us to have a voice.
○ You can access it from any computer and it will be easier to finish things.
○ The wiki format works nicely with the portfolio format
○ Everyone in the class can participate on the wiki.
○ I’m new to the world of wikis, but so far it looks like it will work well.
I really enjoy scrapbooking and would like to use this method for my portfolio – (This is completely okay. We decided to use the wiki for a few parts of the portfolio where it would be more efficient. The final product will be a combination of both.)

 ○ It is easier to find information and share it with others in the class.

○ It is less expensive than buying a scrapbook and easier to post pictures and info. You can link directly to your sources.
○ I still like the in class learning that we do, but the wikis can be useful for research and projects.
○ A useful tool for sharing class information and for transferring info between computers

Things for us to work on — points to ponder:
○ I’d like to learn more ways to create & edit material to add more variety to my portfolio. What other tools can we use?
○ I’m worried that there may be a glitch and I might lose some of my information.
○ We need to use the wiki more often to improve our wiki skills (go to the computer lab more often)
○ Will the computers be reliable.
○ I am not always guaranteed access to my computer at home and the internet is slow.
○ I prefer to have the paper version in front of me to work with.
○ I’m not sure about it yet, but we’ll see how it goes.

Thank-you to the Bio 20 students for their insightful and honest feedback.

A few educational reasons that you may want to consider a wiki are:

  1. They are very easy to set up – check out Wikispaces (there is also a way to upgrade your site to a higher level of security for free if it is for educational use.) – Stay tuned for a future video of how to upgrade your wiki for free.
  2. Once students are introduced to the concept, the students will soon be teaching you how to use them (Thank-you to my students for trying out the new concept, giving me feedback, and helping me learn more about how to create a wiki:) 
  3. Wikis also give you the opportunity to be in a protected space (log in is required). For example, you can restrict who can be part of the wiki. You must approve the people that join your wiki, so you have control over who participates.  (Be sure to check out the policy of your school division before students create their own wikispace.  For NESD info check out Kirk’s blog
  4. Once you are invited to join the student created wikis, you can easily check out their progress from any computer with an internet connection. You can also post items on their wiki, so ideally you can be giving feedback on that wiki page when you view it.
  5. It will change the way you teach. It will give your students the opportunity to take ownership of their learning and actively participate in a entirely new way. Prepare to become a learning facilitator and a student.  Because once you have taught your students the basics of wikis, they will soon be teaching you how you can make wikis work better.

So as you can see, wikis are in interesting idea for you to consider. And remember, if you are not sure how a project is going or how to get a Web 2.0 tool to work for you… just ask the Web 2.0 generation, your students. 

Stay tuned for ongoing updates on our wiki experience.