10 Best Practices for using wikis in education

Just because you build a wiki, doesn’t mean they will come. This has been my and other faculty members’ experiences in using wikis in the classroom. We all know the feeling . . . the excitement of seeing and then using a type of software that should be just perfect to engage students and to enable community-building. We work during our break time to incorporate this learning technology in our course only to find out that students aren’t that excited about it. I think one of the reasons for the lackluster student enthusiasm toward any type of new technology tool is that they need to learn it. I’m not saying that students are lazy . . . it’s just that the internal question, “what’s in it for me?” probably needs to be answered.

Also, I think that students really have not had (a) that much experience with collaborative projects and/or (b) the collaborative projects they have been involved in left them with negative memories. One person maybe did all the work and there might not have been a justifiable reason for the collaboration in the first place. It’s difficult to design a great collaborative project.

However, teachers are pretty tough people, not discouraged by setbacks, rather viewing them as learning experiences and the opportunity to do it better the next time. One of the strongest reasons for using a wiki is to enable collaboration. If any part of your class involves collaboration or a collaborative project, a wiki can be a valuable tool. But students won’t naturally use a wiki without some planning on your part. As I said, if you build it, they may not come.

How can you increase your chances of improving student acceptance of and contribution to a class/group/project wiki? Here are 10 suggestions:

  1. Include detailed wiki instructions or a link on the home page and provide time for practice
    • Most students have never used a wiki before and will need instructions and practice on how to actually use the software. By providing time and instructions for how to use the wiki, students will feel more comfortable in this environment and be more willing to contribute. Make sure you stress that they can’t mess anything up . . . wikis have page versions that save everything! You might provide a sandbox or a practice wiki before your students actually use the real wiki. You might create individual student pages and ask them to answer 5 questions about themselves and insert a picture. The main point here is: Have them practice and get good at using a wiki. Then, they will be ready to work on the collaborative project without stressing over learning the technology!
  2. Post wiki conventions and require participants to abide by them
    • Conventions are a huge part of a wiki’s success. If all students abide by the rules, the wiki community is strong and vibrant. If some are not abiding by the rules, it can become a disruptive and less attractive learning environment. Tell students up front what the expectations are for the wiki and put it on the home page. You may want them to acknowledge and sign a web form, for instance. Here is an example of what you might post for Wiki Etiquette.
  3. Be patient with students and realize they may require technical assistance as they learn how to participate in a wiki environment
    • Remember, not all students are technologically savvy and may need some initial help with the wiki. However, once they get going and see how easy and quick a wiki is, they should start feeling more comfortable and eager to use the wiki for its powerful collaborative features.
  4. Create a culture of trust within the wiki
    • You will need to help your students feel comfortable within the wiki, by creating a culture of trust among all participants. You may want to include some icebreaker activities, to get students to know each other better before they start their “real” activities. You may want to more closely monitor activity at first to engage shy students and to intervene when needed if potentially explosive or harmful interactions occur. In other words, you need to set up and continue to maintain a culture of trust so that students feel safe in the environment while also encouraging them to experiment and take risks. This is not entirely easy to do, but your attitude and leadership can play a huge role in how students perceive their roles and responsibilities toward each other.
    • You might look at some of the People Anti-Patterns on the wikipatterns.com site (http://wikipatterns.com) to see if any of your contributors fit these patterns and think of ways you might resolve these anti-patterns.
  5. Provide clear and explicit course expectations
    • Again, this is an essential part of good pedagogy, but is an important part of working within a wiki. Students should have a clear understanding of course expectations and how they are to use the wiki to achieve the course goals.
  6. Assign meaningful, authentic activities
    • Again, this relates to problem-based learning and should really be a part of any learning experience. Through a wiki, you can facilitate and drive authentic, relevant learning
  7. Include a common goal for collaborative activities

    • Usually wikis work best in a problem-solving environment or something that requires common goals and collaboration. This will help motivate students to work together on completing the goal/tasks/project.
  8. Define and identify student roles, activities, and assessments

    • This is important for any collaborative activity. Defining roles and clearly defining the activity, along with assessments are crucial to the success of collaborative learning.
  9. Remind students of course deadlines and schedules
    • The very nature of a wiki allows and encourages a lot of freedom and self-direction. However, sometimes students need to be reminded of course requirements and deadlines.
  10. Model examples of collaborative activities
    • Since many students have never worked in a collaborative environment before, you will need to model these behaviors and show them what they look like.
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29 thoughts on “10 Best Practices for using wikis in education

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  2. Can I add another principle?

    11 – Lobby media wiki platforms for the use of a WYSIWYG interface? People are used to intuitive software interfaces these days, and wikitext is not exactly intuitive.

  3. Barbara, your list of tips for using wikis makes a lot of sense. I think that my varying success with wiki assignments with college students stems from the fact that I did not adequately prepare them or give them sufficient guidelines. I fell into the trap of viewing them as digital natives who knew more about technology than I did, but clearly this was not the case. Your list will be very helpful as I rethink particular collaborative assignments. thanks.
    Sandy

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  19. Thanks for this list, I will use it with my teachers who are starting out using wikis. I would add that it is really important to determine the purpose of their wiki before using one- although this purpose will probably morph as they engage students in using the wiki it is always a good idea to determine the reason and then determine if a wiki is the best tool.
    I especially liked your stress on having clear expectations and modeling which is key to any collaborative project that we engage our students in.
    thanks again for putting this together

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  26. Hi Barbara-
    I agree with so much of what you said! I teach 7th grade Language Arts and I am learning all about wikis in a course I’m currently taking.
    Time to practice is the key here, I think. I also see, from the standpoint of teaching 12 and 13 year olds, that set guidelines as well as conventional expectations as integral in the success of a wiki used in my classroom.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I found them both insightful and helpful! I’m looking forward to “The Cool Teacher Cookbook”!!

  27. Hi Barbara. You made some great points about using wiki’s. I’m currently studying Enterprise 2.0 at QUT and we have looked at some very similar strategies for wiki’s. As a student I’ve seen how other students are sometimes slow to take to using wiki’s and really need guidance despite being a very technological generation. I found from my personal experience that posting topic headings was a great way to get others started.
    If you’re interesting in seeing what we’re doing in our course, feel free to check out my blog
    http://robertsandona.wordpress.com/

  28. With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright
    infringement? My website has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my agreement. Do you know any ways to help reduce content from being stolen? I’d really appreciate it.

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