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Using wikis for learning

This was originally posted by Simon Evans 2 April 2012. This is cross-posted as part of the transition of Software for Learning to Enabling e-Learning.

Greg Carroll highlights some of the benefits for teachers of using wikis for professional development.
More social media, so the argument goes, means better communication, more collaboration, more learning opportunities. But there is more to 21st century learning than simply starting a wiki and hoping for the best. So what might effective learning using wikis in the classroom look like?

Harvard doctoral student and education researcher, Justin Reich, has just released a report and white paper (pdf,578KB) detailing his investigation into wiki usage in K-12 schools in the US. He has identified that just 1% of wikis were "collaborative, multimedia performances of understanding." Over 40% were either failed wikis, trial wikis or those established for teachers to share resources with no student involvement, arguably missing the opportunities for co-construction that wikis present. Choosing the best tool for the job is key here.

On his blog, EdTechResearcher,  Reich lists a number of things he thinks educators can learn from his study, including:

  • teachers should clarify learning goals and be sure that their assessment criteria align with the most important goals.
  • establishing high quality presentation within the wiki. Early norms that teachers set determine the behaviours that follow.
  • ensuring ICT administrators help support professional development in implementing the use of wikis using effective pedagogy.

The choice of tool is important too. A wiki might be chosen to enhance collaborative construction of text, while a blog would be more suited to reflective journaling.

In this Software for Learning snapshotJemma Tutty from Ashburton College has shared how a mini unit on career planning has been enhanced by the use of Wikispaces. One advantage of using wikis is that schools can move towards providing student and community access to ubiquitous resources, and make connections to wider networks. The e-Learning Planning Framework reminds us that we are working towards students successfully engaging in collaborative authentic, learning experiences, enhanced and supported appropriately by technologies. Effective use of a wiki might help them do that.

Useful links

  • PBworks is a ‘free to educators’ site that allows users to host and share information between students, faculty and staff.
  • Wikispaces for Educators allows users to create ad-free wikis that are simple enough for the beginner but contain a range of features for the more experienced user.

Further reading