A Word on Wikis

Illustration: Andrew Weldon

My students are currently participating in their book clubs via wikis. The assignment is an adaptation of the general book clubs assignment that we usually do though face-to-face meetings. One of the things I’ve found in the past when we use wikis is that students seem to be buoyed and prepared for a real life encounter through their virtual work. That is: their actual face-to-face discussions are stronger and more involved after first working and discussing on the wiki. I was initially worried that this wouldn’t be the case. I thought that having face-to-face discussions would be fruitless and redundant after covering everything on the wiki.

This is the first year I’ve used pbworks instead of wikispaces to manage my student wikis. I may be returning to wikispaces next year, as I’m finding that pbworks lacks some of the features that i enjoyed on wikispaces (specifically a threaded discussion feature for each page instead of the non-threaded comments at the bottom of all pbworks pages). The threaded discussion was extremely helpful for the students when they were conducting discussions of their books. I’m looking into embedding a google gadget discussion board, but I’m afraid that may be too involved for the students.

On the subject of wikis, Cool Cat Teacher has an awesome post in which she bemoans the lack of authentic collaboration on wikis. She also envisions some excellent tools that would help teachers in better implementing wiki instruction in the classroom.

Perhaps the biggest complaint I hear from teachers are the assessment and monitoring tools.  If they don’t use an RSS reader, it is tough (the NOtify me tabs from wikispaces help) and truthfully a lot could be done to give teachers an “assessment console” for their wiki — assimilating the types of edits, quality of edits, kinds of edits that were made to help teachers isolate what is happening on the wiki.  You cannot ever assess just on edits because they will just do the “add the comma, take it away 20 times trick” and trust me, I’ve seen some pretty good ones.

Thus far, this isn’t something that interests wiki vendors and is something we truly need to help mainstream teachers be able to assess more easily and fairly.

Wiki vendors, are you listening? This is an influential voice in the educational community outlining exactly what we need to make better (and more frequent) use of your product. Don’t forget, we’re teaching the users of the future.

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