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Learning and teaching with a wiki

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After watching a great session from the British Council “Teaching for Success” conference presented by my good friend and former colleague Jo Budden, Helping learners survive – and thrive – in the digital world, it got me thinking about how I help my students to survive and thrive in this digital world.  At my school, ICT resources are quite limited. There is one computer room with, at best, a slow internet connection and a laptop and projector in each classroom, with dubious internet connection. There are no formal ICT classes and mobile devices are banned!  Faced with this situation and a determination to ensure my students leave school capable digital citizens, I needed a solution. The solution was a wiki…

For anyone who isn’t sure what a wiki is, according to the most famous wiki around, Wikipedia, it is “a website that provides collaborative modification of its content and structure directly from the web browser”  In simple terms, a website which anyone who has permission, can edit and add content to.  There are lots of software packages you can use to get your wiki up and running. After careful consideration I opted for Wikispaces Classroom by TES as it is simple to use and offers different levels of privacy.  I chose to allow everyone to see our wiki but only members (my students) to edit.

What are the benefits of using a wiki for students?

One of the most important benefits of using a wiki is that students are actively involved in the construction of their own knowledge and learning.  They are no longer passive learners.

  • It encourages collaboration, curiosity, creativity and responsibility.
  • It promotes student-centred learning
  • It facilitates differentiated learning
  • It encourages peer teaching/learning
  • It can increase motivation
  • It can be used as a formative assessment tool, and be a portfolio of students’ work
  • It practises writing skills
  • It provides a meaningful context for communication
  • It gives students a voice (especially important for those students who are too shy to participate in class)

What can students do on a wiki?

  • Consult information
  • Express their ideas, opinions, likes…
  • Read their peers’ contributions
  • Edit content
  • Communicate with their teacher and classmates outside of school, there are no spatial or temporal barriers (although we do agree on a time until which I will be available or accept contributions on the wiki. If not they expect you to be there 24/7 and also we don’t want our students working online at all times of night!)
  • Share materials and resources with their classmates
  • Engage in collaborative projects
  • Showcase their work

What can teachers do on a wiki?

  • Post notifications (homework, projects, test dates…)
  • Post class materials and resources, extension and reinforcement tasks
  • Encourage class discussions/debates
  • Answer questions/resolve doubts/give advice/provide feedback
  • Set up and manage teams for project work
  • Monitor students’ contributions and progress

Sounds great right?  Well it isn’t without its challenges!

What teachers need to do to ensure success…

  • Provide clear instructions on how to use a wiki and how to contribute (don’t assume your “digital natives” know how to use all technology!)
  • Provide clear expectations. Ensure there is a moderator/editor responsible for making sure contributions fit expectations regarding quality of interaction and appropriacy.  (You may notice my first years haven’t quite got the hang of this yet and have gone crazy posting “hello” messages, at least they’re showing willing and on the wiki!)
  • Promote a culture of positive collaboration

Did you notice I said it can increase motivation in the section “Benefits for students.”  Wikis are not a foolproof way to success. Don’t expect all your students to love it (mine don’t). There will be students who hate it and groan every time you mention the word “wiki.”  You have to find personalised content and activities to try to lure them in…

I introduced our wiki,  as an obligatory part of the subject two years ago.  We’re still learning and coming up with new ideas how to use it, but some of things we have done since the wiki began:

  • learned about netiquette, e-safety and copyright.  Before first using the wiki, we work on these topics and information is posted on the homepage for future reference A good digital citizen
  • created a profile
  • participated in online polls (to choose the reader for the term, to decide future class activities, to decide which videos to watch/songs to listen to…). Polls are a great way to give students a voice and make them feel part of their own learning.
  • posted videos and reviews of books, films, music and apps and responded to classmates’ contributions in the discussion boxes.
  • posted topical news items after searching for and selecting them, encouraging critical thinking.
  • monitored activity on the wiki. Two students from each class have the responsibility of ’wiki monitor’ once a term for a week, to check everything is ok, editing and commenting where appropriate.
  • Posted weekly discussions (topics decided by students)
  • Completed challenges.  Students look for a new challenge and find the answer using any resources available to them. Challenges are usually topical e.g The Oscars, World Book Day, MTV awards, Peace Day…
  • Completed quizzes and questionnaires
  • Created our own dictionary which is constantly added to…
  • Created our own Micronations / Written biographies / Created Gap Year packages in teams in the “Project” area
  • Showcased our work…

A wiki is constantly evolving.  At the moment ours is a bit sparse as it is the start of the school year and we have just had a major clear out.  My students completed a questionnaire this week about their wiki experience and ideas for using it this year, so hopefully we will find some new and exciting ways we can continue to use this tool to enrich the learning experience (and tempt the naysayers…)

Do you use a wiki with your students?  I’d love to hear how you use it.


Author: lisajwood

I am an EFL teacher currently teaching teens and adults in Spain. My areas of interest include flipped learning, student-centred learning and promoting life-long learning skills. I am also a keen advocate of using new technologies to facilitate the teaching and learning process.

One thought on “Learning and teaching with a wiki

  1. Pingback: Developing digital competence | ACEnglishteacher

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