Transforming teaching and learning for the 21st Century

Teaching and learning with a wiki: Part 1


This is an updated version of a post from October 2016 when I was using Wikipsaces to host my wiki.  Since the closure of Wikispaces I have started using new Google Sites and although much of the content in this post remains the same, I have made some modifications.  I have also renamed the post Learning and teaching with a wiki: Part 1 as I will dedicate Part 2 to setting up and using a wiki with new Google Sites.

One thing that remains the same, is that I am still convinced using a wiki is a great way to facilitate learning and provide students with so many more opportunties for learning than they would otherwise have and this is how it all began for me…

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 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 platforms you can use to get your wiki up and running. After careful consideration I opted for Wikispaces Classroom by TES (now defunct) as it was simple to use and offered 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. You can’tbe expected 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?  It is, however, 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!)  I find video tutorials a great way to show students what you want them to do (and they can always go back to them when they forget what to do – and forget they will!)
  • Provide clear expectations. A class in the art of good digital citizenship before you start using a wiki is always a good idea… Ensure there is a moderator/editor responsible for making sure contributions fit expectations regarding quality of interaction and appropriacy.  
  • Promote a culture of positive collaboration.  As well as setting expectations for online behaviour, you should ensure students understand why they are using a wiki and the benefits they can expect.

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…

Although we have been using a wiki for a while now, 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 are:

  • 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 (this depends on the platform you are using)
  • 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 (the possibility to add comments depends on the platform you are using)
  • posted topical news items after searching for and selecting them, encouraging critical thinking.
  • shared resources and tips for learning English
  • monitored activity on the wiki. Two students from each class have the responsibility of ’wiki monitor’ once a term for a week. They are responsible for “monitoring” activity on the wiki and reporting anything suspicious…
  • 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 …
  • collaborated on projects 
  • showcased our work…

A wiki is constantly evolving and often it is the students themselves who come up with some of the best ideas for using one.  At the end of the year my students complete a questionnaire about their wiki experience and contribute their ideas for using it in the future.  This provides valuable information about user experience and hopefully new and exciting ways we can continue to use this tool to enrich the learning experience (and tempt the naysayers…)

For anyone interested in setting up a wiki the software you choose will depend on your context. I am curretntly using but there are a lot of alternatives out there… some of the most popular ones for education include: and Wiki Platforms.

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

Author: lisajwood

I am an English language coach and Neurolanguage Coach® I current teach adolescents and adults. My areas of interest include brain-friendly learning, flipped learning, student-centred learning and promoting lifelong learning skills. I am also a keen advocate of using new technologies to facilitate the learning process.

2 thoughts on “Teaching and learning with a wiki: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Developing digital competence | ACEnglishteacher

  2. Pingback: Teaching and learning with a wiki: Part 2 Google Sites | ACEnglishteacher

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