Sunday, July 23, 2006

Advice on wikis, please!

I am going to be using a wiki this fall. It is a new venture for me. It seems like it will be easy, but I am afraid I might be kidding myself. I want to use the wiki well, and I am not sure what I need to know or remember. Any suggestions?

In one class students will be reading a variety of material about the Civil War. I want them to post it to the wiki so the information that each gathers from individual reading will be available to all. In this case I guess I am using it for notetaking. Students will be able to get information from it to complete their final project: a "magazine" about the Civil War from the point of view of either the North or the South, depending on which group they are in. While students will be put in North/South groups about halfway through the unit, they will do initial readings about both the North and the South.

In another class, a writing class, we are going to be looking at famous documents and speeches from US history and then writing about them. I am basing this course loosely on an MIT Open Courseware course called American Classics. I am not exactly sure how I will be using the wiki with this class, but I imagine it will be for notetaking, too.

I am excited about this, but I am not sure how it is going to work. My initial blogging attempts were less than successful, and I hope to do better with wikis. I appreciate any help anyone might be able and willing to offer.


Sarolta said...

Dear Nancy, I enjoy using wikis and I know other people who enjoy them as much as I do or even more. Wikis seem to be excellent for teams especially when teams produce a single document.

I've tried using a wiki with my students: some enjoyed using it, some just didn't see a point in sharing a document or writing one in a group.

I've tried using a wiki with fellow teachers: some enjoyed using it but some (and they were not computer illiterate) just hated it. The latter group seemed to like using email a lot more.

I've tried using and like it a lot. It's reliable (if you decide to keep it private) and simple. It's being developed and updated all the time, which is great. However, certain solutions seem better in, e.g. editing the side bar and background colours. Wikispaces also use tabs for discussion and history which I find more user-friendly than pbwiki's solution. There's also an interesting new provider: I haven't used the service yet but it seems quite OK.

Before you start using a wiki with your students it's worth opening an account in each. You want to learn how it feels to write in a particular wiki. They don't have a spell checker. Pbwiki cannot be edited if someone has already started editing a page. 15 minutes after one person has stopped editing a page another person can start editing it. This of course means that your students won't be able to eit the same page all at once. I'm not sure how this works with the other two.

Sometimes wiki providers set a limit on the number of pages you can open so this is also worth checking. Next, check how to invite members to the wiki or what status can be assigned to individual members. Storing space can also vary. If you're planning to upload documents or pictures this is worth checking too.

I'm not sure if this'll help but you can learn about using wikis in a literary class at

And one final tip. Check what happens to a page when you want to print it from a wiki or export it. If you have tables in your text exporting them to a different document may present a problem.

As I said I love usng wikis and cannot imagine team work without a wiki. But there are also people who dislike them.

Good luck! Cheers.

Nancy A. McKeand said...

Thanks, Sarolta! I am really trying to wrap my mind round them, but I seem to be getting more confused rather than less! I will check out the sites you mentioned!