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Creating Authentic Learning Work Products — Wikis in the Classroom

August 12, 2010

The Idea

Last year my Classical World (ancient Western Civilization) course was a 1:1 pilot class.  My idea for authentic learning was for the students to add content to a wiki which shows what one will learn and do in the course.  At the end of the course I was going to  give the URL to our Counseling Services personnel to be included in next year’s Course of Studies so that kids interested in Classical World can see what happens in the class.

This is an authentic work because they are writing for a real audience with a real purpose — which also allows us to teach one of our major objectives with the 1:1 pilot — positive interactions on the Internet which lead to the development of a student’s own PLN.  It also allows them to showcase their creativeness in unique and different ways.  It’s a project I will be pursuing again in the future.

I wasn’t able to get it 100% off the ground last year through no one’s fault.  In the first growing pains of the 1:1 project there was A TON of learning to do on all parts — and having never taught this technology before I had alot of personal growth to do.  But, those awesomely exciting and very anxious days with this new technology and these new tools made teaching fun and allowed me to interact with my students as a student.  They know just as much about this technology as we do, and many times they know more.

Suggestions for You

Creating a class wiki is cool and exciting.  In fact Richard Byrne of Free Technology for Teachers writes about it in his latest post “How to Do 11 Techy Things in the New School Year” What I took away from the experience is this:

  1. Try out wiki services that are out there to see which one you like.  (Wikispaces, Wetpaint, PBworks are some that I am familiar with using)
  2. Discuss with school administration or your supervisor the district’s regulations/position on making wikis open to the public vs. keeping them closed and private.  This will have to factor into what you plan to do and what your students’ final products will look like.
  3. Once you decide which one you are using, determine what you want to do with the wiki or what it’s purpose will be — you need to do this because it will guide you on how you lay it out.
  4. Physically, on paper, sketch out the structure of your wiki (whether it’s a drawing, word web type graphic organizer, an outline, etc.).  Once you conceptually see this on paper it may be easier to assemble it and decide what students (or the public) can edit and create.  BUT, if you don’t operate this way then skip this step.
  5. Put some content or samples on the wiki so that your students have a guide as to what they may be doing.
  6. Stress to the students that your example is just that — an example.  Point out the essential features of your example that they must include in their work and use your best judgment in tightening or loosening the restrictions on how they accomplish your task.
  7. Before they log on or create accounts:
    1. Set the ground rules.  A good rule of thumb is to tell them that the rules they follow on campus, etc. must be followed on the wiki.  You will need to check with your school district administration or supervisor before you get to this step.  But, it’s the most familiar framework for your students.
    2. Set guidelines for user names.  I tell my students that their user names on a site that is going to be potentially public should in no way identify them as individuals.  And you need to tell them that they have to be “school-rated”.  Also, your student may have user names.  It’s up to you if you want them to create a new account — but before you do ask yourself if it truly matters that the kid have another account unique to your class.
    3. Find out who does not have Internet access at home.  If a student does not you will need to work out something with him or her which will allow for participation on the wiki.
  8. Plan to spend at least 1-2 days just teaching the technology.  Inquiry based learning and project based learning lends itself to less is more.  And for the kids to ultimately be successful and enjoy the project they have to be comfortable using the technology.  Think about what your reaction would be if someone quickly went through a new tech tool and then told you to produce your magnum opus on it!
  10. REMIND STUDENTS TO FREQUENTLY SAVE THEIR WORK!  Sometimes 20 minutes worth of work can disappear if they accidentally hit “Back” in the browser or navigate to a different site.  I’ve seen it happen, and it’s not good because there’s nothing you can do about it.
  11. Learn with the students, and use them as resources to help their peers with the functionality of the site.  Students are eager to assist, especially when they realize that the teacher-student roles have switched.
  12. Have clear expectations for what their work process and work products are.  Evaluating their process and product formatively is also highly recommended in my experience.

Please feel free to comment on what I have done and on my suggestions.  By no means do I have all the right answers, and if you disagree with anything I have to say I am very interested to hear and learn from you.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2010 1:07 am

    Excellent pointers! I don’t know if I’m going to be using a class wiki anytime soon – ’tis a possibility but who knows.
    Question for you – of the 3 you named: wikispaces, wetpaint and PBworks, which do you work with the most, and which do you like the best?
    I ask because I tried creating an online newsletter through one of them (I’ll keep that to myself) and found it extremely restricting in layout. I don’t speak CSS, so I could only do so much.

    Thanks again, and great post.

    Grand Mesa Middle School
    Grand Junction, CO

  2. Keith Dennison permalink*
    August 13, 2010 8:14 am

    Hi, Suzanne,

    Thanks for the support. I use Wikispaces for a few reasons. First, with the classroom wiki it’s free of banner ads. And since all of my purposes are strictly educational it fits Wikispaces’ requirements. Second, it allows you to add as many pages as you need, and so as long as you know and understand what your layout will be you can make Wikispaces work for you. Third, the streamlined text editor is great because it has all that you need without overwhelming you. Fourth, the widgets that it allows you to add can really enhance your wiki with useful tools for your readers. Fifth, the space they give you should be more than enough for any files and media you will put up there. Sixth, Wikispaces is also very supportive! If I’ve had an issue they have gotten back to me within a day. Once, they even got back to me via Twitter when I was soliciting help from other teachers. They’re pretty good.

    I hope this helps out. And please pass my blog along. I am looking for any constructive feed back from any educator on anything that I have up here now and on what I’ll add in the future. Have a great opening to the school year (don’t know when it happens in CO, but in NJ it’s very soon — Tuesday after Labor Day) and good luck with your wiki! My friend Heather Hersey (hhersey03 on Twitter and Flying off the Shelf) is a librarian at our school, part of our redesign initiative, Web 2.0 savvy and just an all around awesome professional. Connect with her too for any support. Together I think we can help you out!

    Take care,

  3. Jason permalink
    August 13, 2010 8:42 am

    I’m curious what makes this any different from a course handbook Counseling services may give out? If students are coming to this wikispace for the sole purpose of “marketing” the class why not just re-write your course description? I applaude your use of technology but it honestly seems like this was just an add-on and a unnecessary piece in this project. This could have been a bulletin board in the hallways or even a booklet (student guide to course selection) which could be put in with the materials from Counseling services or on a table to pick up at scheduling time. Doing a students guide to selecting classes may have been a better option and technology in this case would be necessary for the word processing part of the project. Additionally, I hear when you say you think this is authentic, I disagree. What value does this project have in connecting their work with the content their learning? How did you connect this project with Ancients? What was the Big Idea, the essential question, etc…? (KUD Chart)

    Thanks for taking the risk and blogging about your experience!

  4. Keith Dennison permalink*
    August 13, 2010 10:29 am

    Hi, Jason. Thanks for the reply. It’s meant to compliment the course handbook. The course description states what we study and what the class is about. What I wanted the wiki to do was show off some of the projects and presentations that we do in class. Kind of like a museum for the course that the kids can look at and decide if maybe it’s something they want to study.

    And thanks for the perspective on the authentic learning. The individual projects and contributions to the wiki would have curricular purposes (but they’d use Web 2.0 technology) and encourage inquiry based learning (art and document analysis, forming an opinion on a controversy within the discipline [Martin Bernal’s Black Athena or legal possession of artifacts by museums, etc.) The wiki would be the place to host them. But, you’re totally right — as I have presented it and titled the post it’s not quite authentic learning and there’s no big question and no overall essential question. They exist for the components, but not overall. I don’t know that I will change the title of this post, but I can totally see where you are coming from, too. Being new to this whole thing I totally see your perspective and I appreciate your contribution. I do need to think about this kind of project in light of all of this in terms of what it accomplishes. I will stand by learning how to write well for, and communicate to, a general audience.

    Thanks again, and take care!

  5. March 16, 2013 1:28 am

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  6. Brent permalink
    October 18, 2014 6:42 pm

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