Wiking our way into the 21st Century

As we move into the global society of the 21st century, collaboration is a key skill required by students to be successful. Previous to the development of Web 2.0 tools, collaboration was limited by proximity, time, and the abundance or scarcity of tools. In other words, you needed to be in the same room, at the same time, and have more than one paper/pen to take notes for your poster or Powerpoint. The advent of wikis has changed all that. You can be on different continents, in different time zones, and both be able to access the same document, adding, uploading and organizing content easily and efficiently. Using a wiki, I have collaborated with a group of teachers who lived China, British Columbia, Alberta, and the United States. (See that wiki here) Wikis allow us to truly synergize, to create something more powerful together than we could have created alone.

What are wikis? The word ‘ wiki’ comes from Hawaii, and means ‘fast’. A wiki is a website that is simple and easy to create, using a wiki hosting service. All you need is the internet, a computer and a keyboard. That’s it. No programming skills, no HTML. The most famous wiki and the granddaddy of them all, Wikipedia, is currently the largest and most used reference in the world, with 16 million articles that have been written by people from all over the world (Wikipedia, nd). A true Web 2.0 tool, wikis allow for creation of content rather than just viewing content (Lamb & Johnson, 2007). Wikis allow for the ability to upload links, images and files easily. Within a very short space of time, I can create a website for teachers or students to use to share their ideas and thoughts. In effect, if I invite all users as editors, we will be co-creating a website together. Worrying about someone completely messing up a page? Clicking on ‘Page history’ gives you a complete breakdown of each revision, and it is quick and easy to restore a page to an earlier version. Trying to find out who did the most work on the page? Again, clicking on ‘Page history’ tells you who has revised the page and when.

How to set up  a wiki:

1. Find and choose a wiki-hosting site: wikispaces, pbworks, or wetpaint

2. Set up a free account with your email address. (You can upgrade for a few more perks for a fee)

3. Name your wiki.

4. Add a page

5. Add your collaborators

Commoncraft has an excellent overview of what a wiki is here.

Personal Learning about the tool


Learning about Wikis

Last year was my year of the Wiki. I can’t remember who introduced me to the idea of using it in my inquiry teaching, but once I looked at it, I loved it. Creating one using was quick and easy. I created an account, and created my first webpage! As I explored it, I learned to not only type in information, but how to create hyperlinks and upload pictures and videos. Why PBworks and not Wikispaces? Simply because PBworks was the first one that I was introduced to, and I became comfortable with its use.  What was more difficult was organizing how to use wikis effectively, and thinking about how to teach students how to use it. Often, we have a misconception that children, as ‘digital natives’, will learn technology on their own, without any direction. While I have definitely found students are more prone to explore, click and try technology, I have also found that they require instruction to be truly successful in USING the technology effectively.

My first use of a wiki was with a grade 6 class. (See the wiki here) Our inquiry was researching an issue currently in the news, taking a stance, and creating a Glogster poster to portray those views. The  wiki was used so that students could work collaboratively in pairs, storing information, video, and weblinks on the wiki. Once they had collected their information, teams used their wiki page to collaboratively write paragraphs for the Glogster. Students were taught how to upload information, how to ‘steal the lock’ and how to create citations for information discovered. Generally, this class succeeded in using wiki as a collaborative tool. The teacher I was working with was one who struggles with using technology, yet she was able to easily navigate the wiki with only moderate instruction. One function of the wiki that she found very useful was the ability to track who added information, and view previous versions. This gave her valuable information as to the ability of students to work collaboratively create content (excellent for report cards!).

After this experience, I used the same format with a grade 5 class. (See the wiki here.) Again, we were using the wiki as a storage and collaborative writing tool for students as they prepared photostories of famous canadians. This section was not as successful. Students had had little previous preparation from the classroom teacher, and expectations were not clearly laid out. The level of writing was far lower on this project.

Simultaneously I was working with a grade 5 strategies class. (See their wiki here.) We were to use the wiki as a note taking device as individual students created Smartboard Notebook presentations. The wiki worked well for them when they were using print material for their projects, however students struggled to transfer between windows to write ideas from websites to the wiki. There was no collaboration involved in this project and they used the wiki for short scrappy notes. We eventually abandoned the wiki and moved back to using pen and paper. In retrospect, a wiki was not the right tool for the project as envisioned by the classroom teacher.

As I moved to the younger grades, and after the difficulties with the other classes, the teachers of one grade 2/3 class and I chose to use the wiki as a pathfinder. (See the pathfinder wiki here.) Joyce Valenza (2007)  in her article,” Ten reasons why your next pathfinder should be a wiki‘ discusses how wikis allow you to link, not only to websites, but to your media, databases, handouts, graphic organizers and more. Not being sure how grade 2/3’s would navigate the wiki, I chose to limit it to a search engine for specific animals. I had envisioned it becoming a collaborative space for myself and the other teachers to work together to find and annotate sites. Unfortunately, the other teachers involved were, as all teachers are, extremely busy and felt that it was my task as the teacher-librarian to do so. I agreed, however, did not find the time to do as good a job as I would like. Students did find the wiki helpful. Having only one log in to find information helped them to be focused on their task. I struggled with not teaching them proper search skills, and with finding websites that were at their reading level. We do have Read Please downloaded onto our computers to assist students with reading higher level websites, but the teachers were reluctant to take the time to teach students how to use Read Please. In retrospect, I would have liked to spend more time discovering and annotating sites, and perhaps putting up the print graphic organizer we used and a rubric for students.

For the other grade 2/3 class, the project moved from research to Language Arts. This teacher was interested in exploring alternate versions of Cinderella stories. (See the Cinderella wiki here.) After reading Harvey and Daniels’ (2009) Comprehension and Collaboration, I was aware that inquiry could take the form of exploration in Language Arts as well as  Science and Social, and was keen to try some of their ideas. We decided that the wiki would take the form of a collaborative narrative writing project, as pairs of students wrote their own Cinderella story after being presented with different versions and comparing and contrasting them. Loudermilk -Garzia and Hern (2006) suggest that when using wikis as a collaborative writing tool, students will learn to deal effectively with conflict and learn negotiation skills. They also state that students will develop a willingness to share with and be edited by peers. Both of these became evident in this classroom. Pairs had been assigned randomly, so some conflicts were inevitable. Students had to decide on an outline for their story, and when writing, as only one student was able to add content at a time, they had to negotiate who was going to type and what content to add. Students were taught about appropriate commenting as they looked at others’ stories. While they did not develop the ability to truly give effective feedback, comments were, for the most part, appropriate. The first time someone wrote a (mildly) inappropriate comment, I happened to have my Blackberry with me and received the email notification of the comment moments after it was posted. I went to the classroom and called out, “Hey, S., thanks for telling us that you want to get finished and go out for recess, but next time, don’t do it on the wiki!”. The vision of Big Brother silenced any other silly comments. 🙂 The teacher used the comment feature  as well to give constructive feedback to students and students seemed comfortable having this feedback shared with all readers.

My other uses of wikis have come through my Master’s courses. When creating a wiki for my Personal Inquiry question, I learned that I could put pages into folders, and I made a ‘Holding Tank’ for information that I did not need to have marked by my professor, but that would keep articles where I could get to them (almost like Evernote J ). The Global Lives Inquiry Project wiki done for my Inquiry course is the most complex wiki I have created so far, including pages for parents, for students, and for staff. I have not yet had the opportunity to ‘test drive’ this wiki yet, and am looking forward to seeing what works and what needs to be adapted as we use it with grade threes this coming January.

Professional and personal use

I believe that, for a collaborative learning tool, wikis are invaluable. While Google docs allow multiple users to work on a document simultaneously, and wikis allow for only one user to work on it at a time, wikis are useful when you want to create a complete website with many pages that is easy to access. (See this site for a comparison of wikis and Google docs.) As stated previously, I can see wikis being applied within a staff for collaborative work around a topic such as assessment, or for specific departments to collectively create courses, pathfinders, or resources for their subjects. Boeninger (2007) also refers to wikis as useful for internal communication, like  ‘a meeting without a meeting’. I can also see wikis being used within districts. For example, the K-12 Literacy plan was released last year within my districts for comments. Using a wiki, the plan could have been developed within consulting services, and then it could have been delivered to all stakeholders within a wiki, so comments could have been tracked…or if they were brave enough, the district could have opened the document for revision! 🙂 Even beyond a district, wikis allow for national and international collaboration. The Elementary Library Routines wiki is open for all teacher librarians to add their ideas and links in order to create one resource for elementary librarians everywhere. As teachers, who are constantly being asked to do more, collaboration using wikis makes so much sense. Why are we all reinventing the wheel? Harry Wong (2004) says beginning teachers should ‘steal, steal, steal’. I say we should share, share, share using wikis as a tool. What about using wikis for Professional development? Joyce Valenza’s New Tools Workshop is an example of a collaboratively built wiki being used as an anytime, anywhere access workshop, with information for teachers about Web 2.0 tools and how to use them.  However, it is not a case of ‘if we build it, they will come’. When I tried using wikis with my staff as a tool to collaborate, store and hold information, ideas, links, websites and images, I had envisioned Division 1 and 2 Social and Science wikis, LA wikis, etc. Unfortunately, others do not always share the same ideas. Although my staff is very collaborative and mostly technology savvy, there were two competing pressures which did not support the use of wikis as a collaborative tool at this time: the expectation that staff would use our districts ‘Share’ site, a firewalled network within the school, for collaborative work and documents, and the ever present struggle for teachers, finding the time to learn and use new technology, even something as easy to use as a wiki, and the time to upload content. Sheehy (2009), in his post The wiki as a knowledge repository, talks about the obstacles he faced when persuading teachers to use a wiki for his high school department as a knowledge repository. Teachers needed to have the basis of trust in their colleagues, be taught how to use the wiki, they need to be convinced of the usefulness of the wiki, they need to have the time to post to the wiki, and, most telling of all, they need to see that their contributions are valuable.  It may require much ‘nudging’ on the part of the teacher librarian to help teachers discover and use the true potential of wikis.

Use with Students

So far, I have used wikis in the classroom for collaborative research, collaborative writing, as a storage tool for notes, and as a pathfinder. Lamb  and Johnson (2007) also suggest using wikis for collaborative problem solving, as a journal, an electronic portfolio, a virtual conference, and as a study guide. This last idea was interesting to me as one of my teachers recently had her students prepare Notebook presentations on different planets. She told me that it would be invaluable to have these as study guides for the Provincial Achievement Tests. My thought was, how much better would this have been as a wiki? Instead of listening to each presentation, students would have the ability to access each other’s pages and have anytime, anywhere access to their study guides. Vicki Davis (2007) uses wikis for lesson summaries, notes collaboration, exploratory projects, learn/shares, assessments, rewards and classroom organization (slide 31). How about using a wiki to design a class website? One of my favorites is Mr. Smith’s class page. He uses this page in addition to his class website. Others use it as the their only website.  In the video below, one teacher has put her entire Language Arts course on a wiki. Students are using the wiki as they share their thoughts about a poem their teacher has posted on one page. Note how the student talks about how her learning is extended by the collaborative aspects of the comments.

The students in this video are busy using Diigo to add comments, however, there is a comment device within the wiki that could also be used.

Benefits of using Wikis in the classroom

In the wiki article Wiki as a collaborative tool , Loudermilk-Garzia and Hern (2006) suggest that wikis help support the collaborative writing process by having student set norms set up early on: ie what to call it, etc.They see the ability of users to share work and see it revised and edited by others as a way to build on collaborative aspects of the classroom. “Wiki technology not only supports these practices but might also contribute to the kind of community ethos that can lead to such sharing.  ” (para 14).

Boston College’s e-Teaching services (nd) suggest that the benefits of using a wiki in the classroom are:

  • Students seeing others’ work learn from each other
  • Seeing other students’ work as exemplars could help students to increase their writing skills, or encourage them to add more information to their work
  • Students can develop critical thinking skills by critiquing others work and defending their own.
  • Students build their negotiation and collaborative skills
  • Leads to building a more cooperative classroom community
  • Students help to create class content/discussions
  • Allowing for students to have access to content outside of class time

Vicki Davis (2007), in the Slideshare presentation below, talks about how wikis raise the level of involvement of students, increasing their retention of material.

In the video below, Jeff Utecht (2009) states that using a wiki helps students to understand that ideas can belong to more than one person. Chris Betcher (2009), in the same conversation, says, “Wikis are symbolic of the change that’s taking place in society…moving to a more integrated method of doing stuff. It’s not about one person going off and making something and then coming back and saying, ‘Ta-da! Look what I’ve done!” It’s about groups of people working on things and then having that back and forth iteration. Collaboration is about working together to build a better project.”

Joyce Valenza (2007) says that wikis can be collaborative built by “classes across the country or across the world” (p. 131). Why not try to use a wiki? After all, isn’t sharing and collaboration one way to build a better planet?


Boeninger, C.  (2007). The wonderful world of wikis: Applications for libraries. In Library 2.0 and Beyond. Westport: Conn. Libraries Unlimited.

Boston College (nd) Retrieved from

HarveyD., & Daniels, S. (2009) Comprehension and collaboration. Heinemann Educational Publishing.

Lamb, A. & Johnson, L. (2007). InfoTech: An info-skills workout: Wikis and c0llaborative writing. In Rosenfeld, E. & Loertscher, D. (Eds.) Toward a 21st Century School Library Media Program. Lanham:MA, Hi Willow Research and Publishing.

Loudermilk-Garzia, s. & Hern, T. (2006) Retrieved from

Sheehy, G. (2009) Retrieved from

Valenza, J. (2007). Ten reasons why your next pathfinder should be a wiki. School Library Journal Retrieved from

Valenza, J. (2007). Something wiki this way comes…are you ready?. In Rosenfeld, E. & Loertscher, D. (Eds.) Toward a 21st Century School Library Media Program. Lanham:MA, Hi Willow Research and Publishing.



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4 responses to “Wiking our way into the 21st Century

  1. Jeff Yasinchuk


    For me I view the importance of wikis from a constructivist point of view. The act of making and creating with an audience in mind (i.e. peers in a classroom) is a powerful pedagogy and one on which wikis and collaborative 2.0 tools are built. Funny, we don’t hear much about this learning/teaching approach. I think we any tool, a teacher’s use evolves and grows. My first wikis were nothing but a repository for notes, handouts, etc. But even with much fanfare and promotion students did not visit the wiki. Why? I think it was because their was no vested interested or need to construct personal meaning. A wiki is only a effective as the teacher that creates and supports student use through the evolving process of modeling. Great post, btw!


  2. Lissa Davies

    jeff, I agree with you. Especially in this day and age, writing for an audience is where it’s at. I also agree that the modeling is key to get students involved. I think creating the audience is what KEEPS students involved. When they know that their work is going to be viewed and commented on by their peers, the buy in is greater. So that leads us to another point, teaching students how to comment is essential. While it is easy to monitor comments on wikis, in order for them to be truly effective, the comments must be constructivist and specific.

  3. Hi Lissa,

    Your blog on wikis inspired me! What a lot you’ve already achieved with your students – thanks for sharing your work! The wiki we chatted about in Edmonton is the Elementary Library Routines wiki that you included in your blog. I’ve used it quite a bit with our little people.



  4. Pingback: The Neverending Story – Web 2.0 « To Boldly Go…

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