Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Teacher Tech: It's a Wiki World, and I'm a Wiki Girl

Ok, I have a confession to make. I'm addicted to wikis! Starting out, my knowledge of wikis began and ended with Wikipedia. Perhaps many of you are at the same point. However, once I started learning more about wikis, I immediately saw a world of possibilities for using them as a teacher. The beauty of wikis is that they are so easy to create. The formatting is very simple and easy to learn no matter what wiki server you might use and the real beauty is that wikis are designed to be collaborative, making them the perfect tool to use in the 21st century classroom. Teachers can use wikis to collaborate with one another or to encourage collaboration among students. Another plus is that wikis are dynamic--they are designed for growth. Isn't that what we all want for ourselves and our students? Growth?

To date, I have created five wikis on a variety of topics and for a variety of purposes. For each wiki, I have started by researching my topic, if necessary, deciding on a format, and then submitting material. While the format can, and probably should, change as the wiki grows, it is important that new contributors have a framework to begin with--a blank wiki can be a scary thing! My next step has been to present the wiki to the appropriate audience: my students, my department, my faculty. As part of the these presentations, I provide "cheat sheets" for navigating and editing the wiki and offer my assistance one-on-one, if needed. What I want most is for teachers and students not only to utilize my wikis but to contribute to them, so I want to make this process as simple as possible.

So, how could you use a wiki? Think about your school's vision and look at the goals on your School Improvement Plan. My first wiki developed from my school's goal to increase student achievement on EOC's. My media specialist was planning a professional development on review games as a way to increase student engagement and achievement, so I created a wiki to house all of the ideas teachers were already using along with some new ideas I found through research. Think about ways to make your teaching life easier. My second wiki developed out of a need for teachers in my department to share materials quickly and easily. How many have you have emailed document after document to the teacher down the hall or passed around your flash drives to copy files? What a hassle! With the wiki I created for my English department, we can all upload our materials, new and old, and have access to our colleagues great ideas anytime, anywhere. Think about how your approach research in your classroom. Wikis are a great format for pathfinders. I am teaching all ninth grade English this fall, so I decided to create a pathfinder on The Odyssey for my students to use in a research assignment. I set the pathfinder up as a wiki, with each wiki page covering a different topic, such as the gods and goddess or Ancient Greece. Now, as my students and I find new resources, we can simply add them to the wiki for future use.

Of course, these are just a few ideas for using wikis, and I know that you will have many more...and probably better ones! So, now that you have your ideas, where do you start? If your school or county has a wiki server like mine does, check with your media specialist or instructional technologist to find out how to set up your wiki. If your school or county doesn't provide this option for you, no worries: there are plenty of free wiki hosts available online. My favorite is Wikispaces (www.wikispaces.com), but there are plenty of others out there, so ask your colleagues what hosts they use or simply do a Google search and see what is available. But be careful--you might soon find yourself addicted to wikis just like me!

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