I’m excited to begin learning about Wikis, since I’ve already imagined how they could be hugely beneficial to my history students. For some years now, I have had my students work together on laptops to compose thematic review guides for all of the cultures that we’ve studied in preparation for exams. Their study guides are then used by their classmates. The problem has always been inaccuracies and the reluctance of students to post corrections as emails to the class conference. I believe that wikis will make those corrections occur much more readily because the process is more natural and less critical of the initial authors. Instead of being the product of 2-3 students, it will be understood to be the collaboration of all the students taking the course.
After wandering through an assortment of educational wikis, I’m slowing assembling a list of do’s and don’ts. My first impression is that a lot of wikis don’t seem welcoming enough in their layout. It took me some time to realize that there was often a box with a Table of Contents that you needed to use to access the true content of the wiki. Here’s an example from a wiki that I otherwise found impressive in its content: HUMS 3001: Censorship and Responsibility. I’m so used to ignoring everything in the margins, that I didn’t initially find all that was available. One of the things that I loved about this wiki was the depth and intellectual rigor of its contents. Of course, it represents the work of college students over a semester, rather than sixth graders, so that’s to be expected. My favorite organizational structure was the virtual bulletin board found at the Springfield Township Virtual Library, which circled the item under your cursor then took you to another page. I would LOVE to know how to create a page like this! Less appealing, but still useful wiki pages consisted largely of lists of links to other resources grouped by category. A very sophisticated example of this would be DiRT: Digital Resource Tools. I can envision creating a much simpler resource along these lines recommending some of the more trustworthy websites for course-related research.
I’ve also been amazed at the number and variety of tools that I’ve been exposed to on my brief tour of wikis. Here are some that stuck with me:
- Talking Avatars
- Teaching in Second Life
- Leaving a Skype voicemail through Google
All of these can be found at Grazing for Digital Natives, although I’ve encountered examples elsewhere as well. Additionally, the wiki Greetings from the World gave me my first exposure to glogs, which seem to be online posters or collages. One thing that I haven’t found yet, but would love to do, is to tie links to portions of a map, such that clicking a region would take you to the appropriate page. I thought that the sixth grade biology wiki, Code Blue, could have made profitable use of this with a picture of the body. I’ve seen online interactive maps that do this, but I’m not sure that wikis are the correct tool.