Technology Enhanced Learning Team

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Using Wikis in your teaching

This area introduces ways you could use Wikis in your teaching, considerations you need to think about when using them and pointers on where to look for more information.

What are Wikis?

Wikis (from the Hawaiian for ‘quick’) are web pages that can be added to and edited simply and easily.  Editing takes place directly on the page using a visual editor. You can embed links, images and media of all types and build simple or very large websites. A number of companies host Wikis free of charge or alternatively you can download and host a Wiki on your own server.

The pages created for a Wiki can be made public or private and you can set controls on what users can and can’t do e.g. create pages or not, modify content or not etc. In this way you can manage and control the development of a wiki.

Why use Wikis?

If you’ve ever wanted to change, add or edit a page you’ve been reading on the internet then you’ll understand the potential power of Wikis for use in education. They are extremely easy to build and therefore are useful when you want to get content onto the web quickly and simply. You can add pages for different topics, people, tasks etc then add text, links and upload media.

Wikis are also great as a personal space for individuals to reflect or author and structure their own material  they can also be used when you want groups of students to work collaboratively on creating a web resource or any other document. Students can redraft each other’s text and it can be shared among a community of readers. If activities are designed well they can encourage participation and construction of new knowledge when students are not in the same location. They can, therefore, play an important part in formative and summative assessment.

Content developed in the wiki can also become a valuable source of knowledge passed down from one cohort to the next like an online glossary or encyclopaedia.

Some wikis even enable you to create a kind of ‘social space’ adding a commenting option while others act as a library or resource bank using attachments..create new pages add links etc

Wikis allow for greater parity within the learning community[1] (Walton & Carr). Knowledge is negotiated through the authoring process and unlike blogs and forums there is no set linear pathway through the content it can be arranged, as with other HTML pages, on one or as many pages as is required.

Key benefits

  • Wikis are quick and easy to set up and in most cases the learning curve is fast
  • Can act like a central repository or knowledge base of student work and reflection
  • Can help non-native speakers to overcome communication barriers they may find in face-to-face meetings
  • There are lots of different ways to use them creatively for group work and collaborative projects
  • Can help students structure their work and sensitise students to visual and navigational design for the web
  • More static than other collaborative document tools e.g. Google docs (which is good for planning and brainstorming) and can be structured and organised smartly.
  • Can be great to get students involved in website development who are intimidated by having to ‘build web pages’
  • Can actually be used to drive websites
  • Contain a ‘history of revisions’ to a document which can be extremely useful
  • Great for a lasting fairly stable collection of information that can be edited
  • Can also be used for things such as  team planning, book writing

Key issues

  • Many features have been incorporated into newer software/web services
  • Only one person can edit a page at one time
  • For campus-based students the activities may seem contrived unless presented well…why are you actually doing this online?
  • Sharing is not necessarily endemic..may need to be modelled…
  • Can be time-consuming to mark
  • Need to make clear what part a Wiki will play in the mix.
  • Some Wiki software is better than others – Aesthetically may not be wow…some wikis have tricky  to master formatting commands
  • Content can be removed easily too if public

Is it OK to use at Queen Mary?

There is no reason per se not to take advantage of the technologies that the rest of the world is using for communications.  They move and develop much more quickly than organizationally provided systems typically can, and often do completely different things.  The choice of tool you use to meet you and your students’ learning objectives is your choice. Some practical considerations are outlined below.

Classroom practice

A lecturer in International Management with a large cohort of PG students divided the large group into smaller groups of 7-8 to work on an international strategy project. The students used the Wiki for collaborative writing. The task formed 30% of the overall assessment (75% for the product of the group work – a 1,500 word exec summary and 25% for the group activity on the wiki).

A computing lecturer working with postgraduate students studying ‘Requirements Engineering’ introduced Wiki tasks to provide students with opportunities for group collaboration   and transferable skills for industry (how do you remove conflicts and ambiguity from a set of requirements?). Three assignments were used, the first introduced students to the wiki, its purpose and editing facilities. Subsequently, students took on stakeholder roles, collaborating with other students to produce an agreed requirements specification.

A lecturer in English wanted their students to create a modern edition of 18th Century poems. The students were divided into groups of 4. Their edition (including such things as biographies, annotations and a glossary) could be no more than 4000 words and would be developed in a Wiki. A reflective log examining the methods and practices employed formed 40% of the module grade.

A lecturer in the business school used a module Wiki with postgraduate students. After each lecture the tutor published a ‘weekly’ task. These included adding literature overviews, adding definitions to a module glossary, developing coursework or providing feedback to peers etc .The students then had the week to present their contributions. Just before the lecture the following week the contributions are reviewed and feedback provided to the group. This can be used to re-shape the lecture.

A Law lecturer set a Wiki task in an undergraduate legal writing module groups were set the task of writing a judgement from a case study they had read.

Practical considerations

  • Choose a wiki that is going to be simple and easy to use, preferably with a WYSIWYG editor (e.g. PBwiki)
  • Students will need to adjust to the requirements of the task and the genre. Consider having some models of what you expect before they start and get them to practise setting up and editing a wiki before they start your task (e.g. in a sandbox). Make sure your instructions are clear and unambiguous.
  • As with many collaborative tasks you will need to establish some kind of policy around use, overdominance of one individual etc
  • Perhaps need to sell the value of the activity to students by showing how and why collaborative activities are important
  • Remind students about deadlines! The editing process is not endless (unless you are Wikipedia).
  • Research suggests that students need proactive guidance in using Wiki features effectively
  • A discussion medium like a forum to compliment the wiki is frequently useful if not essential
  • Lack of time to monitor effectively?
  • If the site is in the public domain then you will need to monitor it to ensure that content is not compromised
  • It is good practice to delete sites that you are no longer using. The web is riddled with zombie sites!

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