Dipping your toes into the wiki waters

A couple of years ago I started using wikis for my course Web site (example). My reasoning didn’t start out to be based on any great goals for students contributing to and building the course Web site. Nope. I was simply being lazy.:

  • I wanted the most impact for the least amount of effort on my part.
  • I wanted to be able to edit the Web site from wherever I happened to be, from whatever computing device I happened to have in front of me.
  • I knew that I would be putting a lot of content on the site (eventually). The site was going to be constructed on the fly during the semester.
  • I wanted the process of writing and formatting the pages to be flexible but straight-forward.
  • I also knew that it needed to be flexible, because I didn’t quite have the whole course planned out; I might have to put information on the site mid-way through the semester that I wasn’t planning on at the beginning of the semester.
  • I knew I would want to easily link between different pages on the site.

I was planning to use the site to store my own notes for the course, the syllabus for the students, announcements, class resources, and daily assignments. Nothing too fancy.

All of this pointed me toward using a wiki for the Web site. Then the question became “which wiki?” I had used wikis before but they were either too expensive so I didn’t use them, or they went out of business after I had begun to use them (this happened twice), or they weren’t flexible enough. I finally settled on wikidot. (Note: The only relationship I have with wikidot is as a satisfied customer.) I have been a fairly heavy user of theirs (note my guru status) for four years, and I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

I went on to use the wiki for a lot more than I originally conceived of, and that ended up being the frosting on the cake:

  • I designated one student each day to take (and post) notes for the class. After the notes were posted, all the other students could add to the notes.
  • I designated one student each day to write proposed exam questions (and answers) for that day’s material. After the questions and answers were posted, all other students could revise them.
  • Each day I had one student present an industry update to the class. They also were assigned to write (for the site) a short summary (with links) of what they presented to the class.
  • I assigned students to write about eight blog entries during the semester. They wrote these on their own wikis. When I found a blog post that I gave a perfect grade to, I had the student transfer the blog post to the class wiki so that others could see the types of blog posts that I particularly liked.

With a little guidance, the students quickly learned how to write these wiki pages. These were not information technology specialists but general business students.

Another benefit of the wiki is the version control of the system. I made students aware of this early in the semester — “if you make a change to a page, I can see who made what change, all the way back to the beginning of the semester.” It was very clear to the students that any type of digital vandalism wouldn’t be in their best interests. And it has never happened to me in any class on this platform.

I highly recommend that you investigate wikis for your class, and especially look into wikidot. I have had a great experience using this tool for my class. What has your experience been with wikis? Or have you discovered a better tool, technology, or approach? If so, please share it with me; I would love to hear about it.

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