Teaching Students about Wikis with a wiki sandbox project

My ninth graders are learning about wikis now. I thought it would be helpful for you to see how I teach students the basics of wikis before they edit collaboratively.

Why should I be teaching students about wikis?

While I cover a lot about this in my new book Reinventing Writing, wikis are a widely respected academic tool for scholars to disseminate and update online guidebooks and materials of all kinds.

The process of  teaching students wiki basics

1. Explain the term wiki.

Ward Cunningham was in the Honolulu airport as he pondered the name he needed for the new, fast way to make web pages that he had created. In the airport there is the “wiki wiki” shuttle. Wiki means quickly in Hawaiian. So, the name of wiki for a type of web page was born.

2. Watch the Common Craft Video on Wikis

I like the Wikis in Plain English video from Common Craft. While it leaves out discussion tabs and other features, it does cover the basics. We also discuss how wikis are different from  Google Docs (wikis don’t let you edit simultaneously while Google Docs do, but Google docs don’t have as powerful of a revision history.)

English: Wiki Wiki bus at the Honolulu Interna...

English: Wiki Wiki bus at the Honolulu International Airport Polski: Autobus Wiki-Wiki na Międzynarodowym Porcie Lotniczym w Honolulu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Teach students to join the wiki

I log out of the class wiki and show students how to join the wiki. To prevent confusion, I always have them do just this on the first day and let them work on another task when complete. It is good netiquette to say who you are and why you want to join in the comment box. I verbally let each student know when they are joined. Remind students the process of creating a username.

4. Play in the wiki sandbox

I start off by giving a wiki sandbox assignment. Sandboxing means that you have students play before you expect them to perform. I have students select  a topic of interest so they gravitate to and want to work on their wiki.  The sandbox assignment has the minimum items I want them to know how to do:

  1. 2 hyperlinks – 20 points

  2. picture – 4 points

  3. 3 kinds of headings 2 pts each (6 points)

  4. table of contents (5 points)

  5. horizontal rule (5 points)

  6. bold (5 points)

  7. italics (5 points)

  8. embed a video (10 points)

  9. A bulleted list (5 points)

  10. A numbered list (5 points)

  11. A quizlet set of at least 10 cards for something you’re studying (10 points, 1 point each)

  12. Another widget of your choice (10 points)

  13. Attractiveness 10 points

5. Leave guidance about how to use the wiki

You can demo all day but most students don’t remember. Save time by creating a step by step tutorial so students can listen to it later.

So, the video embedded at the top of this post was the one I used to help with this project. I made the video on Screencast-o-matic and uploaded it to my YouTube channel.

I embedded this video on the assignment page so it is right there for students.

6. Recognize great work and answer questions

As students work, each day I’ll select something that someone has done well and point it out. Typically the sandbox takes up to 2 days to complete but could take 3. Just be careful, if they are too in to their topic, they might spend more time looking for information and less time writing on the wiki. Students also need to ask questions that will help the group.

The next lesson will be to intentionally create wiki wars so that students will learn how to fix them. (Let me know if you’re interested in that one as it is a bit of a challenge to teach.)

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