Sunday, March 9, 2008


Today was a beautiful blue sky Alberta day: hoodies instead of parkas, streets in full-flow melt mode, the maverick rabbits in the neighbourhood turning brown….we even heard our first Canada geese of the year! It was probably as close as you could get to Waikiki on an Edmonton afternoon in March….unless you count the virtual connection that wikis afford!

According to Wikipedia (probably the most widely recognized wiki on the planet),wikis take their name from one of two sources: either from the Hawaiian term ‘wiki’ which can be translated to mean ‘quick’, or from the backronym ‘What I Know Is’. (Wikipedia defines a backronym as a term constructed from a previously existing phrase, word, or abbreviation.) Whatever its roots, the growth of wikis is impressive on many levels.

Wikis provide an affordable information delivery/management vehicle accessible to anyone with a computer and internet access. They can operate as an effective way to create connected classrooms for students and to extend learning beyond matriculations and graduations, honouring Asselin’s reference to creating learning societies and lifelong learners. These learning societies can erase political, geographical and other boundaries, encouraging global citizenship and its incumbent tolerance, empathy and understanding. Examples of wikis that promote global citizenship and responsibility include the Horizon Project, global story writing projects and workshops, and Voices of the World, which is a cool project designed to help children develop an appreciation for different languages, accents and dialects from around the world. Another wiki is set up to promote the delivery of laptops to 13,200 school children in Haiti, to try to level the intellectual playing field - giving these students access to opportunities that might otherwise never be offered and helping to open doors to a bright and open future for students in a developing country.

In addition to promoting global citizenship, wikis can aid in the creation of digital citizenship – respecting copyright laws, ‘neticut’, etc. This wiki includes a digital citizenship unit plan and accompanying rubrics and assessment criteria.

Wikis can provide a sandbox for teachers and students to play around with Web 2.0 tools – to practise and refine building technological skills. Wikis can provide venues for students and teachers to publish and share ideas and creative undertakings – stories, art, podcasts, etc. Wikis can provide on-line learning opportunities, interaction and collaboration. Wikis can facilitate communication and professional development. They foster information and digital literacy.

Despite all their positive points, wikis do have drawbacks. Doug Johnson reminds us that there are often two sides to consider and writes that “the same hammer can break window and build cathedrals” and “It probably took the first tool-using ape about 30 seconds to figure out that coconuts and skulls can both be crushed.” Wikis, by their nature, can contain incorrect information and are susceptible to ‘trollers’ – people who intentionally disrupt the wiki or post false information. Wiki users need to be aware, critical thinkers (visiting the Great Spaghetti Harvest website) and taking the ‘Spot the Hoaxes’ Challenges is a good springboard to critical thinking. Verifying or finding additional sources to corroborate information is another reasonable step to take. In addition, restricting users can cut down on the amount of unreliable information posted.

I can see using wikis in several areas in my grade three class. We are currently collaborating on a classroom thesaurus – dreaming up alternate terms, for example, for the word “said” or “nice” or “walked”. This could be done in wiki format, which, if extended as a homework assignment, would serve the twin purpose of communication with parents and involving them with their child’s education. As well, our school has participated in ‘door stories’ where classrooms take turns building a story, based on what other classrooms have written prior to your turn. This could easily be done on wikis and extended as homework assignments, in small or large groups and within or across grades.

I can also see using a wiki to set up field trips – organizing drivers, chaperones, snacks, activities, etc.

I can see using wikis for professional development – pooling examples of favorite math websites, or book reviews, or novel studies…. Our staff even discussed using a wiki to discuss our SCIP (school continuous improvement plan) – something that takes up a lot of our staff meeting time. Discussing the SCIP plan in wiki format could save streamline staff meeting time and give voice to teachers who are more reluctant to speak up.

There are lots of good ideas for using wikis in classrooms posted on this wiki.

Elisa and I set up our wiki for the class using wikispaces. A You tube tutorial for using wikis follows.

As I progress through this course, I am finding myself more and more comfortable with the “techy” tools we’ve been acquiring and refining. I found myself getting completely immersed in this topic, snooping around for hours and sending tags to with a fervor approaching gluttony! I’d better hope for more blue sky Alberta days, to make sure I’m tempted to come up for air in the real world every now and then….!


Jessica said...

Wow Linda, those are some great wikis you found! I really enjoyed Horizon Project. I also like your idea of using a wiki to create a class thesaurus-- other similar uses could be student produced glossaries for novel studies or science terms, or picture dictionaries for young students.

Val said...

I love the wiki on getting 13,200 laptops to children in Haiti. Great research on strong wikis making a positive difference. I like your focus on global citizenship and the possibilities for breaking down political, economical and societal borders. The gr. 3 thesaurus project sounds wonderful.

On another note, everytime I log onto your website I smile as I'm greeted with that lovely warm picture of you smiling with the apple.

Thanks to you and Elisa for your discussion on e-books.

Katie said...

Hi Linda,
I think that your comment regarding Doug Johnson and the con's of wikis is something that is overlooked in a lot of Web 2.0 tools. On my blog I gushed about how great I though wikis were for collaboration, but I never really though about the wikis (like wikipedia) that are used as information sites. There is a real danger for students to believe everything they read and to not look at information with a critical eye. Thanks for pointing that out! Sometimes I forget these things!


elizabeth said...

Great post Linda, with lots of sites I needed to bookmark! I know the grade three teachers in my school would love your ideas about a class thesaurus and a collaborative story. The fact that what students put on a wiki can be accessed at home for most is so appealing. Not only does it help them do their homework, it acts as a great communication tool between teachers and parents. The trick will be not only getting staff to jump in but parents too. I can see a need for some info sessions at PAC meetings in the near future.

Linda Morgan said...

Good idea about the PACs - I never thought of that!

Cindy said...


Great examples of Global citizenship wikis! This is an 'Ends' focus at the CBE and an area that I would like our school to get involved in. I look forward to sharing some of these wikis with our staff. Thanks!

Ronda said...


I liked reading about how you would use wikis with a grade 3 classroom. Coming from the high school side of things, I am curious as to how elementary teachers will incorporate some of these tools. Thanks for sharing your insights!


Arlene said...

Backronym - thanks for teaching me that one. Never heard of it before. Arlene

steph ippen said...

I've never heard of backronym either. You found out a lot more interesting stuff about the origins of wikis than I did.It's so intriguing to notice the variety of paths we take to complete these assignments.It underlines for me the challenge I find in knowing if my sources are accurate. The volume of info out there still overwhelms me...