What lessons can we learn from teaching with a wiki?

<< Return to the Archive

Share to: 
Sandra Porter

Experimenting with on-line worksheets

I know some people who always teach their classes the same way, semester after semester, year after year.. Not me. I always want to experiment and try new things.

This fall, I'm experimenting with using a wiki in the classroom, in addition to my blog. This wont be my first wiki experience. We've long used wikis where I work, and I've used them to collaborate with people in different locations, but this is the first time that I'll try one in a teaching situation.

The wikis in my past
My earlier experiences with wikis had convinced me that they would be too much trouble to use with a class. At work, we used to use something called Kwiki, and now we use Mediawiki. Both were okay as far as wikis go; groups of people could post text, edit pages, make links, and upload files. But neither of these systems are very user friendly. A new user must learn a strange language and lots of normal text things-like spaces between words-are forbidden. You can't even use semi-familiar languages like html, no, that would be too easy. So, while I've used our work wikis, I've never liked them much. I never thought that they would be useful for anyone other than programmers.

Pbwiki has changed all that. At least it has so far. It's way easier to use than Mediawiki or Kwiki, and I think some of the things that I've normally done with Blackboard are going to be much easier to do with my Pbwiki site.

The first thing I like is the way Pbwiki handles text. I can type normally and quickly create new pages, and organize pages in folders. I can also link pages to each other quite easily.

I also like the ability to use custom security.

Show them what you want and hide the rest
One of the things that I want to do with my class is to give them the ability to record information in on-line worksheets. But, I want each student to have their own worksheet and not have access to worksheets from other students.

First, I set up the worksheet page the way I wanted it. Then, I added the word "template" to the tag section at the bottom of the page. Now, I made an individual page for each student by adding new wiki pages, and choosing the "worksheet" template.

Now, I wanted to set user security so that individual students would see only their worksheet. I had Pbwiki create a certain number of student accounts with log-in names and passwords for me.

I chose "page level security" for the worksheets. Then I went through and for each page, added a student for that page.

I should point out that I used one of the student accounts and pages myself so that I could check it. I used two different web browsers (Firefox and Safari) and logged in to my wiki account as myself- the administrator- in one account, and as a student with the other, this would let me see what a student could see and change the access levels appropriately.

Now, each student will be able to save their answers in their worksheet and I'll be able to log in and see what they did.

I'll write again and report how this works. I'm also interesting in knowing if any of you have tried this sort of things.

Dear readers, what experiences have you had in teaching with wikis?