Depending on the subject, I use my wiki for a variety of things. But the bottom-line is, I’d be lost without it, which is a bit of a surprising statement considering 7 months ago I didn’t use it.
When I first learned about wikis, I didn’t immediately see the value it offered for my teaching and my students. But it’s changed my teaching, and if you don’t currently use a wiki, I think it can change yours too.
In Biology, my wiki is the one-stop information centre. About half-way through last semester, our class began creating our own on-line textbook. My students struggled with the hard copy version of their text; it had significant limitations. Sometimes the information was insufficient, other times it was confusing. Using the wiki, we are able to add text, pictures, videos, and even interactive simulations. Additionally, the wiki provides the platform for reverse instruction that I use with my students.
One of the beautiful things about the on-line text is that my students took ownership of it as well. Often I would receive emails from my students with sites or videos that they found useful for their own learning and recommended that I add them to wiki. Also, since we were engaged in a fair amount of group collaborative learning that involved the use of Google Docs, links for the docs were included, so that students could access the notes and work created by each group.
Another element that we’ve added is photos of slides. My students are able to take beautiful pictures of microscope slides with the cameras on their phones. We then upload these to the wiki. These pictures are incredibly helpful to students who have missed the lab, or for those who need help while doing the lab write-up.
In my English classes, I use the wiki differently. Last semester, my students created an on-line study guide as we studied The Secret Life of Bees. Each student was responsible to discuss and analyze the different themes & motifs found in each chapter. My students not only achieved this, but many went beyond the assignment to include pictures of the prominent themes. It was interesting to see my student’s visual interpretations of what they were studying.
One of the great things about a wiki is that I can offer my students authoring privileges, and when the assignment or semester is finished, I can delete them from the account. How do you prevent irresponsible authoring? The wiki records each change made to it and who makes it, and I have my account set so that I’m notified by email every time a change is made. My students are fully aware of this, and I’ve never had a problem.
In ELA 20, my student’s participated in the TED-X classroom project. The instructions for the project have their own separate tab, which also includes the link to their blog.
Currently, in the technology class I teach this semester, the wiki houses all of their technology “needs”, from tools they need to sign up for, to blog post topics, to additional resources, and, of course, their actual assignments.
In no other class do I have the diversity in ability that I have in this class. I have some students who own Adobe, and are tech aficionados. At the other end of the spectrum, I have students who just learned to email at the start of the school year, but who love the things they learn in this class. Consequently, I have students who complete the assignments quickly, while others take the entire time that is allotted. The wiki allows both sets of students to be working at all times. When quicker students are almost finished their assignment, I post the next one on the wiki.
I plan to use the wiki the same way for my chemistry classes next year, those students who are stronger can work ahead, which will allow me to spend more time working with students who are having trouble grasping the basics. I may actually have students learn the optional curriculum sections for the first time.
I depend on my wiki because my classes are paperless. Without a wiki, this would be almost impossible. When I have new students, I, literally, train them to use it. Most students are used to the teacher being the purveyor of all information; instead, I prefer my students to rely on me as little as possible. If students are absent, they know where to find the information. Additionally, at the beginning of the semester, I send parents an email with information about the wiki. Parents, at any time, can see what their child is working on, or what they have for homework.
In the beginning, it’s a shift for students and parents to rely on the wiki for information, but in the end, it’s well worth the effort.
photo courtesy of flickr cc: cfbloke