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Random Thoughts on Instructional Design

Seamless Integration of Wikis into the Learning Environment


For the next few months I will be posting a 12 part series dedicated to the seamless integration of the Blackboard Wiki into the learning environment. Although many of the examples utilize the Blackboard wiki tool, many of the concepts can be transferred to other settings.

The following is the first installment in the series — each Monday between March 3rd and May 19th new segments will be posted.

I hope that you find some of the suggestions and samples helpful.


Seamlessly Integrating Wikis into the Learning Environment Part 1 of 12

This tutorial explains what a Blackboard wiki is, and how to activate this feature in your course web site.

What is a Blackboard wiki?

A wiki within Blackboard is a page, or set of pages, that can be collaboratively edited by the instructor and by the students enrolled in the class. It is one of the few tools available which allows students to add content to a Blackboard course web site. Students can edit and add pages, images and links. A log of all changes is kept, so it is easy to keep track of a given page’s editorial history, and of students’ editing activity.

A current limitation of Blackboard wikis is that Safari on the Macintosh is not a supported browser for this functionality. We recommend that Macintosh users use the latest version of Firefox. Download Firefox

Types of  Wikis in Blackboard

With the Wiki Tool in Blackboard, the wiki can be shared between members of the class or it can be configured to for individual students or  groups of students and the instructor.

  1. Central Course Wiki – there can only be one of these per course and can be used for entries shared by the entire class.Central wikis can be created, configured and accessed from the course Tools area.
  2. Group or Individual Wikis –  multiple student wikis can be created per course. Group wikis can be created, configured and accessed from any content area (Course, Materials, Assignments, Testing Area, etc.)

Ways to Use a Wiki in Education

  • Easily create simple websites Typically when students are asked to create web sites as part of a class project, they have to rely on the chance that someone in a group knows how to make a web site, or that some sort of training is available. The wiki eliminates both obstacles, because it provides a ready to use site with a simple user interface, ability to easily add pages, and simple navigation structure. This allows students to spend more time developing the content of the site, instead of trying to learn how to make one.
  • Project development with peer review A wiki makes it easy for students to write, revise and submit as assignment, since all three activities can take place in the wiki. A student can be given a wiki page to develop a term paper, and might start by tracking their background research. This allows the teacher, and peers, to see what they’re using, help them if they’re off track, suggest other resources, or even get ideas based on what others find useful. Next, the student can draft the paper in the wiki, taking advantage of the wiki’s automatic revision history that saves a before & after version of the document each time s/he makes changes. This allows the teacher and peers to see the evolution of the paper over time, and continually comment on it, rather than offering comments only on the final draft. When the student completes the final draft, the teacher and peers can read it on the wiki, and offer feedback.
  • Group authoring Often groups collaborate on a document by sending it out to each member – emailing a file that each person edits on his or her computer, and some attempt is made to coordinate the edits so everyone’s work is equally represented. But what happens when two people think of the same idea and include it in different ways in their respective copies of the file, or when one group member misses an agreed upon time to finish their changes and pass on the file to the next member? Who decides what to do? Using a wiki “pulls” the group members together to build and edit the document on a wiki page, which strengthens the community within the group, allows group members with overlapping or similar ideas to see and collaboratively build on each other’s work. It also allows all group members immediate, equal access to the most recent version of the document.
  • Track a group project Considering students’ busy schedules, a wiki is very useful for tracking and completing group projects. It allows group members to track their research and ideas from anywhere they have internet access, helps them save time by seeing what sources others have already checked, then gives them a central place to collectively prepare the final product, i.e. write and edit a group paper or prepare the content of a powerpoint or keynote presentation.
  • One way to do this is to give each group a wiki page in which to write the paper itself, and give each member of the group a separate page to track his/her research and ideas for the paper. The “paper” page lets you see how the group is working collaboratively to construct the paper, and the individual pages let you track how each group member is developing his/her contribution to the paper, and gives you a place to leave feedback and suggestions for each student. If you use the individual pages this way, you may want to restrict view access for each student’s indvidual page to only you and that student.
  • Data Collection Because of its ease of editing, a wiki can be very useful for collecting data from a group of students.
  • Review classes & teachers Students at Brown University started CAW – Course Advisor Wiki, a place for students to collaboratively write reviews of courses they’ve taken. CAW gives reviewers flexibility to articulate their impressions, and readers get richer reviews that combine multiple impressions and perspectives.
  • Presentations Some people are using a wiki in place of conventional presentation software, like Keynote and PowerPoint. Here’s a presentation from Brian Lamb of UBC: What blogs, wikis, and Soylent Green have in common… (Steward Mader, Using Wiki in Education)

Next week – Types of Wiki Authorship

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2008 by in Blackboard 8, Instructional Technology and tagged , , .

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