Rose Colored Glasses

Random Thoughts on Instructional Design


“Learning is no longer considered merely an accumulation of knowledge but rather an understanding or ability to construct knowledge in meaningful ways for a particular purpose or solution to a well defined problem.” ~ Dale Lang, 2004

Using Wikis 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 individual 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.

Wiki Authorship Types

Faculty Authored

  • Authoring and maintaining a set of course support materials with a team of faculty (curriculum, text books, exam papers etc) Use of a wiki allows materials to be refined over time rather than rewritten each time a new faculty member delivers the course.
  • Creating and maintaining course reference lists. Reference lists can then be transferred to other courses or posted on external websites.

Student Authored

  • Group assignments – page revision history allows instructors to monitor contributions and observe development of the assignment and individual contributions. This can be done throughout the writing process so issues can be spotted and feedback given before the submission of the assignment (e.g. a non-participating student can be contacted, a lack references to evidence addressed, an error in direction corrected).
  • Group debates – opposing positions argued and evidence presented.
  • Peer self-help pages – student directed wiki dedicated to students helping other students with the problems they identify themselves.
  • Student feedback to faculty – a wiki enables feedback to be controlled and owned by the students as opposed to the hidden and directed feedback gathered via questionnaire (Lamb 2004).
  • Study guides – students can create collaborative study guides in preparation for exams.
  • Subject glossary – individuals/groups of students assigned responsibility for creating definitions for identified terms to build an extending subject glossary overtime. Wiki functionality means this glossary can be subject to continual peer review.
  • Peer review of assignments during their creation – students assigned to guide other students during the process of creating their individual assignments. Marks can then be assigned for the contributions they make to their peers, recorded within the assignment wiki page revision history.
  • Individual portfolios – the flexible nature of wiki’s allows an individual to be very creative in their personal portfolio creation and also allows very flexible portfolio mentoring.

Faculty and Student Authored

  • Marking schemes for assignments – ideal for allowing students to really become involved in defining the marking scheme by which their assignments/papers will be assessed.
  • Subject glossaries – faculty can identify terms for inclusion and also peer review additions.
  • Frequently asked questions – students/faculty can pose questions and appropriate faculty (or students) can answer these questions.
  • Building case studies, field reports etc.
  • Reporting research findings – students and faculty can use the tool to post research notes and resources.

Planning for Integration

There are a number of issues that need to be considered before integrating wikis into courses:
Motivating students to participate – Merely providing a wiki for students to use is unlikely to result in their active engagement with it as readers and/or authors. There are several complimentary ways to encourage their participation:

  1. Assign specific authoring/editing responsibilities to individual students or small groups of students.
  2. Use the students’ interactions with the wiki participation as part of the summative assessment of the course.
  3. Integrate the wiki closely into the rest of the course. For example:
    • Refer to or use the wiki in face-to-face teaching sessions.
    • Provide key information via the wiki (details of assignments, marking schemes, revision notes).
  4. Have student write a reflection on the process or have team members assess group participation.

Providing structure and direction but also allow the students ownership – A blank wiki offers no predefined structure or application, hence its flexibility. This means that the manner in which your wiki is to be structured and used needs to be clearly defined in advance. However as James (2004) warns, exerting too much control over the wiki will act as a disincentive to student participation and engagement. Lamb (2004) advises: 

In a wiki, the instructor may set the stage or initiate interactions, but the medium works most effectively when students can assert meaningful autonomy over the process. It’s not that authority can’t be imposed on a wiki, but doing so undermines the effectiveness of the tool.

Requirements of monitoring and assessing the wiki – Using a wiki in teaching require a significant time commitment from the faculty involved. Once a course wiki activity is up and running, the edits being made should be regularly monitored by faculty or peer moderators for the following reasons:

  • Edits made by students could degenerate into an Edit War. Such a situation should be quickly identified and then a mutually satisfactory solution to be developed and presented.
  • Individual student participation can be tracked and appropriate feedback given during the activity rather than just at its conclusion (e.g. un-constructive and non-participants can be encouraged to change their approach).

Note: interventions by instructors on the wiki content itself should be kept to a minimum to avoid the ownership issues.

Using Wikis in the Curriculum

Wikis offer educators an opportunity to create a different type of web resource in which both the instructor and the student group can have equal active roles as contributors and editors. The nature of Wikis means they offer a number benefits relating to learning and teaching applications:

  • Wikis are extremely flexible allowing any site structure to be created.
  • Wikis can be used in classroom based, hybrid, and online courses.
  • Wiki functionality makes them ideal for collaborative writing applications and knowledge bases, which can be utilized across sections, terms and courses.
  • Wiki integration into the curriculum assists in transferring from instructor-centered to learner-centered educational opportunities.
  • Enables web publishing without knowledge of HTML or use of special web development tools.
  • Enables faculty to track who contributed what and when (see “Marking Group Authored Wikis” section).

There are also a few disadvantages that you may want to take into consideration before utilizing this tool in your courses:

  • Using a wiki does involve learning about acceptable editing practices (e.g. how to deal with conflicting opinions).
  • Managing a wiki can require significant time commitments from faculty and/or student moderators as page edits should be closely monitored at the beginning of the project/assignment.
  • A wiki has no predefined structure to guide new users and visitors can find navigating a wiki difficult (a hypermedia content page and/or search tool would assist with this issue.)
  • IP ownership and copyright of Wiki pages can be contentious unless clear policies are in place.

Tips for Successful Assignment Design

  • Allow experimentation time
  • Ease into it
  • Remember that collaboration is a skill
  • Create guidelines or let your students create them
  • Have an assessment plan and make it clear to the students

Preparing Students

Wikis are, by nature, easy to use. However, they do, in many cases, feature non-standard markup that can be challenging even to students with experience in other methods of coding web pages, such as HTML. It would be a good idea to provide students with tutorial or quick-start-guides that define wiki editing functions. A number of good resources can be found on the Internet or in tutorials like this one.

Most students like the ability to collaborate anytime anywhere and wikis can facilitate this type of collaboration, unfortunately the tool doesn’t teach collaboration skills. Most students will not be used to having their work edited, revised, or even deleted by their peers. Dedicating some time at the beginning of the course to a low stakes, fun activity, like an icebreaker or course based treasure hunt can introduce students to the peer editing process.

Assessing Wikis

Assessing collaborative work is historically difficult to assess, since it is impossible to know which student contributed what material. It is possible to break down the group assignment into parts, of course, but that makes for a process that is not truly collaborative. Wikis help solve this problem by making iterative development of the document visible to instructors. While this might make take more time, the instructor can review the history of each page to determine both individual contributions and to supervise the writing and revision process. (University of Leeds)

Moreover, wikis also provide a way for students to document the writing process and make this visible to instructors. Outlines, timelines, task lists, and group deliberations can all be kept parallel to the content pages of the wiki. This makes it possible for instructors to assess the process of writing as well as the product.

Wikis are most suited to collaborative authoring situations and so the most common wiki marking scenario will be marking an assignment authored by a group of students. In this case wiki functionality offers a detailed insight into the authoring process through the page history from which the contribution of individual students can be gauged.

The assessment process may also include rounds of peer- and self-assessment that require students to reflect on both the products and the process of their collaborative work.

Setting Grading Criteria

Some instructors may choose to grade wiki assignments on participation only, while others may want a more detailed process: setting criteria, creating rubrics, and assessing each student’s work and participation.

Grading criteria for assessing a group wiki should be similar to assessing any other assignment (rubrics would be excellent tools). However the ability to review in detail individual contributions means that more considered individual assessments can be conducted. Individual grades should take into account the number of contributions made by an individual and the quality or value of each of these contributions. We recommend that marks should be awarded not only for demonstrating good research and/or academic writing skills but also for an individual’s support of their peers in encouraging and developing their contributions and for positive participation in any discussions around the development of the content.

Issues to be aware of in allocating individual grades for a group wiki:

  • Two or more participants’ contributions may be added to the wiki by an individual who may have greater confidence with the wiki editing process. To avoid others getting credit, individuals should be encouraged to make their own edits and to collaborate through the wiki itself (e.g. using the discussion pages) rather than outside of it.
  • Initial contributors may steal the thunder of later contributors and so will seem to have contributed the most to the assignment.
  • It is easy to author a large number of page versions while contributing very little to the content itself, so the number of edits per individual is not as important as the nature of those edits.
  • Check to assure that edits have not occurred after the assignment submission date through the information available in the page history tool.

Managing Wiki Assessments

  • Use the history to changes and base grades on participation – Clicking on the history tab for a wiki page reveals a list of the previous versions of the page content with details of when the changes were made, who made the changes and any summary information provided by the contributor at the time of the edit. To see details of the changes made between specific versions of the page, select the two versions for comparison (usually consecutive versions).
  • Provide opportunities for self/group assessment – grade or portion of the grade should be based on student reports of their contributions and self-reports of what they have learned.

Tip – When a page has undergone a significant number of edits the process of reviewing all the changes made by individual contributors will be very time consuming. Making notes on contributions by individuals during the monitoring of the authoring process will help avoid a large amount of work when it comes to the final assessment of the wiki.

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