Change Issues in Curriculum and Instruction/Wikis in the Classroom

The new World Wide Web, best known as Web 2.0, offers up connections, collaborations, and “cool” for today’s students. Where the web used to be for finding and reading information from somewhere and someone else, it’s now all about creating, collaborating, and becoming a meaningful contributor to a limitless body of knowledge. Web 2.0 allows us to interact with knowledge not just as consumers, but also as producers. There are many different ways that educators can get their students connected, but one that works especially well for educators is a wiki.



Wiki comes from the Hawaiian word “wiki-wiki” which means quick. In simplest terms, a wiki is a website where anyone can edit anything anytime. The first wiki was created by Ward Cunningham in 1995. He used the word wiki-wiki as a substitute for "quick", remembering a shuttle bus service he used in Honolulu with that name. His website, the Wikiwikiweb was started as a place for programmers to share their knowledge about software development. Perhaps the most widely known wiki network is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia begun by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger in 2001 as a project attempting to build a free encyclopedia on the Web to which anyone can contribute, change or add to (Wilson Company, 2005). Wiki “engines” (the software used as the basis for a wiki) are a type of social software, which makes it easy for groups of people to work together in a virtual environment (Chawner & Lewis, 2004). The Wikimedia Foundation developed and launched the Wikimedia software package in its Wikipedia. Since then, the free software has been adapted for use by many other wiki networks. Its real power lies in the fact that groups can collaboratively work on the content of a site by using a standard web browser. Beyond this ease of editing, the second powerful element of a wiki is its ability to keep track of the history of a document as it is revised. Wikis can be large and open to the public where any and everyone can add, delete or change content. They can also be small and closed for selected participants only. Another important component of the wiki is its interconnected hyperlinks that typically are seen throughout a wiki page. These links enable users to quickly learn about and pinpoint topics that are of importance to them. Though the first wikis appeared eleven years ago, they have captured incredibly large numbers of Internet users in recent years. For example, in 2005, a study found Wikipedia to be the 37th most visited website (Nature, 2005). According to Alexa, as of May 22, 2007, Wikipedia is the eighth most visited site in the United States. Wikis currently are used in different contexts, including education, business, library science, and information management. Regardless of their size, wikis are open, collaborative, community websites. The collaborative nature of wikis makes them perfect tools for teachers. Imagine your students working on a project with other students from anywhere in the world!



Creating a wiki is easy and if you don’t mind it being visible to all, it’s free. You can set up your wiki to allow for only your class to have posting and editing rights, or keep it public not only for viewing, but for posting and editing as well. If you choose to have it totally private to be viewed only by select participants, there usually is a fee. To help with monitoring, a wiki keeps document histories, enabling users to see who has posted or edited and what changes were made. Each time the content is changed, a new version is saved. However, anyone can go back and see previous versions allowing students and teachers to see the writing process in action. You can also revert back to a previous version in case of pranksters or vandals. Likewise, most wiki networks have a good number of volunteer system administrators working behind the scenes to protect against vandalism.

Wikis are a great tool for developing the writing, editing, and communication skills of students. Computers enhance education by providing students with more active learning, more varied sensory and conceptual modes, less mental drudgery, learning better tailored to individuals, and better aid to abstraction (Dede, 1995). Computer learning blends perfectly to the differentiated classroom. Regardless of their learning style, social maturity, or comfort level with technology, all students can gain new understanding through the use of technology. Creating content for real audiences is a powerful motivator for students to put forth their best effort. Wikis also promote collaboration among students. Not only do students hone their writing and editing skills, but they also learn to negotiate, compromise, and assist others. Students must negotiate to determine what is important, what information stays and what doesn’t. It’s a very democratic process of knowledge creation (Richardson, 2006). Through collaborative effort students develop a sense of community, responsibility, and ownership of the work

The wiki process accords with the principle that, as John Dewey (1916) maintained, knowledge is socially constructed. Until recently, writing has largely been viewed as a solitary activity; wikis, on the other hand, tap into the potential for writing as the locus of social interaction. Moreover, they shift the emphasis from product to process. Rather than a static object, the written work becomes a dynamic, living, evolving entity (Loudermilk & Hern, 2006). Wikis transform the configuration of the classic rhetorical situation that delineates audience as distinct from writer. Rather writer and audience become one and the same, and the work becomes the product of the interaction of writers with one another—a truly social construct.

Wikis can be used as sources of information. But how can we be sure of the accuracy of the information? Alex Halavais, a University of Buffalo professor purposely posted thirteen errors on various Wikipedia pages. Within a couple of hours, all were fixed (Richardson 2006). An investigation completed by Nature magazine compared 42 entries in Wikipedia to the same entries in Encyclopedia Britannica and found Wikipedia to be only slightly less accurate (Giles, 2005). Therefore, Wikipedia has value for education and for knowledge-seekers. Just as with all information resources, when students use public wikis as an information source, they must evaluate the reliability and credibility of information. It’s an opportunity for teachers to guide students in becoming critical consumers of information.



As Prensky (2001) pointed out, “Our students have changed radically. Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach,” because today’s students are digital natives while the most of today’s teachers remain digital immigrants. The digital natives absorb knowledge and skill from digital media, while digital immigrants (teachers) are acculturated to a print paradigm. How to create an effective learning environment and integrate effective technology in the curriculum for our students are concerns by more and more educators and teachers. Today, the difficulties for educators and teachers are to identify learning strategies that are appropriate for Digital Natives, recognize the different ways they process information and develop learning tools that maximize the potential of their unique cognitive approach (Culligan, 2006). Little in life moves as fast as the stimuli that confront "Generation Nintendo" learners on a daily basis. Learning offerings are challenged to not only meet the pace of "twitch speed", but to exploit this capacity to its fullest extent (Culligan, 2003). Teachers must take advantage of the technology available to them for use in educating these digital natives. Wikis are one of the powerful teaching and learning tools that are currently used in some schools and universities, which allows teacher and learners to maximize the potential of print by utilizing print in its electronic or digital form (Ferris and Wider, 2006).

Raman, Ryan, and Olfman (2005) defined wiki as a group collaboration software tool based on Web server technology that can be used to facilitate collaborative knowledge creation and sharing in an academic environment. Leuf and Cunningham (2001) defined wiki technology as having three major attributes: the participation of wiki community members in the editing of wiki pages (wikis), the opportunity for wiki members to build and develop “meaningful topic association” (p. 16) through numerous links between wiki pages, and the supportiveness for wiki community members to collaborate in updating wiki content. As of the 18th of March, 2007, Wikibooks features nearly 25,000 modules. By May 22, 2007, this number has grown to 25,372 modules.

Because of the characteristics and functions of Wikis, they can be used for student group projects, collaborative textbooks, collective writing, research projects, data collection, organization of projects and assignments. They can also be used for collaborations between teachers. Engstrom and Jewett (2005) studied a curriculum that used wikis to promote middle school students’ investigation of the construction of six dams on the Missouri River. Their research found that the content-centered nature of wikis can promote collaborative content creation and editing. According to Richardson (2006), the entire national high school curriculum for South Africa is now in a wiki with the goal of “[making] it easy for teachers to share information on how to deliver certain lessons or to achieve certain goals with their students” (p. 67). Raman, Ryan and Olfman (2005) conducted a case study of wiki technology applied in knowledge management class at the graduate-level. Their findings showed that familiarity with wiki technology, careful planning for implementation and use, appropriate class size, and motivation of students contributed to the success of wiki’s support of collaborative knowledge creation and sharing in the academic environment. According to Evans (2006), students learned course materials more thoroughly and more enthusiastically than they did with the traditional business textbooks used prior to his wiki project’s inception. Recently, two studies showed that college students’ participation in writing, editing and using a Wikibook as primary course textbook can not only promote students’ active learning process, but also improve students’ critical thinking skills and high level learning skills development. In addition, by using Wikibook method, students have greatly increased interaction with the textbook (Wikibook) in the learning process and improved students’ technology skills after the course (Allen, O’Shea, Daniel, and Baker, 2007; Xiao, Baker, O’Shea, and Allen, 2007).

The application of Wikis in the classroom has great potential although few research studies have, as yet, been conducted. The four research studies conducted by Raman, Ryan and Olfman (2005), Evans (2006), Allen et al. (2007), and Xiao et al. (2007) have shown that the potential benefits of Wiki usage have not yet been widely recognized by universities and K12 schools. As with any new technology or new teaching method introduced into an educational system, their application in the classroom requires teachers’ thoughtful and deliberate planning. Likewise, this application also requires creativity and enthusiasm in order for educators to achieve the most effective instructional results. How to effectively integrate the specific wiki in the course design and successfully practice require teachers and educators to do more experiments. How can students be benefited from Wikis and what benefit can students acquire from Wikis - long term or short term benefit as well as students’ achievements or critical thinking skills? These still need more research in the future.



As with any new technology, before a teacher uses wikis in the classroom it is essential that he/she become familiar with the school district's policy on wiki usage. More than likely, the teacher will find that the technology usage policy has not been updated to reflect the rapid advances in technological tools available for classroom use. In the case of this writer, wikis were not even on the school district's radar. This led to a dialogue with the school system's technology administrator to prompt such a revision. Without a formal document to guide the use of wikis in the classroom, teachers would be well advised to not use any type of identifiers such as students' names or even the name of the school district.

One of the biggest risks of using wikis with kids is the possibility of vandalism. Obviously, on a public wiki, if someone were so inclined they could post material that is inappropriate for young children. If this is a significant worry, the wiki can be set up to require password access for posting and editing. There are sites available that allow this with no charge. Wikispaces offers free wikis for K-12 educators (

According to Child Trends Databank (2006), as of 2003, 76% of children ages three to seventeen had home computers and only 42% of children in the same age group had Internet access. Inequities in access to computers and internet for students need to be considered as a wiki project is designed. Will it require work outside of the school setting? Will all students be able to participate on an equal basis? Questions such as these must be considered. However, as technology advances and becomes available to school districts as well as the general public, lack of Internet access may no longer be an issue. In December 2006, Socialtext launched Socialtext Unplugged, which is an offline wiki (Socialtext, 2006).

Wikis present some pedagogical problems as well. Teachers need to be willing to give up some control of the content and offer more student autonomy. According to Richardson (2006), better results are achieved when students have greater autonomy in terms of negotiating the scope and quality of the content they are creating. On the other hand, students also need guidance if they are to achieve maximum benefit from the wiki process. It is still the teacher's responsibility to structure the physical and the electronic environment so that students can take advantage of the learning opportunities that wikis afford. Teachers need to be especially careful and deliberate in planning for wiki use by younger students (see, for example, the wiki for second graders mentioned later in this article [1]).



When publishing student work, educators must strike a balance between the safety of the students and the pride and motivation that comes from ownership of the work being published. Many schools have clearly defined policies concerning publishing student work and/or pictures on the web and it’s important to know and follow school policy. It is also wise, particularly at the elementary school level, to receive parental permission before students post their work. Rarely are teachers comfortable with publishing students’ first and last names, although first name only is often a good option. The safest way is to have students use a pseudonym or avatar, and students can have a lot of fun coming up with their web persona. In addition, student online safety is increased if, before embarking on your first wiki adventure with, students are taught some internet safety rules.



There are countless ways to use wikis as classroom tools. The following list provides just a sampling to get teachers started.

  • Create an on-line text for the subject or content area (Collaborative Textbooks)
  • Student group projects
  • Writing
  • On-line pen pals (from pen pals to e-pals, to wiki pals)
  • Student created study guides
  • Research projects
  • Data collection
  • Student Portfolios
  • Collaboration between teachers
  • Organization of projects and assignments
  • School or class newspapers
  • Storytelling



Over the next few weeks you can observe a second grade class try their hand at working with a Wiki.

  • The teacher began by asking each student to select an animal of interest.
  • The class then created a list of what they thought would be good information to look for on their animal.
  • The teacher then laid out a page for each student and added a photo for each animal. (photo only no text)
  • The student is now responsible for locating information about their chosen animal and adding it to the Wiki site.
    • The current goal is at least 5 complete sentences that state a fact about the chosen animal.
    • If time allows students will have an opportunity to comment or even add to a classmate's Wiki posting.
“Every day thousands of people who have no connection to one another engage in the purposeful work of negotiating and creating truth.” Richardson (2006)



Achterma, D. (2006). Beyond Wikipedia. Teacher Librarian 34,2.

Allen, D. W., O’Shea, P. M., Curry-Corcoran, D. E., & Baker, P. B. (2007, April). New levels of student participatory learning: a WikiText for the introductory course in education. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Education Research Association, Chicago, IL.

Blake, P. (2006). Using a wiki for information services: Principles and practicalities. Paper presented at NLS2006, The John Niland Scientia Building, UNSW, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from

Chawner, B., & Lewis P. H. (2004)., WikiWikiWebs: New ways of interacting in a web environment. Paper presented at the ALA (American Library Association) LITA National Forum, October.

Child Trends Databank. (2006). Home computer access and internet use. Retrieved May 26, 2007 from

Clyde, L. (2005). Wikis. Teacher Librarian 32,4.

Culligan, M. (2006). Digital natives in the classroom. Encyclopedia of educational technology.

Culligan, M. (2003). Digital natives in the classroom. In B. Hoffman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. Retrieved May 22, 2007, from

Davis, A. (2005). The write weblog: who says elementary students can’t blog? Retrieved from

Dede, C. 1995. "The evolution of constructivist learning environments: Immersion in distributed, virtual worlds." Educational Technology 35(5) (September–October): 46-52.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. Rpt. New York: Free Press, 1997.

Engstrom, M.E., & Jewett, D. (2005). Collaborative learning the wiki way. TechTrends, 49 (6), 12-15.

Evans, P. (2006, January/February). The wiki factor. BizEd, 5 (2), 28-32.

Giles, J. (2005) Internet encyclopedias go head to head. Retrieved from

Leuf, B. and Cunningham, W. (2001). The wikiway: Quick collaboration of the web. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley Professional.

Loudermilk, S., & Hern, T. (2006). Using wikis as collaborative writing tools: Something wiki this way comes—or not! Kairos, 10(1). Retrieved May 23, 2007, from

McPherson, K. (2006). Wikis and literacy development. Teacher Librarian 34, 1.

Oatman, E. (2005). Make way for wikis. School Library Journal

Richardson, W. (2006), Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin Press.

Socialtext. (2006, December). Socialtext unplugged. Retrieved May 26, 2007 from

Xiao, Y., Baker, P. B., O’Shea, P. M., & Allen, D. W. (2007, April), Wikibook as college textbook: a case study of college students' participation in writing, editing and using a Wikibook as primary course textbook. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Education Research Association, Chicago, IL.



Effective use of wikis requires a shift in thinking for both teachers and students. What are some of the attitude barriers to effective use of wikis in the classroom?

RESPONSE #1 (Rose)

The dynamics of traditional teaching and learning are completely altered with the use of wikis in the classroom. Notions of authorship and ownership are challenged as students work collaboratively on assignments. Many students resist the idea of open collaboration as they do not want anyone “messing with” their work. It is difficult for students to let go of ownership of a piece of writing. At the same time students may feel uncomfortable with making changes in their classmates’ work even when they clearly see the need for them. Today’s students are programmed to “keep their eyes on their own paper” and at first this type of collaboration might feel a bit like cheating, making students reluctant to fully participate.

Students’ lack of confidence can also inhibit active participation in a wiki. Most students are unaccustomed to having such a wide audience for their work and will be reluctant to post to the wiki. Easing students in with small groups, small assignments, and time for experimentation may help to adjust student attitudes and prepare them for effective wiki authoring and editing.

Wikis represent a paradigm shift for many teachers as well. Teachers accustomed to being in control of the learning environment will have to learn to relinquish some of that control to allow their wiki to be truly effective. Changing the tool without changing the practice will not lead to a collaborative, interactive, learning adventure. When students are provided a reasonable amount of autonomy, they develop responsibility for their own learning.



How can professional educators and scholars ensure the Wikibook’s quality (Credibility), when students engage to create a collaborative textbook by using Wiki technology? Is credibility the only element of quality one should explore?

Essay Response (Question 2)


Since credibility is, in practice, based independently on the professional reputations of those persons who deem something credible, drawing conclusions about a Wikibook's credibility (or lack thereof) can only happen after a social shift renders Wiki material acceptable as academic materials in the eyes of academics. A better method of judging a Wikibook's overall "quality" may be to determine the extent to which it meets its desired outcomes—in the case of educational wikibooks, the extent to which it helps the students learn the desired material in an effective and efficient manner. Yet another important consideration is whether or not wikibooks yield unexpected learning outcomes. For instance, even the most poorly written wikibook may serve as a profitable learning tool for students of technology or English composition.