Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wiki or Website: Clarifying for Teachers

Many years ago, when the World Wide Web was still a toddler, the wiki was invented. What set the wiki website apart from other websites, was the intended use of the site. It was meant to be collaborative. In this case a programmer named Ward Cunningham wanted to create a space where programmers of a certain language could share their ideas and work together. He coined the term 'wiki' and the rest is history. (source)

It wasn't until several years later that the world's most popular wiki, Wikipedia, would be born. Wikipedia put wikis on the map. However, while many people understand the general concept, there can still be confusion about what a wiki is and how it differs from just having a website. Why is there such confusion? Quite possibly it is that the end result of a true wiki will be the appearance of a website that just looks like content. Another leading reason may be that tools such as Wikispaces and Google Sites allow people to create and manage their website on their own or collaboratively and the name doesn't actually matter. In other words, the term is being used, but the definition, and purpose behind the wiki is not being fully realized. For teachers going through professional development, you may run into this dilemma yourself. 

How do you know if you are creating a wiki or a general website? First, ask yourself these questions. The answers will, in most cases, clarify what you are doing and then we can help you get to what you want to be doing.

1. Is the website content created, maintained, edited and managed strictly by the teacher?
If 'yes', then you have a general website. There is nothing wrong with this and it is the most popular form of website on the Internet, especially for classroom teachers. Even if you have used a tool called wiki-something, that alone doesn't make your website a wiki. Even if you had students create accounts to access your website, that does not make it a wiki. Keep going...
2. Is the website content created, maintained, and edited by the teacher, but allows students to click through to interactive websites?
This is still a general website. Providing easy access for students to interact with other websites' content is a good step forward in how you are taking advantage of the Internet, but your website does not yet have the features of a wiki.
3. Is the website content created, maintained, and edited by multiple teachers? There are two possibilities here.
A: The teachers are sharing responsibility for a classroom general website intended for student use. While this is demonstrating good collaboration between professionals, the full intent for a wiki may not be realized here. 
B: The teachers are creating a resource in which they share curriculum, best practices, project ideas, and more. The goal is for the teachers to collaborate and to become better at teaching. This is not a site intended for student use. It is an example of wiki! 
4. Is the website content created, maintained, and edited by teachers and students? Two possibilities:
 A: The teacher is providing a website with some interactive space in the website. This could be a blog, student discussion spaces, or other specifically purposed pages for students to edit. This is close to a wiki. In the true sense, it is not open to the extent of a wiki (for example, the teacher content pages may not be open for student editing), but it is providing a clear interactive platform for students and teachers. For those diving into wikis for the first time, this might be the perfect place to start.
B: The teacher is providing a website space in which students are equal partners in developing and editing content placed throughout the website. Perhaps it is a study guide for a semester of calculus, or perhaps it place to aggregate resources for reading 1984. Whatever the purpose of the collaboration, the end result is a true wiki. Certainly, some level of control can be maintained by the owner of the site, but giving as much openness as possible, encourages the full participation in site management by students and teachers alike.
So, what do you want? What will it take for you to get there? In today's age of content consumption and creation, it is important to look for ways to encourage students to be creators. Even if the purpose of a wiki for your classroom eludes you, bring the quest to your students, find out what they think. The next time you are on another educational website that appears to be managed by a teacher, ask yourself it is actually being managed by just one teacher, or perhaps by several, or even a classroom of students.

From Google:


A Web site developed collaboratively by a community of users, allowing any user to add and edit content.

Chad McGowan is a high school technology teacher and professional development specialist in educational technology. Over the past 16 years, Chad has taught a variety of math and computer courses for grades 7-12. Since 2000, Chad has been guiding other professionals, pre-k-12, in educational technology. Follow Chad on Twitter @ahstechteacher and through this blog.