Wikis for learning and teaching

Collective writing is a critical 21st Century Skill. Wikis are the primary tool for teaching this skill today. What resources exist to help teachers use wikis in the classroom? Recently this issue has been bubbling up on several places.

The Wall Street Journal had an article on the discussions behind the Wikis. For educational purposes there is more meat in the discussion threads for classroom conversation and interesting opportunities for students to engage actively with content than there often is in the articles themselves. Money quote:

“But discussion pages are also where Wikipedians discuss and debate what an article should or shouldn’t say.

This is where the fun begins. You’d be astonished at the sorts of things editors argue about, and the prolix vehemence they bring to stating their cases.”

639653_office_desk.jpgWill Richardson over at Weblogg-Ed followed up on this with a post that talked specifically about what this means for classroom use. His take:

“I keep thinking what a necessary part of the writing process this type of negotiation is going to be as we collaborate more and more on wikis and documents and videos and whatever else. When I ask teachers whether their students are writing employing truly collaborative practices (not simply “cooperative”) and whether they are writing either alone or together in hypertext environments (which I also believe is a part of writing literacy these days), blank stares usually ensue.

Teaching Wikipedia gives us the opportunity to do both, especially if we tune into those back channel conversations.”

Lest you think this only applies to existing classroom content there are some folks working to integrate Wikis with Virtual Worlds so that you can have a parallel discussion/construction while experiencing the world. John Rice over at the Educational Games Blog notes:

“a wiki, can be combined with commercial gaming content. The possibilities seem very interesting. A professor can assign students tasks in a MMO, and the students can team up on producing a document in a wiki at the same time they are engaged in the MMO.”

But it isn’t all roses. Wikis can be gamed by those with an ideological or political angle. It was recently discovered that the CIA and voting maching manufacturer Diebold were editing entries. Even Fox News was unbalancing things by editing articles to make themselves look better and opponents look worse.

But of course that goes back to the Journal’s point – the discussion threads where the knowledge is constructed are some of the most interesting and informative parts of the site. There are also where you would learn about who is editing a piece and what changes have been made over time.

Hmm – I wonder if there is a word for that constructive kind of learning….