Wiki & the Conversation

Today in my history classes, I had my students close their laptops for a few minutes, and we talked about what they were learning.

We did not talk about ancient Rome much.

We did talk about the nature of learning via wiki.  They mentioned that they were hunting through Wikipedia a lot more carefully, looking for answers and photographs that answered the questions I posed to them.  They were looking at their classmates’ work more frequently.  They were adding definitions to words they didn’t know.

They mentioned how happy they were that their work was lighter — to carry their computers room-to-room, instead of a massive textbook.  They liked reading primary sources, with Wikipedia as a backup, and the work of their classmates, instead of a bad textbook.


Tonight’s assignment was to add 10 definitions to our classroom wiki, to correct ten grammatical errors, and to add ten links.  I’m able to monitor the wiki from home, and I can see that no one has added anything tonight.  I find this dismaying.


In class today, a group of students discovered that YouTube was unblocked, and were watching funny videos instead of working on our class projects.  On the one hand, I understand you can’t focus on classwork all the time.  You do need some time to relax and re-focus.

But this amounts to a lot of wasted energy.  And I wonder how to bring us back on track.  I know my school’s metrics-and-assessment administrator, and he’ll not be pleased if he thinks my class is goofing off.  I have to get these guys back on track.

At the same time, I feel like a new kind of learning is going on, and I don’t know how to describe it or assess it yet.  I know I’ve done a lot less lecturing.  I know I’ve done a lot more mini-lessons — how to edit HTML code, how to add a wiki link, how to add a picture, how to search the wiki for a specific page.  These mini-lessons are adding up, and a lot of kids are now teaching each other to use these new tools.  I’m the leaven in their dough, or I was; now they’re teaching each other.

When does this hit critical mass?  How do I accelerate it?


  1. I faced a similar dilemma when I first began using wikis and technology in my classroom. There were times when I felt more like a computer technology teacher than an actual history teacher.

    As you stated in your post, one of the greatest benefits of integrating technology into the classroom is how it has enabled me to do less lecturing and allowed my students to take more responsibility for their learning.

    Here is how I utilize wikis in my U.S. History class.

  2. I make similar experiences. Quite a parallel one, in fact. On an assignment in the wiki, one student had done almost all of the answers. The others read through them and decided that homework was done.

    But of course, the answers had to be improved, formal and language errors had to be corrected etc.

    They didn’t look carefully enough to notice. There’s certainly the need to develop a different learning culture when working with wikis and the like. Editing someone else’s text, checking its structure and formal aspects are not things most students are used to. But they’re going to benefit from practicing such skills.

    In my retweet I said: “content need to be there” – let me clarify: From your last paragraph, it sounds like they learned a lot about the technical side, in that paragraph you make no mention of the actual content of the history class. That’s what I alluded to – I have learned myself that I sometimes focus on the methods and the tools – I wanted to stress that the main focus has to be the content of the class with the methods and the tools playing a supporting role.

    Naturally, I didn’t mean to offend you. To be polite and precise, sometimes more than 140 characters are needed.

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