Brainstorm: A College Student’s Guide to Wikis

I had a brainstorm yesterday for a book-length project, and, while it isn’t strictly a medieval topic (although could have a tangental medieval pedagogy angle attached to it), I feel the desire to expound on it here – just to see if it has legs – even if they are of the awkward-if-eager-baby-giraffe variety at the moment.

I have mentioned before that I have become something of the point person  on campus for wikis in the classroom, having given a few workshops and having received a teaching innovation grant to purchase an instructional library and equipment to support and promote the use of wikis. In case the wiki phenomenon hasn’t blipped on to your radar yet, I’ll define, especially as, for many, “wiki” invokes Wikipedia, and that’s not a site we typically like to invite into our classrooms. Wikis, however, are collaborative web sites that allow for the simple creation of new online spaces, revision of updates, and manipulation of content. Any participant can add data or comment on the generally interlinking pages. They are easy to set up and easy for users with any level of technological expertise to manage. Blackboard – if your university has purchased the wiki tool – has its own internal one, which is what I am currently using.

The benefits of these spaces? By encouraging students to work in an experimental, low-pressure environment (I say this now, but I may contradict myself later in this post), instructors can hear voices that occasionally are stifled in the classroom. Wikis have allowed me to understand student interests as well as progress and adjust my courses accordingly. I am particularly interested in increasing the time students spend in discussion and reflection both inside and outside of the classroom. I can also require more ongoing work, especially writing, from my students without substantially adding to my grading load.

So, with that, which is far more background than is probably necessary, I return to my brainstorm. One of my students came in to my office to talk to me about an upcoming assignment. He looked at my bookshelf, on which I have the library of works I purchased with the innovation grant. He became momentarily excited, thinking that he might borrow a book on wikis to help improve his participation on ours. I had to explain that they were for instructors and wouldn’t be that helpful for students wanting ideas or needing guidance on how to interact with this new classroom presence.

Which is when the light bulb went off.

A College Student’s Guide to Wikis.

(This is where you need to stop reading and write me a scathing comment if this idea has already been done to death. I have looked, but I haven’t found anything like I am envisioning. Still, I haven’t done a full search yet.)

At Fitchburg State, wikis are as yet an unknown quantity for students. They are relatively new in pedagogy in general. It seems to me that a great deal of time has been spent on educating instructors on what they are and how to use them, but the same energy has not been expended to provide a guide for college students who either struggle with the concept or who wish to improve their overall participation in this essentially fluid, creative environment.

Already, I have encountered any number of different kinds of reactions to the wiki. My first thought is that I might structure the guide by “type” of student.



Downright Terrified.

Bare Minimum.


I doubt these are exactly the categories (names) that I want to use, but they will serve for the moment as examples. For each, then, the guide would provide advice, models, vignettes, etc., to aid the student. I imagine it being designed so that an instructor could copy specific, relevant sections depending on the need or also they could use it for their own edification of how to help certain students.

My ideal would be to recruit students to help me with sections, using them almost as the representative prototype – encouraging them to provide quotations, insight, etc. I would like it to be interdisciplinary, but I don’t know how feasible that would be. I would have to track down other instructors in other disciplines who are actually using wikis! Thus, it might end up being English or Humanities-focused.

On that same note, the project related to medieval pedagogy would be of a similar ilk, but perhaps more of an article, detailing the uses of wikis for this very specific discipline. I have found that they lend themselves well to providing context for medieval readings, adding a whole new level of interaction both inside and outside the classroom.

So that’s my brainstorm in a nutshell. What’s the verdict?


1 Comment

Filed under Non-Medieval, Professional stuff, Teaching, University

One response to “Brainstorm: A College Student’s Guide to Wikis

  1. jpsexton

    Speaking as someone who falls very much into the “technology is mostly an explosion waiting to happen” school of thought, I’m intrigued by the idea that there even exists a useful technology that students might struggle with as much as we (I) do.
    It strikes me that the real need here might be for a guide to understanding how to use/perform wiki work in a productive manner, i.e., as your professor is hoping you’ll use it: What sort of work does a successful page or project entail, which details are necessary and which are likely to be perceived as window dressing, how to cite sources in a responsible manner in an online environment, etc. Guides like this exist for writing papers and presenting in-class projects, but if one exists for technology-based interactive research, I’m not aware of it.
    In other words, go for it!

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