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Selecting the Right Technology Tool: Wikis, Discussion Boards, Journals, and Blogs (Essays on Teaching Excellence) Part One

Posted by on Thursday, February 23, 2012 in News.

Selecting the Right Technology Tool: Wikis, Discussion Boards, Journals, and Blogs
Tami J. Eggleston, McKendree University
The POD Network Teaching Excellence Essay Series, 2010-11

In this essay, Eggleston discusses how daunting many faculty find selecting the right technology tool can be. To help with this task, she compares common electronic tools and uses Bloom’s Cognitive Domain Taxonomy (1956) and Chickering and Ehrmann’s Seven Principles of Good Teaching (1996) to connect these tools with skill development teaching goals and effective teaching practices. You can read the entire article or browse CFT resources on technology and learning including information on blogs and wikis.

In this blog post, we’ll expand on Eggleston’s essay and offer you an overview of wikis. Look for our second post, on using blogs in your courses, tomorrow.

What is a wiki?

A wiki is “a collaborative tool that allows students to contribute and modify one or more pages of course related materials.” Wikis are collaborative in nature and facilitate community-building within a course. Essentially, a wiki is a web page with an open-editing system.  Wikis in Plain English is a short movie describing what a wiki is and how it can be used in a collaborative process.  According to Eggleston wikis provide a vehicle for exercising most, if not all, of Bloom’s ‘higher order thinking’ activities.

In many classrooms, the instructor provides most of the course content. With wikis, students have an opportunity to create – together – much of the course content.  Wikis shift your students from ‘consumer of knowledge’ to ‘creators of knowledge,’ which is a great way to encourage your students to develop critical thinking skills, to learn from one another, and to improve their ability to work in groups. There are many benefits of using wikis and you can probably think of other reasons your students would benefit from using this collaboration tool.

When to use a wiki

As you’re beginning to see, wikis are ideal for group projects that emphasize collaboration and editing. Some common uses include:

  • Mini research projects in which the wiki serves as documentation of student work
  • Collaborative annotated bibliographies where students add summaries and critiques about course-related readings
  • Compiling a manual or glossary of useful terms or concepts related to the course, or even a guide to a major course concept

Curious about how other instructors are using wikis? Take a look at these real life examples:

  • Lou Rossi, Professor at the University of Delaware, used wikis in his Calculus undergraduate course and his Applied Mathematics graduate course. Using a wiki helps students spend time on solving problems outside of the classroom in a motivating collaborative environment. Publishing in a wiki gets students aware of the fact that they are writing for an audience, which usually results in using common mathematical language and formulas instead of plain English. See more about his wiki use here.
  • Columbia University Lecturer Jutta Schmiers-Heller created two separate wikis (one in the fall semester and one in the spring semester) to help the same set of Intermediate I German language students practice and recycle vocabulary and grammar, and learn culture in a fun, interactive way. Both wikis were embedded in the course curriculum and used for specific projects.  See more about her wiki use here.
  • Associate professor of English at Barnard, Derrick Higginbotham, used his course wiki as a presentation space and tool for text analysis for students. His course assignments included a close reading of texts within the wiki followed by student discussion in the discuss section of the wiki page. In the discussion section of each page, students responded to each others thoughts and analysis of the text, thus creating discourse outside of class and fueling the discussion in class. See more about his wiki use here.
  • Professor Patricia Shapley of the University of Illinois Chemistry Department created a wiki with content developed from her undergraduate chemistry students. The site – Middle School Chemistry includes nicely done lessons on chemistry-specific. Middle School Chemistry highlights a very public, outreach website use of a wiki system.
  • Ben Miller, of the University of New South Wales, was runner-up for the Edublog Awards 2009 award for Best Educational Wiki. You can see is wiki on Censorship and Responsibility here.
  • Ruth Page, of Birmingham City University, has written a case study on her use of wikis to support small group work. She provides insight on how she asked students to use wikis to summarize small group discussions, giving greater value to small group interaction and building an online archive of class activities. Read her case study here.

Why use a wiki?

Eggleston suggests that one of the primary reasons to use wikis is because they help your students reach Bloom’s higher order skills – things like creating and evaluating. Additionally, wikis achieve many of Chickering and Ehrmann good teaching practices including cooperation between students, active learning, prompt feedback from peers, time on task, the articulation of high expectations, and support for diverse talents.

Practically, we also think that wikis are a good tool to use because access and editing can be controlled by the instructor thus making a wiki public or private. Additionally, wikis are accessible online and include user friendly features that require little training. It’s likely your students will know exactly what to do!

Ready to get started?

As with blogs, the possibilities for using wikis to engage students both inside and outside of the classroom are immense.  Don’t hesitate to contact the CFT if you are part of the Vanderbilt instructional community and would like to talk to one of our consultants about incorporating wikis into your teaching. Be sure to check out Eggleston’s entire article and browse CFT resources on technology and learning including our recently update guide to blogs & wikis.


Essays on Teaching Excellence is a series of eight short and succinct scholarly essays published by the POD Network on an annual basis, free of charge. The essays present innovative viewpoints on college and university instruction. Written in concise and non-technical language, and supported by research, the essays seek to assist instructors in reflecting upon and refining their practice of teaching to achieve the results they seek – students learning to the best of their abilities. You can view the archive of these essays on the POD website.

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