What is a wiki?
Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants
Wiki vandalism
Wikis in the classroom
Wiki ideas for math
Wiki ideas for science
Wiki ideas for social studies
Wiki ideas for language arts
Wiki ideas for other subjects
K-12 wiki projects
Create a wiki website in under 5 minutes

What is a wiki?

According to Nielsen/NetRatings, Wikipedia is now the Web's third-most-popular news and information source, beating the sites of CNN and Yahoo News. A wiki technology was developed by Ward Cunningham, a programmer. The name "wiki" derives from the Hawaiian word which means "quick." At Honolulu International Airport counter employee told Ward Cunningham to take the "Wiki Wiki" shuttle bus line that runs between the airport's terminals. The first wiki, WikiWikiWeb, was created on March 25, 1995.

A wiki is a website that allows the visitors to edit and change available content, to share information with others and to collaborate in developing a project. The term wiki also refers to wiki technology used to create such a website.

A wiki can be revised at any time. It saves all the earlier versions of a document. Users can read an article, go to discussions, edit the page or view the history of editing. This ensures that information is not deleted intentionally or unintentionally.

Six years ago, Jimmie Wales, an American Internet entrepreneur known most for his work with various wiki-related projects, who started an online encyclopedia called Nupedia.com, with content to be written by experts. But after attracting only a few dozen articles, Wales started Wikipedia.

For the first year, Wales paid the expenses out of his own pocket. Now the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that supports Wikipedia, is financed primarily through donations, most in the $50 to $100 range.

As the donations have risen, so have the costs. The foundation's annual budget doubled in the last year, to $1.5 million, and traffic has grown sharply. Search engines like Google, which often turn up Wikipedia entries at the top of their results, are a big contributor to the site's traffic, but it is increasingly a first stop for knowledge seekers. (Katie Hafner “Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy,” New York Times, June 17, 2006.)

Wales has explained his motivations about Wikipedia. In an interview with Slashdot, he said, "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing." (Wikipedia)

In late 2005, Wales was criticized for editing his own biography in a way some characterized as "revisionist history." Wales had removed references to Larry Sanger as the co-founder of Wikipedia. He had to apologize for editing his own biography. (Wikipedia)

Today, there are many different wiki software available from free, open source software like MediaWiki to paid tools like Atlassian and SocialText .

Wikis don't require any complicated training. Any user can create an account and in minutes be able to publish an editable page. Wikis thrive on the community contributions.

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Marc Prensky wrote in his article "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants" (2001) that our students have changed radically. Today's students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach. Digital immigrants were educated in highly structured environment with a lecture based lessons. Digital natives accustomed to multitasking and thrive in fast-paced, collaborative, and free environment. (Stewart Mader)

Wikis are ideal for digital natives. They support online collaboration on projects or sharing of photos, videos, and podcasts online.


The open philosophy of most wikis—of allowing anyone to edit content—does not ensure that editors are well intentioned. Wiki vandalism is a problem for wikis. The approach of making damage easy to undo rather than attempting to prevent
damage has been characterized as soft security. Many editors of wiki sites tend to have good intentions, although on larger wiki sites, vandalism can go unnoticed for a period of time. Another bothersome feature in wikis is trolling. A troll is a person who enters an established community such as an online discussion forum and intentionally tries to cause disruption, often in the form of posting messages that are inflammatory, insulting, or off-topic, with the intent of provoking a reaction from others. (Wikipedia)

The entries for Einstein and Ms. Aguilera were among 82 that administrators had "protected" from all editing, mostly because of repeated vandalism or disputes over what should be said. Another 179 entries — including those for George W. Bush, Islam and Adolf Hitler — were "semi-protected," open to editing only by people who had been registered at the site for at least four days. Other semi-protected subjects were Opus Dei, Tony Blair, and sex. (List of protected websites)

Intentional mischief can go undetected for long periods. In the article about John Seigenthaler Sr., who served in the Kennedy administration, a suggestion that he was involved in the assassinations of both John F. and Robert Kennedy was on the site for more than four months before Mr. Seigenthaler discovered it. He wrote an op-ed article in USA Today about the incident, calling Wikipedia "a flawed and irresponsible research tool." (Katie Hafner “Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy,” New York Times, June 17, 2006.)

Wikis at Motorola

Colleges, universities, and organizations are using wikis far more than the K-12 community right now.

Wiki usage in enterprise further proliferate when Microsoft ships a wiki feature in Office 2007 and SharePoint 2007 next year and IBM includes a wiki technology in a social computing product code-named Ventura, due in the first half of 2007.

At Motorola, 68,000 employees are regular wiki users. Wikis were introduced to Motorola 18 months ago along with blogging and FAQ features in Open Text collaboration software. As such, wikis are one of several important pieces of Motorola’s collaboration infrastructure, which includes instant messages (12 million per day) and blogs (2,600 corporatewide).

After six months, Motorola’s wiki usage grew to a total of 500; after a year, there were 1,000 wikis. The number currently stands at 3,200. Altogether, Motorola’s collaboration infrastructure contains 17TB of searchable data. (Veni, vidi, wiki. By: Gibson, Stan. eWeek, 11/20/2006, Vol. 23 Issue 46, p22-28, 4p; (AN 23185427))

According to Mitchell Kapor, a computer industry pioneer who is president of the Open Source Applications Foundation,
knowledge creation will depend much less on individual heroism and more on collaboration. Wikipedia has become a symbol of collaborative effort on the Web. (Katie Hafner “Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy,” New York Times, June 17, 2006.)

Wiki ideas for most subjects and grade levels from TeachersFirst

  • Study guides or tutorials created by student groups for themselves and peers; each group prepares the guide for one aspect of the unit or responsibility rotates; one unit guide per semester.
  • Vocabulary lists and examples of the words in use, contributed by students (ongoing throughout the year).
  • The wiki as the organizational and intellectual epicenter of your class (see the Aristotle experiment)- Wiki all assignments, projects, collaboration, rubrics, etc.
  • Products of research projects, especially collaborative group projects: civil war battles, artistic movements, the American electoral process, diseases and prevention, etc. Remember that the products do not have to be simply writing. They can include computer files, images, videos, etc. Creating an organizational structure for the content is an important part if the project.
  • A place to log review information for important concepts throughout the year, prior to taking AP test or final exam. Students add to it throughout the year and even from year to year.
  • A travelogue from a field trip or non-field trip that the class would have liked to take as a culmination of a unit of study: Our (non) trip to the Capital and what we (wish) we saw.
  • Articles by students who miss school for family trips, written about their travels on the class wiki, relating what they see to concepts learned before they left: mammals I saw on the way to Disney, geometric shapes in the Magic Kingdom, the most cost-effective lunches while traveling, etc. Remember: hotels usually have Internet access. Make the world a part of your classroom!
  • FAQ (or NSFAQ- Not So Frequently Asked Questions) wiki on your current unit topic. Have students post KWL entries and continue adding questions that occur to them as the unit progresses. As other students add their “answers,” the wiki will evolve into a student-created guide to the topic. Example: Civil War FAQ or Biomes FAQ. You may find that the FAQ process can entirely supplant traditional classroom activities, especially if you seed a few questions as the teacher. (TeachersFirst)

Wiki ideas for math from TeachersFirst

  • A calculus wiki for those wicked-long problems so the class can collaborate on how to solve them.
  • A geometry wiki for students to share and rewrite proofs.
  • Applied math wiki: students write about and illustrate places where they actually used math to solve a problem.
  • Procedures wiki: groups explain the steps to a mathematical procedure.
  • Pure numbers wiki: student illustrate numbers in as many ways possible: as graphics to count, as mathematical expressions, etc. Elementary students can show graphic illustrations of multiplication facts, for example. (TeachersFirst)

Wiki ideas for science from TeachersFirst

  • A student-made glossary of scientific terms with illustrations and definitions added by the class (using original digital photos or those from other online Creative Commons sources, such as Flickr). Linking to separate pages with detailed information would allow the main glossary list to remain reasonably short.
  • A taxonomy of living things with information about each branch as you study Biology over a full year.
  • Designs of experiments (and resulting lab reports) for a chemistry class.
  • Observations from field sites, such as water-testing in local streams, weather observations from across your state, or bird counts during migratory season. Collaborate with other schools.
  • Detailed and illustrated descriptions of scientific processes: how mountains form, etc.
  • A physics wiki for those wicked-long problems so the class can collaborate on how to solve them. (TeachersFirst)

Wiki ideas for social studies from TeachersFirst

  • A mock-debate between candidates, in wiki form (composed entirely based on research students have done on the candidate positions).
  • A collaborative project with students in another location or all over the world: A day in the life of an American/Japanese/French/Brazilian/Mexican family. (This one would require finding contacts in other locations, of course).
  • A collection of propaganda examples during a propaganda unit.
  • Detailed and illustrated descriptions of governmental processes: how a bill becomes a law, etc.
  • A “fan club” for your favorite president(s) or famous female(s).
  • A virtual tour of your school as you study “our community” in elementary grades.
  • A local history wiki, documenting historical buildings, events, and people within your community. Include interviews with those who can tell about events from the World War II era or the day the mill burned down, etc. Allow adult community members to add their input by signing up for “membership” in the wiki. This project could continue on for years and actually be a service to the community. Perhaps the area historical society would provide some assistance, if you can get them to think beyond the closed stacks of their protected collections!
  • A document-the-veterans wiki for those in your community who served in the military. Interview them and photograph them, including both their accounts and your students’ documentation and personal reflections on the interviews.
  • A travel brochure wiki: use wikis to “advertise” for different literary, historical, or cultural locations and time periods: Dickens’ London, fourteenth century in Italy in Verona and Mantua ( Romeo and Juliet), The Oklahoma Territory, The Yukon during the Gold Rush, Ex-patriot Paris in the Twenties, etc. (TeachersFirst)

Wiki ideas for language arts from TeachersFirst

  • A continuing story in which your class adds sentence suing new vocabulary words and writes and adventure story in collaboration with the entire class. They will NEVER forget the meaning of the words as they read and re-read their story each time they visit to add. The story can be a single version or branch off into multiple versions and endings.
  • A collection of mythological allusions found in “real life” while studying Greek/Roman mythology: Ex. Mercury cars- why are they so named?
  • An online writer’s workshop or poetry workshop with suggested revisions from classmates. Start with drafts and collaborate. Make sure students use the notes tab to explain why they make changes.
  • Summary and discussion of a scene of a play, a poem, or even chapter by chapter of a novel, with groups taking responsibility for different portions
  • Literary analysis of actual text on the wiki- with links to explanations of literary devices, a glossary to explain vocabulary, etc. Try it with a scene from Shakespeare or a sonnet! Each student or group could be responsible for a portion, then ALL can edit and revise to improve the collaborative project. You will be amazed how much they will find and argue.
  • Collaborative book reviews or author studies
  • Creative projects, such as a script for a Shakespeare scene reset in the 21st century
  • A travel brochure wiki- use wikis to “advertise” for different literary, historical, or cultural locations and time periods: Dickens’ London, fourteenth century in Italy in Verona and Mantua ( Romeo and Juliet), The Oklahoma Territory, The Yukon during the Gold Rush, Ex-patriot Paris in the Twenties, etc.
  • Character resume wiki: have literature classes create a resume wikis for characters in a novel or play you are reading. Both creativity and documented evidence from the literature are required (use notes to indicate the evidence from the text). (TeachersFirst)

Wiki ideas for other subjects from TeachersFirst

  • A virtual art gallery with ongoing criticism and responses regarding artwork. found online or originals from your art classroom (a cwitiqwiki).
  • A catalog of musical styles or musical instruments.
  • Collections of recipes for a home ec class.
  • A collaborative project with speakers of a foreign language and in another location: A day in the life of an American/Japanese/French/German/Mexican family. (This one would require finding contacts in other locations, of course).
  • A movie review wiki for teens hoping to find the best date flick? (a Flickr?).
  • A humor study wiki for gifted students trying to learn the fine art of spoof and satire, including visual as well as verbal.
  • Collections/montages of examples of an abstract concept, such as “surrealism”- why do you can this surrealist?- explain/refute.
  • An orientation wiki for the next students to come to your middle or high school (Everything you Need to Knowiki).
  • Make a nutrition wiki with ideas for ways to eat healthy at local restaurants (a nutwition wiki?).
  • A careers wiki. Have students interview people about their jobs and write up descriptions of different career paths. Invite the workers to add their own input and pictures, as well. Keep this wiki as part of an alumni project for your high school students investigating school-to-work options.
  • Buy a Car wiki- interest, financing, car dealer info, car model reviews, etc (in driver ed, math, or business class).
  • Consumer wiki- student articles on consumer issues and warnings, including the local mall, area businesses, even cell phone plans. This is great for middle schoolers learning about consumer rights.
  • Get a Job wiki- share info on good/bad places to work and why.
  • Let students create a “study hall” wiki for their assignments and prep for upcoming tests in your class and others (credit to the students of Vicki A. Davis-- **Cool Cat Teacher** --Westwood for this one).
  • Wonderstudent Wiki: As preparation for college or job applications, have groups of students create a fictitious student-resume wiki, demonstrating good skills at “selling” one’s talents and accomplishments. Invite potential employers or college admissions officers to respond to the wikis, if possible.
  • A space for ESL/ELL students to tell stories of their experiences learning a new culture. Their writing skills will be the winners, and they can edit and help each other to improve. One possibility: write it like an Amelia Bedelia story (the character to takes every idiom literally, cutting up sponges to make sponge cake, etc. (TeachersFirst)

Wiki projects

The Aristotle Experiment (High School English)

A continuing tennis ball story (elementary)

Westwood Schools Computer Science wiki (grades 8, 9, 10, integrated with a class blog)

High school online (collaborative writing)

A science wiki page from High School Online

Book study wiki based on Patricia Beatty’s Turn Homeward Hannalee

AP Calculus Wiki Solutions Manual

WikiVille: Project Global Village

Flat Classroom project (International School Dhaka, Bangladesh and Westwood Schools, Camilla Georgia)

Seymour (Grade 9-12 Wiki for Web Design Class)

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1. Nielsen/NetRatings,
2. A Wiki-based book edited by Stewart Mader Using Wiki in Education
3. Stewart Mader, "Four Letter Words: how wiki and edit are making the Internet a better learning tool
4. Marc Prensky's article "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants"
5. Examples of educational wikis
6. Veni, vidi, wiki. By: Gibson, Stan. eWeek, 11/20/2006, Vol. 23 Issue 46, p22-28, 4p; (AN 23185427)
7. Katie Hafner “Growing Wikipedia Refines Its 'Anyone Can Edit' Policy,” New York Times, June 17, 2006
8. TeachersFirst
9. Wikispaces
10. Fot Teachers New to Wikis
11. Educational Wiki Sites