Archive for the 'Wikis' Category

Using Wikis to Teach Writing

Over the past year I’ve really learned how to leverage wikis as a learning tool and place to host meaningful learning activities online.  This post assumes that you have already created a wiki site in WetPaint. Some people don’t like WetPaint because it’s editing quirks, but it seems like one of the better web based wiki aps with WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) features. Here’s my attempt to share my knowledge.  Although these activities are geared around teaching writing they structure of the wiki pages can be applied to almost any subject.

If you are not sure how to set up your wiki refer to the instructions on the WetPaint FAQs page here:

The following steps will explain three page designs that can be used to teach writing:

  • Analyze a piece of writing
  • Demonstrate a writing skill
  • Writing in collaboration with others

Analyze a piece of writing:

  1. Students can analyze a piece of writing on the wiki page.  First, add a wiki page. If you are not sure how to add a page refer to these instructions on the WetPaint FAQs page: . Title your wiki page as you see fit.
  2. Add you own instructions to the top of the page.
  3. Below the instructions, insert a table with one column and one row. This is where you will insert the piece of writing you wish the students to analyze. If you are not sure how to insert a table, refer to these instructions on the WetPaint FAQs page: Once you have created the table insert the text of the writing you wish the students to analyze. Refer the image for an example.
  4. Create a second table that allows students to log their analysis of the writing. The can make individual points per row in the table. They must always label their comments with their name and identifier. Refer to this image for an example of a table. Save your wiki page.
Click the image to view a full sized version
Click the image to view a full sized version

Demonstrate a writing skill

Students can also practice a writing skill. Create a new wiki page and title it appropriately. Add your instructions to the top of the page.

Below the instructions, create a table with three columns and enough cells for your students to add a written sample plus one additional cell. See the image below for an example.

Students will write their sample writing piece in each available cell. They should identify their writing by including their name or initials at the end.

Click to view the full-sized image

Writing in collaboration with others

Writing in collaboration with others in a wiki can be fun as long as the rules are clear to all participants You should restrict the number of people who can collaborate on a piece to no more than six.  You can create several versions of the same page and assign groups of students to each version.

  1. Create a version of the page and make multiple copies as needed.
  2. Assign a color to each student in the group. This is the color that they will use to add their writing.
  3. Establish a set of rules for the students including information on how to do the following:
    • Edit others work
    • Providing suggestions
    • Taking turns editing the page


Wikis: it’s okay to make mistakes here

The Impact of Social Learning - Click to view the Article

The Impact of Social Learning - Click to view the Article "Minds on Fire"

More and more, I’ve come to see wikis (collaborative websites) as informal ‘playgrounds’ where people can share, learn and collaborate together. I’m not really referring to Wikipedia, because it’s seen as a semi-formal/formal resource. Now I don’t want to get into the veracity or the level of formality associated with Wikipedia, that’s not the main focus of my thoughts here.

I’m talking about wikis as an active place for a ‘learning community’ to share, build and collaborate to learn information. An example of this is a wiki set up by a classroom teacher of any subject where students (and the teacher) can build their store of knowledge on a subject together. Note, ‘grown ups’ in the workplace can use this in a similar fashion (see the last examples). Here are a bunch of sample scenarios:

1.) History/Social Studies Class – develops a section in their wiki on each of the topics they cover in class. Teams of students are responsible for updating the wiki with information on a particular subject. Class invites another history class from a different part of the country or world to contribute to some of their pages and volunteers to contribute to the other class’s wiki in return.

2.) College Physics Course – shares information they gather on particular phenomena. Smaller teams work together on the wiki to develop papers on particular projects. The wiki is used as a place to collaborate and develop a draft.

3.) Elementary School Class – learns about punctuation. The have a page for each of the different rules of punctuation. Each student contributes to the rule page by writing their own correct example of usage.

4.) Hi-school English Class – students work to write scenes of a play that parodies the work of a featured playwright or author. For, example they create a modernized version of Hamlet.

5.)Marketing team – uses wikis as an ongoing brainstorming area for throwing out random ideas to explore.

6.)Software Development Team – uses wiki to document issues and successes with code.

In these situations, the wiki is not serving as a definitive or formal resource for information. In my opinion, people should not throw hissy fits about making little mistakes like grammatical errors or broken links. People shouldn’t be afraid to make mistakes, because these mistakes can always be corrected. The more knowledgable wiki-users should be able to model and teach their less-experienced co-users how to correct these mistakes. Users and participants in the wiki work with each other to share ideas and grow the content without the fear of ‘making irreversible mistakes.’ The content in the wiki is ‘organic’: always changing, evolving and growing.

I have to admit, I’ve very excited about this aspect of knowledge-sharing and the idea that content grows and changes, because I firmly believe that this is where innovation, growth. But in the sense of content development, I think of Wikis as being the rehearsal for the ‘play’ that is print or documented information. Again, I also see it as a playground for learning.

Resources/More Info:

Using WetPaint to Create A Course Wiki

I recently developed a wiki for a course that’s being tested right now, and I have to tell you… I’m quite amazed at the possibilities of using wikis for collaborative learning. After developing the course objectives, the SME and I decided to use the wiki as an essential part of the students’ learning experience. The wiki would be available as a companion collaboration area and a sort of explorative playground for the students. As one of the course foci was on teaching using Web 2.0 tools, we wanted to help immerse students in the actual experience of working and collaborating with others online using a wiki.

We decided to use WetPaint as our wiki tool, because of the easy to use WYSIWYG (you know I have to spell this out in my head everytime I type it – arconymitis) features and the fact that it’s so easy to embed video.

Here were some of the applications and activities we included in the wiki:

  • A profile page – where students could share a picture, a few facts about themselves, favorite links (and possibly videos or other media). The idea is to help build community among the particpants and instructor
  • A collaborative link section – that includes the major concepts in the course. As the students did their own research on the web on topics of their choice they would continually add and share the links to (articles, documentation, media, forums, etc.) with their peers
  • A fun video sharing page – I included this because I wanted to introduce students to the idea of sharing video content… and the notion that sharing content online doesn’t just mean text, html pages, or print content
  • An image collage activity – the goal of this activity was to collect images that describe both Boomer and Net Generations. The students work with each other collectively to post their images to the wetpaint collage
  • Assorted graded activities where students collaborated on content
  • Use of the forum threads to discuss content

I took a few approaches to designing the wiki structure and layout of the pages for maxium student participation. Nothing stinks more, than when you build a learning application and no one uses it.

  • Keep everything as simple as possible – don’t put to many things on a page
  • Post instructions – (or links to FAQ)s if you even suspect that people will not understand how to do or use something (.i.e. use “Context Sensitive Help” whenever you can)
  • Model wiki behavior – Always provide examples and suggestions of contributions
  • Lay Easter eggs – in multiple places. I actually started planting interesting links and content in different places. Keep putting new things in different areas to keep the wiki live and growing
  • Make activities fun and light hearted – when necessary. Human beings (even stodgy adults) learn through play

The course seems to be going well. Students are contributing to the wiki so far, and I don’t think anyone has had any troubles with understanding how to use WetPaint (because it’s a fairly well designed tool). If you haven’t checked out WetPaint I seriously suggest that you take a look at it as a tool for collaborative learning.

An image of the “Community Links Page” – students share information on their research and finding on different topics


Our presentation on wikis and podcasts

The official abstract… of my presentation with Celeste Spencer.

Podcasting and wikis provide a vehicle for corporations to explore social and collaborative learning in a non-traditional manner, while including the major principles of adult learning theories. Wikis make an excellent collaborative tool for project communication allowing a team to conduct real-time content development with subject matter experts. Some of the benefits of using wikis this way include asynchronous collaboration between global teams and an easily accessible way for training developers and subject matter experts to work on content together. As a living project knowledge base, wikis provide a way for teams to collect and track collaboration from project inception to deployment and beyond. Podcasting is a convenient, easy, on-demand media tool that allows learners to find solutions or learn from the experience of others across the global divide. With minimal time and financial investment, podcasting allows for a rapid training deployment, experiential learning and the passing on of tribal knowledge.

This presentation will discuss examples of how a training team designed and applied wiki usage to collaborate and communicate during a project. Emphasis will be on how to leverage the features and the ‘informal’ nature of wikis to both the training team and subject matter expert’s advantage. This presentation will also recount how an instructional designer utilized podcasting to leverage U.S. based management and technical leadership expertise. Experiences and key learnings of senior leaders were captured and provided in a ‘pull’ format to employees in 2 international sites. Emphasis will be on the benefits of collecting leadership expertise and broadcasting it to a wider audience allowing the listeners an opportunity to learn from leaders regardless of their physical location.


(Ideally I’d like to post and .swf with audio of this presentation- considering my time and project constraints, I won’t be able to do this for a little bit)

Distance Learning Conference – My notes

I’m currently attending the Distance Learning Conference in Madison, WI (when I have time I will post the conference stats/details), and will post my notes and general reflections on the lectures that I attend.

Please note – these notes are not complete, I’ll fill out the details to some of these notes more as I go along.

Problem Based Learning for Online

Margaret Drew and Lori Mardis

Note: clicking on the image above will open up the full concept map.


Suggestion: Provide a collaborative lab project.

  • Provide something that’s broken and get people to fix it.
  • Multiple solutions to complex medical prob. (suggestion – use blog).
  • Idea-make people take an active task oriented solution
  • What…about using blogging to facilitate discussion/collaboration on the process.
  • Creation of individual learning scaffolds… learning is meaning full
  • Began with open-ended ill structured problem that initiated discussion.

Building Virtual Communities

Dr. Rena Pallof & Dr. Keith Pratt
Importance of online Community

Now, I’ve always suspected that it’s not okay to just dump and run when it comes to delivering online content, but now it seems that the novelty of this realization is becoming dated. This presentation highlighted the importance of instructors establishing a rapport and building a ‘community’ among the students. Big takeaway for me was the presenter’s suggestion not to openly communicate intent of building community because many learners will protest because they’re just in the class to get credit… and or NOT to make friends.

I believe that it’s important to demonstrate the value in learning from your peers by providing learning experiences that allow the students to do this. Those people who continue to want to be anti-social can do so, but not at the expense of the rest of the students. Also courses an the purveyors of a curriculum who employ this social approach to learning should continue to do studies and investigations to the efficacy of this method of learning and provide education on the importance of virtual communities.


Note: the “suggestions” are part of my notes to myself not the lecture.

Construction of Online learning community in which instructor is on the same level as students as a contributor… research says.

Intentional work on the development of presence online as well as other means which community can emerge are important… on student learning satisfaction.

Give the instructors and opportunity to communicate with students as a human level.

Suggestion: Encourage Office Hours / Train Instructors on how to do this effective

  • Need to be intentional and create the environment… you have to make the effort.
  • Aspects of learning:
    • Teaching students howt o inquire/construct knowledge
    • Teaching students to become self-direct

Suggestion: I-Search Papers

Competencies of Online Instructors (Martha Davidson):

  • Creating a Learning Community that is Intellectually Exciting and Challeging
  • Pepper collaborative activity throughout the course
  • Encourage learners to perform to the best of their abilities
  • Demonstrate Effective Use of Group Dynamics and Dialogue – need to know when to intervene and when not to intervene
  • Use a variety of methods other than lecture
  • Stress the interrelatedness of the complete curriculum and the value
  • Know workplace trends and perspectives
  • Draw out creativity, innovativeness, and ideas in a collaborative manner
  • Integrate curriculum designed to provide learners with experientially based learning environment
  • Evaluate learning outcomes
  • Continue personal development


  1. You must be able to connect with the people in the course.
  2. You need to establish a sense of rapport/ and portray yourself as a ‘real’ person in the online environment
    1. Non Example: professor who put his whole CV online
    2. QUESTION: Do you think there’s a level of infomality in creating this presence that some instructors might not be comfortable with? How do you get them comfortable with this?
  3. When there is a high degree of interaction between these participants…

Social Presence Online Correlates with:

  • Increased learner satisfaction
  • Greater depth of learning
  • sense of belonging to a learning community
  • Increased perception of learning
  • Begin the course by focusing on the development of social presence.
  • BUT DON”T TELL THEM THIS…. (They say…I didn’t take this class to make friends… I just want to take the class to get a grade).


  • Give minimal guidelines (note to self – don’t make up fussy rules)
  • Let students know -It’s NOT okay to do all your posts on the same day
  • Agree on what’s a substantial post
  • Allow them to disagree

Suggestion: offer modeled examples and many practice opportunities for instructors. For example show them samples of chat discussions (recordings, simulations), have them practice in various online activities

Working as a Team: Collaborative Online Course Development

Emily Hixon, Ph. D

This was the best lecture/activity I’ve attended at the conference so far.

She provided 4 case studies of working with Faculty and SME’s talked about the challenges of working with faculty to develop an online course. She outlined the challenges and provided suggestions for selecting Faculty participants. I’ll post more details later including some interview criteria she listed for selecting good Subject Matter Experts (or Faculty).

One of the biggest takeaways I got from this was… bottom line – you need to find SME’s who are collaborative and can work on a team of folks who also communicate their process and progress along the way. Moreover, you have to find a SME who really believes that teaching online is possible.


Managing Flash Game Development

Jon Aleckson

Another great lecture and probably one of the best here at the conference, that I was able to attend… because the presenter basically confirmed my hunch that creating really great learning activity requires a well-balanced team with the right skills and doing this takes moolah. If you want to be stuck with word documents and handouts then discount the need for these types of people on your team or look to moving into the online publishing business.

Biggest Takaways

  • Good Game Design Requires a Superlative Team including:
    • Instructional Designer/Writer
    • Artistic Illustrator
    • ActionScript Flash Programmer
    • Project Manager
  • DONT SKIMP IN HIRING (Note: I will post my notes on each of these position descriptions later)
  • Using CMMI (CapabilityMaturity Model) – importance of logging time for data collection purposes and learning for future teams and projects. It is important to communicate intent for data collection to employees (positively)
  • Use a Wiki for Knowledge Management/Capture – Saves time builds knowledge
  • Brainstorming tools:
    • Learning objectives and content outline
    • Activity List
    • Benchmarking
    • Include people with different roles!
  • Game or Simulation Continuum (3 dimensions)
    • Roles
    • Goals
    • Interactivity

Using Webcasting technologies

Coco Kishi and Tomoko Traphagan

What students wanted out of player technology

  • Wanted to see what the instructor was doing clearly
  • Synchronized audo, video, slides (clearly see the blackboard or slides
  • Content Searching
  • Playback and Speek Control
  • Flexible Viewing Controls
  • Bookmarking
  • Annotation

MySpace is not YourSpace

View the slides from the link here:

Christy actually took better notes than I did during this presentation. Check them out.

I really liked the fact that these presenters encouraged us to think about the consequences of technology and also really question whether or not some learning media were truly appropriate for all learning.

Excellent Primer Materials on Web 2.0 and Math Blogging

Judy from “Hey Jude” has put together a great overview on Web 2.0 and Web 2.0 tools including (blogs, podcasts, social networking, wikis, etc.) here:

It’s always nice to have quick reference for introduction for people who are unfamiliar with the terminology. She also has a number of embedded videos on the definition of Web 2.0 posted at this site. Check it out!

I was also perusing the links on her site and I found The Teaching Hacks Wiki which has a terrific overview of Web 2.0 vs. Web 1.0 for educators. There is also a section (being developed) that includes suggestions for applying weblogs/blogs in a classroom environment and provides suggestions per difference curriculum areas or disciplines.

I like the suggestion for using student blogs as a place to journal their reflections on the concepts that they learn.

An online math journal through a blog offers anytime anywhere access for students to access multiple students conversations around a particular concept. Educators can offer open ended questions to journal about, students can reflect on concepts that have been discussed in class and exchange ideas around those concepts. Students can regularly reflect on their own thought processes and share their successes and opportunities to rethink their own solutions in audio, textual, graphical or video format. Educators and students can model the appropriate use of mathematical symbols and vocabulary through a blog.


Image from the Morguefile by Darnok:

If you’re wondering how they can post mathematical formulas to the web on their blog other than writing them down and scanning them in. There is a Mathematical Markup Language which allows you to code for mathematical formals and notation to be published via the web. Though this may be hard to learn initially, there are some wysiwyg editors that can be used. I guess I would buy a cheap scanner for my classroom and have students scan in their formulas or diagrams to view via the web. All students therefore can share access to the shared formulas and either learn from their peers or help them solve problems that they are having difficulty with.

Some resources


An excellent example of a school applying Web 2.0

Wonderful stuff! A New Zealand teacher, Allanah King, explains her and her classroom/school’s journey through the world of web 2.0 (social tagging, blogging and podcasting).

It’s just a reminder of how rich learning can be with technology and using the web. Now how could the powers that be choose to limit this? In this example, each classroom had a blog and students could post news and responses to what they were learning about. A natural network of collaboration was set up because students could post comments to each other’s blog postings.

I love how the students got to watch the Clustermap of their blog to see who was looking at their site. It would be a great segue into a geography lesson.

Download: Posted by AllanahK at

Excellent summary of Learning 2.0 offerings

Haza has provided a terrific summary of what Web 2.0. offerings (blogs, wikis, podcasting, rss feeds, etc.) can bring to an informal and more democratic learning solutions.

It occurs to me often that within a learning environment that cherishes and values the ‘formal’ training experience, it’s very difficult to get people to understand or embrace these concepts and how they apply to learning:  democratic and informal.

I believe that the difficulty comes from a number of assumptions and values that have been built around the way “learning should happen.” Some of these assumptions aren’t just corporate learning environment related, their origins link back into the world of academia.  Part of my training in college was to determine what the causes of argument against a position were and then attempt to correct or reverse them. For now I only have the time to list a few here so I will start with two. Also, I’d like to save my counter argument against these for another post.

  • Democracy in learning –  assumption that countersThe teacher/instructor or expert is the center of the learning environment – not the Student or end user.
    • The teacher is the boss and must run the show
    • The learner/student must be passive and just soak information in rather than learn it actively
    • Only experts can provide this information not peers
  • Informal learning- assumption that counters- You cannot measure or track informal learning. In corporate training much of our focus has been on evaluation, we must be able to measure that we’re doing our job and that learning is happening. 
    • This is why we do Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, etc. evaluations
    • This is why we count butts in seats or how many courses/learning interventions we do*
    • Informal learning maybe be harder to evaluate for performance success (except if you are attributing all performance behaviors to the informal learning environment that you’ve set  up – i.e. performance behaviors are happening…. period)

I also have a hunch that the very nature of corporate life implies ‘the formal.’  Naturally, saying things are informal or even organic may go counter to the corporate grain.  Jay Cross notes that his message about “informal learning” found either a hot or cold reception from the audience at the ASTD TechKnowledge conference.

I believe that its worth exploring the application of the “informal” and “democratic” to learning environments. However, I think we need to understand why these same concepts may not be adopted by members “the Body.”   Jay Cross draws the analogy of application of “informal learning” as being similar to landscaping a garden.   I’m going to draw out this analogy a little further and suggest that some of the counter-assumptions against the informal/democratic development of learning environments are rocks or items in the garden.  As a gardener you can do one of two things:

  1. Pull the rocks out
  2. If the rocks are too big, build your landscape around them (or overcome the rocks)


* Which by the way can be part of the problem if we are creating training just to create training.  This is often not an intentional move, but sometimes an unintended consequence if your system rewards you for accomplishing things by the number rather than by the actual effect or effect on quality

Tip: using Mediawiki to track collaboration

How Mediawiki can be used to develop collaborative content with team members

One of my teammates brought up this great notion that a wiki is a great collaborative workspace for developing content, because you basically train yourself to check the site for updates. Using the MediaWiki software, it’s easy to check for updates to a wikispace if you add the associated pages for that wiki to your “Watchlist.” When you’re adding a page to make it part of your watchlist, you simply click on the “Watch” tab.

The problem with using the “Watchlist” as a tracking tool,  is if your list of pages grows horizontally (i.e. more pages on new topics are added) you have to keep track of all of the pages added.   I found one way to work around this was to build a fairly good subject taxonomy to the main or hub wiki page and get all your contributors to agree that when they added new pages they had to somehow link from their page to the main-hub page.  If you are watching the site, you’ll see all the pages being linked. It probably would be easier if I wrote this out in a user scenario or story. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do this later.

Thinking ahead, it seems that if you’ve got a low tolerance for tracking change, MediaWiki might not be the best solution for you.  But then again, keeping afloat is about dealing with the ‘ebb and flow.’  Thank goodness, I dig a good waterfall.

In the image below, I show some of the great features on the MediaWiki watchlist page:

Now that I understand 2.0, what next?

Through this blog I’ve been exploring the following ideas:

  1. Informal learning – learning through social networking and informal on-the-job documentation may directly help individuals learn on the job much more quickly and effectively
  2. Web 2.0 technologies provide easier ways to collaborate electronically with others and thus enable this infomal learning better than ever
  3. As training organizations we could focus on empowering better social/informal learning rather than producing the traditional costly training end products (face to face training, media rich e-learning). – However, the problem with this is you often have to deal with a lot of crusty managers who think that this is normally built into employee’s job responsibilities (even though it isn’t formally/properly addressed)

If I’m obsessing over focus on informal learning, I considered -what about the formal and more permanent forms or products of learning? How do we make sure that we’re doing an adequate job of capturing what needs to be put in formal form? What about Librarians? What possibilities do they see in applying 2.0 technology?  In my searches I found one blogger/librarian, Meridith,  who openly discusses the uses and challenges of applying the technology to practice.  I’d like to find out and listen more to what bloggers in the library world are doing about 2.0, and hopefully I can keep track of this in future posts.

In reading Meridith’s blog posting, and recounting some of the dialogue I’ve been seeing lately about 2.0 hype, I started to think about how tenuous ideas and proposals are when they first come out.  Although Web 2.0 gives us a lot of glitzy promises through it’s beta concepts, 2.0 application in the real-world is still in it’s "toddler years."  (It’s just given up crawling, and has started to learn how to walk clumsily on two legs). People in the workforce are really just beginning ot apply things like wikis and blogs, and their exploration of these things naturally will be clunky on the onset. I think as I’ve heard a lot of skeptical discussion about the staying power of blogs that some people are becoming overly saturated with 2.0 hype.  However, I still believe that if those of us who enjoy using the technology and benefit from it keep on using it to allow us to grow, learn, expand and collaborate better for success, there’s no reason to assume that 2.0 apps like blogs/wikis have to die away. I think Blogs have been around for at least 4-5 years maybe more… and public awareness has just hit mainstream proportions.   Wikipedia is still going strong, and many companies are now adopting use of wiki-software to communicate and collaborate.

I’ve felt that being a tech-evangelist for waves like 2.0 is a tricky position.  My feeling is (being the victim of Sharepoint-evangelization or more Sharepoint mandate) don’t force tools down people’s throats – Instead use this approach:

  1. Understand what the resistance points are to adopting the tools and methodologies
  2. Understand  and get to know the users who will be using the tools
  3. Just focus on finding out how best they work with the actual users
  4. Model and demo good examples
  5. Gather valid/reasonable proof (data) that these tools are achieving your goals
  6. Share with management (during all of the above steps) – build and communicate in a simple language that they can understand and connect with

 I’d like to build out this strategy in more detail, because I’m currently working on a team right now that’s assessing the application of wikis and other new tools to our group.



My place outside of work to explore and make connections with the ideas and things (sometimes work-related) that I'm passionate about.

My Tweets

Blog Stats

  • 297,149 hits