Saturday, February 26, 2011

To the Cloud - Wikis

The phrase "to the cloud" has become very common in recent days and with this phrase comes hope for education. With the freeze on school budgets, Web 2.0 tools are opening up a whole new world of opportunities for educators and students alike. Most of these tools are free or relatively inexpensive to use. They cover a whole gamut of activities that include anything from brainstorming tools to collaboration tools to document creation and storage. The possibilities are endless. Through the next several blog posts, I'd like to touch on a few that I have used in my classes and describe how I have used the tool for instruction.

In this post, I'd like to focus on the use of wikis. The word wiki is derived from the Hawaiian term wiki wiki which means "fast" or "quick." In other words, a wiki is a web site that is easy and fast to edit. There are many wiki hosting sites, called wiki farms. Some of these hosting sites are free while others require a relatively inexpensive annual fee., my host of choice, offers a free upgrade to educators, thus providing an advertisement-free site. While there are many wiki hosts to choose from, all of them provide great opportunities for educators and students alike.

I daily use a wiki in my 6th grade Computer Applications class. Students are instructed to go immediately to the wiki when they enter the classroom. There they can find instructions, lesson plans, links, document files, and other important things necessary for the class. Using a wiki designed for specific courses eliminates a lot of frustration for teachers because it provides students quick, immediate access to all the tools (links, files, video, etc.) they need for a given unit or lesson. With a wiki, students who are absent can keep up with what goes on during class just by going to the "cloud."

Near the end of the course, I have students show what they have learned through an activity that asks them to demonstrate all of the skills they have learned throughout the course. In this activity, students create their own page within a different wiki on U.S. national parks or world national parks. Students choose a national park to research, then they report on that park through the creation of their very own page (click here for details). The beauty of using a wiki for this project is that students are not limited to class time to work on their project, and they can work on it from anywhere that has internet access. (There's that "cloud" again!) An added bonus is that students can show off their hard work to anyone, anywhere, anytime. I've even taken the national parks project to the next level by collaborating with students 500 miles away! But I'll save that for another post.

The possible uses for wikis is endless. I encourage my readers to consider how wikis can enhance their current curriculum, then jump in and get started.

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