What is a Wiki?

A wiki is a website that allows users to easily create and edit pages. The characteristic that sets wikis apart from other web-based forums and discussions is that they may be authored and edited by anyone at any time. A complete history of every page is also kept. Some speak of wiki pages as never being completed and always in the process of being edited and expanded. More on wikis (from Wikipedia).

Rationale for Wikis

  • Supports student collaboration
  • Allows faculty and students to engage in collaborative activities that extend well beyond the classroom walls
  • Promotes pride of authorship and ownership in team activities
  • Allows flexibility, ease of use, and low barrier to entry

Wikis are being adopted as an innovative way of constructing knowledge across a broad range of subject areas. Its unique collaborative feature provides many opportunities for education. Here are some examples that wikis might be used in the classroom:

Class or School Communication Site
A wiki can serve as the primary class web site or in conjunction with a Learning Management System (LMS) like Blackboard as a secondary resource. The quick and easy free-form editing and linking features put a wiki in a distinct class as opposed to simplified class announcement systems or relatively static, threaded class discussion forums.
Collaborative Class Site/Knowledge Base
A wiki can be used as the focal point for a topical community related to your class content. This could mean a general site about a topic, or a focused resource containing material, links, and writing created through student research.
Assignments can be posted to a wiki, which provides an additional potential benefit of allowing for peer review. Students can use the wiki to create a portfolio of selected work as well as an archive of transitional work.
Process Writing Archive
As alluded to in previous ideas, a wiki is a natural tool for process writing since it handles revisions internally allowing for easy viewing of changing, reversion to earlier versions, commenting and review, and built-in process documentation.
Class Book/Collaborative Authoring
As the WikiBooks project makes clear, professional books can be easily authored using a wiki. There are even businesses cropping up that will professionally print and bind a wiki site to create a paper book and/or Adobe PDF version. But on a smaller scale, an entire class (or selected groups) of students can collaboratively author materials using a wiki. The process of distribution, editing, and archiving is greatly simplified compared to sharing potentially incompatible documents using email or a discussion board and trying to communicate and reconcile versions. </span>
A variation on this theme are infowikis. Infowikis are wikis that function as textbook replacements. The name comes from substituting "info" for "text" and "wiki" for "book". More on infowikis can be found on the Collaborative_Online_Textbooks page and on the Infowikis website.
Group Projects
Given the characteristics of wiki building and collaboration, it is a natural environment for group work of various kinds-- an elusive learning activity in the distance education environment.


Free Online Wiki Hosts

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  • PBWiki - PBWiki has good free features and great pay features. Free gets you one password to edit the page, while paid gets you control of accounts, 1gig of space. See the features. Free or $5/month or $50/year.
  • seedwiki - Free wiki with unlimited pages and no ads. you can pay for added features like passwords, domain-hosted wikis and more. See the paid options for more information.
  • StikiPad ( - Free and paid options. Free is decent, but the paid options get you a lot more. Nice discussion/comment features available on the paid plans.
  • Wikia - Free wikis, but ads are placed on your pages. This wiki is on wikia.

Open-Source Wiki Software

  • MediaWiki is used for Wikipedia and this SchoolComputing Wiki. It is a database-driven wiki and suitable for being installed on a web host as it uses PHP scripts and MySQL. We use mediawiki and added the FCKeditor wysiwyg to mediawiki making it much easier to edit (so you don't need to learn wiki markup). I went through the process last spring and looked about about 20 different open source wiki software and found this to be the most user friendly. Adding FCKeditor makes the biggest difference though.
  • At RCS we evaluated a bunch of wiki products and decided to go with MediaWiki. One of the main reasons was wanting students to be familiar with the software that runs the varios -pedia sites. We have three installs running on a Windows 2K3 server in our DMZ. Two authenticate via AD while the third auths to OD. This was pretty easy to setup using the LDAP Extension One of our biggest concerns was and remains the difficulty of actually using the standard wiki markup for editing. I looked into FCKEditor but was wary of having HTML data stored in the database and the potential for future incompatibilities that might cause. I'll probably give it another look though, as there aren't many options for WYSIWYM (other than other wikis).
  • Swiki is under development at the Collaborative Software Laboratory of Georgia Institute of Technology. Swiki is a wiki written in Squeak, a version of Small Talk. It is often referred to as the CoWeb (Collaborative Web). Swiki is platform independent and suitable for use on home computers with a dynamic DNS service or installation on school servers. Quick set up procedures are available from this CoWeb presentation.
  • PmWiki is a wiki-based system for collaborative creation and maintenance of websites. PmWiki pages look and act like normal web pages, except they have an "Edit" link that makes it easy to modify existing pages and add new pages into the website, using basic editing rules. You do not need to know or use any HTML or CSS. Page editing can be left open to the public or restricted to small groups of authors.

Other wiki software and descriptions are available from the List of Wiki Software, which has a comparison table at the bottom.

Good Commercial Wiki Sites

  • EditMe - $4.95 a month for their starter package. Very nice editing. Clean look and feel.
  • - Powerful Wiki hosting service with many applications that can be installed into your wiki such as help desk software, contact management, event calendar and more.
  • PBWiki - PBWiki has good free features and great pay features. Free gets you one password to edit the page, while paid gets you control of accounts, 1gig of space and more. See the features. Free or $5/month or $50/year.
  • StikiPad ( - Free and paid options. Free is decent, but the paid options get you a lot more. Nice discussion/comment features available on the paid plans.
  • We set up MediaWiki in house, but then started using Wikispaces' free wikis for educators (without ads) because the system was so intuitive to use. We were so happy with their product and support that we ended up getting a "private label" wikispaces instance for Packer that we pay about $1000 a year to maintain. It's getting lots of use.

Articles About Wikis

  • Innovate Article The authors contend that wikis draw upon the best aspects of print and secondary orality by offering a medium in which information is neither fixed in format (as it was in the print age) nor limited to locale (as it was before the print age) but still changeable to meet the needs of the community, freely accessible to remote parties, and easily archived for future use.
  • Scholars Review Wikipedia - Here is another article from the Guardian (UK), appearing in October 2005, that presents the view of seven scholars on Wikipedia entries in their own fields. "Can You Trust Wikipedia?"
  • Wikipedia Entry Webcast - Link to a nifty webcast that follows the evolution in a given wikipedia entry over the course of a year. Warning: there is some profanity that appears in the wiki entry itself. "Heavy Metal Umlaut"
  • Village Voice on Wikipedia - Village Voice reports that is the 19th most visited site on the net. The author of the article, "Mondo Wikipedia," notes that "from the beginning, Wikipedia has presented the notion that history is up for grabs." Mondo Wikipedia article from The Village Voice

Examples of Classroom Wikis

  • MiddleJ Wiki by students in Australia to write things about what they are learning in class or beyond.


See *For Teachers New to Wikis page.

Research on Wikis


Distance Learning Systems Group. Introduction to the wiki. Retrieved March 3, 2006, from

Richardson, W. (2005, November). What's a wiki? Multimedia & Internet@Schools. Retrieved March 3, 2006, from Academic Search Premier database.

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