What is a wiki?  

"A wiki is a website that allows visitors to add, remove, and edit content."

—from wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 14, 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki 

Wikis are designed to be revised and expanded by multiple contributors. However, all wiki tools allow the wiki's creator to control who can and can't make changes to the wiki. In its most basic form, a wiki can be used by one person as a way to build a website without learning to write web-design code. In its most dynamic form, a wiki can be edited by millions of visitors every day and its content can change from one second to the next.

How can wikis be used for education? 

Instructors can use wikis to:

  • create a teaching resource wiki where instructors can share syllabi, assignment ideas, and lecture materials
  • create a classroom wiki to share notes, assignments, deadlines, and other course information with students
  • post presentation materials online so viewers can access them at any time

Students can use wikis to:

  • share information for a group project
  • build a website with text, images, audio, and/or video
  • collaborate with other students to create a list of useful links, group bibliographies, or other educational resources


Wiki Issues to Consider

  • Inappropriate Content: If wiki content is being created and edited collaboratively, make sure to provide all users with guidelines on the purpose of the wiki. Including examples of appropriate and inappropriate content can help keep wiki content relevant and consistent.
  • Plagiarism: Students may have the impression that plagiarism is acceptable when completing web-based writing assignments. As with any writing assignment, instructors should provide a clear definition of plagiarism and outline the consequences of plagiarized work.
  • Intellectual Property: Instructors should establish guidelines to ensure students do not upload copyrighted work to the wiki. Keep in mind that videos on sites like YouTube might violate copyright law, but it is YouTube's responsibility to take these videos down.
  • Wiki Vandalism: Don't allow just anyone to edit the wiki's content. Make sure your account settings require users to sign up before they are allowed to edit pages. (Most wikis require users to sign up by default before they can make edits.) Allowing anonymous users to edit content can lead to malicious editing or deleting of wiki content.
  • Assessment: If students work collaboratively to create a wiki, instructors should define how each student will be evaluated. As with other group projects, students may be assigned specific roles or be responsible for specific tasks (such as building specific pages in the wiki). Alternatively, all students may be given the same grade based on the overall quality of the wiki. Whatever the breakdown of responsibilities, students should be aware of the grading criteria in advance.

Recommended Wiki Tool: PBworks

PBworks is one of the most popular wiki development tools. It is used by over 250,000 educators and has many features that are useful for teaching and learning. It is also one of the more aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly wiki tools available. The features of PBworks' free version will meet the needs of most instructors and students, allowing them to build anything from a simple informative website to a collaborative, online research paper with multiple authors.

PBworks Features

  • Pages can be organized into folders.
  • Users can add images, video, audio, documents, and real-time chat to pages.
  • Viewers can comment on pages.
  • Changes are saved in the page history and can be undone if needed.

PBworks Issues to Consider

  1. If you rename a page, existing links to that page will no longer work. Be sure to think about what you want to call your pages before you begin linking to them.
  2. The free version of PBworks has the following limitations:
    • Limited customization: You cannot remove items from the right side of the wiki (such as the folder list or navigator panel) even if you don't use them.
    • All or nothing access: You cannot restrict acces to specific pages. Anyone you give permission to edit your wiki will be able to edit and delete anything. 

PBworks Help

  • Download the printable PBworks guide for answers to many common questions.
  • View the online PBworks Manual for answers to questions not covered in the printable guide.
  • For a video tutorial on the basics of setting up your wiki, watch the video below,  "PBwiki 101: Your Guide to Wiki Basics."
  • If you need more help, you can sign up for a free introductory PBworks webinar.

PBworks Video Tutorial 

Wikipedia Help

For certain projects, you might prefer to have your students create or modify content on Wikipedia instead of creating a wiki of their own. While it can be rewarding for students to see their work published on a popular website and viewed by visitors from around the world, keep in mind that the Wikipedia interface isn't as user-friendly as PBworks. Therefore, PBworks is the recommended wiki tool for most projects.