I used a wiki in my AP US History course for the first time this past year. It was more of a professional development experience for me as a teacher than it was a tool for my students, at least this time around. I found out the following things about myself as a teacher:
1. I am very focused on the relationship between individual effort and individual reward. The idea of a wiki scared me because I was fixated with the idea that some kids would do a lot and others would do nothing and both would have equal benefit.
Wiki Lesson #1: Set up clear rules of engagement–students must contribute democratically, that is, in a way that ensures the public good (in my case, the good of all students in my classes).
And kids who don’t contribute, don’t learn as much. They pick up on this pretty quick.
And kids who don’t contribute hear about it from their peers. They pick up on this pretty quick too.
2. What if kids just copy and paste things off the internet? Is that learning? Is that quality effort?
Wiki Lesson #2: Whether I like it or not, kids are learning from sources out of my control (ie textbook is in my control, wikipedia and other web info sources are not. That said:
Make sure kids know how to cite so when they do this, they do it responsibly.
Teach kids how to vet information from the web (or any source, for that matter).
Use this as an opportunity to ask interpretive rather than factual questions. The factual questions are now very very easy to answer.
3. What if the stuff the kids post is junk? Is a wiki just another thing I have to correct/keep track of?
Wiki Lesson #3: Publishing in front of peers is a powerful motivator for students. And when it isn’t, others are usually good about setting them straight.
Also, the Wiki belongs to US, not to me. It is OUR responsibility, not mine alone. This is powerful and liberating.