I’ve been working with students and wikis for a few years now. I’ve grown from just a small number of students (about 4 or 5) creating a site to help them organize information for class to a 200+ student wiki designed around the idea of an online word wall. But until recently, I was unable to capitalize on the true potential of a wiki; online collaboration that students can access from anywhere, and actually practice ethical and appropriate online learning.
So it was with great relish when I received a small grant last year from our school district’s community foundation (thanks MPEF). I used the money to purchase a domain name (kidpedia.info) and a year’s worth of hosting. Determined to setup a unique experience for the students I had the custom domain registered (ooh, it’s a special website name), and even paid for a truly powerful wiki service, EditMe, on the advice of Steve Dembo. Wikispaces, PB Wiki, and other free wiki sites were just too limited in the tools that were available (editing is usually clunky, and doesn’t include many rich-text features). The result thus far is that I have an excellent “playground” for them to build a completely kid-centric encyclopedia. The lesson plans I’ve been developing for the project include benchmarks from our state’s Grade Level Content Expectations in Technology, Social Studies, and English Language Arts. The students will have a chance to author a piece of informational writing, perform research, evaluate electronic sources of information, and even manipulate multimedia (I’m going to let them include video clips, images, and more if applicable).
It’s quite the ambitious undertaking, and I’ve been a bit frightened of it since it’s inception last summer. I’m going to take it very slow, and journal my progress so as to carefully adjust when needed without making too many mistakes. Of course, any teacher/school could much more easily replicate their own Kidpedia with the help of “free for education” wikis on Wikispaces and PBWiki. With a small group of students it would be possible to have them create entries for important vocabulary words from their textbooks, or replace the standard report or presentation with a digital article on the class wiki. In that way, the learning is turned into a teaching experience, where the students take a greater ownership in their online work because so many others will be learning from it in turn.
With luck I’ll have a full fledged, information packed, online, collaborative, kid-powered, kid-friendly encyclopedia to share with all of you in the coming months. And if it doesn’t work….perhaps someone out there can make an even better one that does 🙂