“A Glorified Whiteboard”

Amy Standen of Edutopia has written a thoughtful article about wikis in education. We spoke to her for the article and she’s also interviewed some teachers about their experiences.

It’s a really great overview especially for teachers interested in bringing wikis to their schools.

The title come from a quote of mine:

“I hesitate when people say it’s a new paradigm,” says Frey. “Look at the blackboard, which has been in the classroom since who knows when. A wiki is really a glorified whiteboard — anyone can add to it, change it. This isn’t something that teachers have to evolve to adopt; it’s simply an extension of that technology.”

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  1. Posted December 20, 2006 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure I agree… I think a wiki is significantly different than a blackboard. Generally, a teacher has control over who has access to the blackboard and when, but generally, any student (or anybody depending on the setup of the wiki) can make changes any time, and with relatively less supervision.

    I don’t remember ever hearing a teacher worry about students writing profanity on the board when called on in class… but they often worry about how to control the content students add to a wiki.

    On the positive side, the wiki allows more students much more of a voice and an opportunity for contribution than a blackboard usually does. Don’t sell the wiki short. ;)

  2. Posted December 20, 2006 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Off course, if the purpose of the comparison between Wikis and Whiteboards is to help teachers feel more comfortable with a powerful new technology and begin taking steps toward using it with students, then I’m all for it. :)

  3. Andrew
    Posted February 4, 2007 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I am dying to know how someone monitors this in their school settting. I know thta my district will have issue with students being able to post anything they want online. We have polocies for blogging and all of it must be moserated but as for Wiki’s I am not sure how to tackle it. (without getting my hand slapped) I see the postential and even have some great ideas on how to incorporate it in my classroom.

    I run into this a lot and would like to start using more of these technologies. I guess with where I am at, I cannot afford to take chances at my job in fear of losing it.

    Anyhow, hopefully, someone has some advice for me due to the fact that I think more people will have some of the same questions.


  4. Posted February 5, 2007 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    That’s exactly right Mark. My point is using the phrase “Glorified Whiteboard” is to make the case that wikis really are simple to use, just like whiteboards. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Also, it’s a useful beginning metaphor for someone to start to get the concept. Imprecise of course but a starting point.

    “Glorified” does have a bit of a negative connotation unfortunately but hey, language is like that.

  5. Posted February 5, 2007 at 11:09 am | Permalink


    Since you can monitor your wiki (using RSS or email in the case of Wikispaces) it’s easy to see and revert out any inappropriate changes.

    This is a “trust but verify” model rather than a moderation model so not everyone is comfortable with that. But for those who are able to take advantage of it, we think it’s more powerful.

    We’re also considering creating “safe” education only environments for wikis so keep an eye on for that if that’s closer to what you need.

  6. Margaret
    Posted February 8, 2007 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    I think wikispaces would be great for a teacher to use in math or journal writing but they must be kept private and only those in class need to have access to them. If a teacher wants to share with another teacher thats fine but outside the school you couldnot prevent others from putting bad saying on the wiki.

  7. Posted February 9, 2007 at 10:20 am | Permalink


    It’s a good thing we offer fully private wikis then. We agree, there are plenty of circumstances where privacy is a requirement.

  8. Posted February 13, 2007 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    I think that the wikis should be limited to the upper grades who might be more ‘responsible’ or ‘trustworthy.’ It is a good source of information and communication and should be utilized. Marnie

  9. George
    Posted February 20, 2007 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    My initial fears were similar to those mentioned above. When I first started using Blogs in my 7th and 8th Grade Social Studies classes I did so in a very controlled environment. I created the topic postings and I approved the postings before they went up. I slowly eased into giving the students more freedom to be able to create discussions and post without my pre-apprval. I was lucky to never have an instance where students were inappropriate on the blog. I think students liked having a forum for their thoughts and were responsible.

    I now use wikis with colleagues as a forum for sharing. I like the editing feature that the wiki provides. Collaboration is easily facilitated.

  10. John
    Posted February 25, 2007 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Clearly, there are all kinds of potential for wikispaces for our students. As a teacher, I understand some of the concerns that have been voiced above. Perhaps it would be a good idea to post some example “letter(s) to parents” that some teachers have already used. The parent letter would among other things inform parents about the wiki project (and about wikis in general,) descibe exactly how the students are to enter their writing on the wiki, and what responsibilities they have as participants.

    After all, the whole idea behind this is collaboration. In teaching so often we work ourselves to death by re-inventing things in our individual classrooms that have already been done elsewhere.

  11. John
    Posted February 25, 2007 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    I should have explored more before writing! I found just such a letter at Teachers First: Wiki Walk Through: http://www.teachersfirst.com/content/wiki/issues.cfm

    There they have a downloadable “sample wiki warranty.”

  12. Monica
    Posted February 26, 2007 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Wikis and blogs are intuitive and they are easily incorporated into the classroom. It’s what we do everyday in meetings and in the classroom–only this gives you that permanent record of changes. Wikis are great for group projects, and as an instructor I can monitor who is making changes, who is involved on the team, what their questions are, and who might need some extra encouragement.

    Maybe the term “Electronic Whiteboard” is also less scary and more reflective of what it does. Again, the issue comes down to this: how do you get educators to use this in constructive ways? And how do you encourage school districts (K-12) to embrace its usage?

  13. Posted February 28, 2007 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Me and a fellow teacher from another school were so enthusiastic for this resource and have set up respective subject pages. Then, while searching each others site for mistakes we hit upon a snag.

    Now I’m not one for a nanny state and i can spend a little time monitoring discussion sites its the send message part that worries me. I cannot monitor this and it becomes a problem if someone is making threats or something similar using this facility.

    Also, I could leave it public for all to see and use, but as any member of Wiki can see members deatails AND send secret messages to them I for one cannot have that on my conscience.

    Is the send message absolutely necessary?

  14. Posted February 28, 2007 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    It’s a good point. It definitely something we can make optional.

  15. Posted March 2, 2007 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I wanted to respond to Monica’s questions about getting educators to use the wiki and school systems to embrace us doing it.

    When we hit on something with our students that works, we know it, they know it, and we all tell it. That’s when other educators will catch on. We have to be ready to “train” them when they see the need for it. You will have a tough time talking another teacher into using this tool before they see its effectiveness. They have to see it work first – then they’ll focus when we start showing them how it works for us.

    Reluctant school system administrators need to talk to teachers from other systems using it effectively. (i.e. My experience with wikis can calm administrators fears better than someone else’s plans for using wikis.) Actually, if you could create one and get an administrator to use one to accomplish something important to them, they would answer their own questions about its use. Maybe collaborate on an upcoming accrediation visit, professional development topic, or other important matter that must be handled quickly.

    People won’t buy into anything they don’t know. Take the fear out of it for them.

  16. ccapozzoli
    Posted March 5, 2007 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Wikis have such a great appeal to kids of all ages. I would never limit them to just the upper grades. You would be surprised as to how the younger elementary students actually enjoy using these wikis. It is so much fun to show these students how to create relevant online projects or information.

    Effective Wiki training and valid information to all involved is critical. We don’t want parents to think we are creating spaces that would be unsafe for kids. I have witnessed first hand how wikis are revolutionizing some “mundane” teacher lead courses. Some teachers are giving up the controls and letting the students navigate as they learn. It is where we want and need to be.

  17. morganusvitus
    Posted April 5, 2007 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    The site looks great ! Thanks for all your help ( past, present and future !)

  18. KenMarshall
    Posted April 17, 2007 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for helping

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