I think the use of Wiki’s in the classroom can be a very effective approach to teaching/learning material, however, there needs to be time spent teaching students about what they are engaged with. If I was talking to my students about Wikipedia, one of the most important parts of that talk would be to make sure they understand that anyone can contribute to an article. As such, they should not just take every bit of information from the site as fact, and if anything use it as a jumping point to formulate ideas. Like I have been taught at the University, Wikipedia is great if you are looking for a broad, general view of a topic, but it better not be seen as a reference in a paper!
Using Wikipedia as a research source aside, Wiki’s do present some effective ways to learn in the classroom. I cannot help but recall an ed. psych course in my PSII that had the class divided into groups, and expected to create a Wiki on a specific topic. I thought this kind of assignment would work great in the classroom, since it encouraged collaborative learning, and also took less pressure off an individual student.
Instead of having to worry about finding information all by ourselves, as a group we were able to “divide the work up and conquer”, as it were. This made the assignment, that was work a lot of marks, much easier to deal with since we were not all stressing about finding time to get so much done. Once the Wiki’s were completed, we then spent a class circulating between groups teaching the material we found for our topic to other groups, and vice versa. By the time the class was done, every group not only had a heap of information on their own topic, nicely organized in a Wiki, but also every other groups information as well. We all had access to these Wiki’s and were able to also use them for future reference and study purposes.
The jigsaw approach that was done with the assignment ended up producing a lot of informative Wiki’s, and I think a similar assignment would work wonderful in middle to high school classrooms. The only major problem I can see happening with an assignment such as this, is if group members do not pull their own weight. Despite this being a risk, I feel it is fairly easy to rectify by adding the following stipulation: self and peer-evaluation.
This approach was also used in the class, and I found it ensured that everyone was contributing as opposed to riding off the coat tails of another student. There was also a heightened sense of accomplishment upon receiving a good grade that was the result of a group effort. Getting good grades is one thing, but for me personally it was more positive knowing our group as a whole created something so worthwhile.