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2011. Vol.2, No.2, 76-82
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/ce.2011.22011
Wikis: Promoting Collaborative Literacy through Affordable
Technology in Content-Area Classrooms
Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana County, USA.
Received March 3rd, 2011; revised April 18th, 2011; accepted May 30th, 2011.
Educators may realize the impact technology has on students, but may be ill equipped to integrate high-tech de-
vices into the classroom in an affordable way. Educators can capitalize on students’ experience with technology
by incorporating wikis, a collaborative webpage, into classroom instruction. Studies indicate that wiki technol-
ogy can greatly enhance student collaboration and build content-area literacy skills. There are several re-
search-based applications for implementing wiki technology into content-area classrooms. However, educators
must consider the effect of wikis on curricula before integrating wikis into the clas s room.
Keywords: Literacy , Technology, Collaboration, Wiki
The use of technology is this generation’s defining charac-
teristic. Students are submersed in multifaceted technologies on
a daily basis, ranging from the Internet, Instant Messenger, and
Facebook to i-pads, i-pods, and i-phones. As educators, we
must take into account that our students are digital natives and
social beings that want to discover new information through
high-tech devices (Huffaker, 2005). We must further consider
how we can take advantage of technology in order to better
serve our students (Hazari, North, & Moreland, 2009). There
are many innovative technologies, such as electronic white
boards (SMART boards), document cameras, and classroom
response systems (clickers), which educators can integrate into
curricula that capitalize on students’ familiarity with technol-
ogy and promote collaboration and literacy in the classroom.
Content area teachers—educators who teach math, science,
English, and social studies—understand that their subjects re-
quire a specific kind of literacy skill in order for students to
understand the main concepts of that subject. Content area
knowledge requires more than just mastering information
(Knipper & Duggan, 2006). Integrating wiki technology into
content area classrooms enables students to engage in critical
thinking, productive learning, and retention of content area
material (Smith, Rook, & Smith, 2007) while building social
relationships with their peers. Collaborative classroom literacy
can be defined as activities that permit students to work with
their peers while engaging in higher order thinking, critical
reading, and reflective writing (Boling, Castek, Zawilinski,
Barton, & Nierlich, 2008; Jewitt, 2005; Marks, 2010; Leu, 2000;
Smith, Rooks, & Smith, 2007). Teachers cannot ignore the
significance of using technology in content area classrooms
(Leu, 2000), but what if a school does not have the latest gadg-
ets? What if funds are not available for content area educators
to integrate such technology in the classroom?
This article reviews how educators can integrate wikis into
their classroom as an affordable technology. It outlines the
structure of wikis, examines ways wikis promote a safe col-
laborative classroom atmosphere, and considers ways wikis
support content area literacy. Furthermore, this article synthe-
sizes curricular considerations for educators to take into ac-
count before integrating wikis into their classroom.
What Is a Wiki?
A wiki is an innovative social technology tool that supports
interaction and collaboration among users and offers new pos-
sibilities for learning (Paus-Hasebrink, Wijnen, & Jadin, 2010).
According to Judd, Kennedy, and Cropper (2010), “Wikis are
websites that can be interactively edited by any number of peo-
ple using simple online tools” (p. 341). Basic collaborative wiki
tools include file sharing and content editing (Olliges, 2010).
Although a relatively new technology, wikis are gradually be-
ing integrated into classroom environments, and educators are
realizing the value of wikis as project-based learning tools that
facilitate participation among students (Paus-Hasebrink, Wijin,
& Jadin, 2010). Studies (Barron, Schwartz, Bye, Moore, Pet-
rosino, Zeck, & Bransford, 1998; Helle, Tynjala, Olkinuro, &
Lonka, 2007) indicate that project-based learning enhances
student motivation. Therefore, wikis serve as a means to engage
students and enhance their motivation to become active par-
ticipants in learning.
Furthermore, the use of wikis in the learning environment is
centered on the theory of collaborative learning. DeWitt and
Siraj (2010) maintain, “Collaborative learning refers to learning
through activities and discussion which require learners to work
towards a common goal” (p. 171). Wiki technology enables
learners to cooperate to attain learning goals as they construct
their own knowledge. Thus, employing wiki technology in the
learning environment is dependent on the culture and commu-
nity of the students and is not centered on the teacher (DeWitt
& Sirai, 2010). Additionally, research (Matthew & Felvegi,
2009) signifies that learning experiences through wiki technol-
ogy promote in-depth processing of content and enhances
B. CARNEY-STRAHLER 77
learning outcomes for students. Educators who wish to engage
learners in creative community-based learning can utilize wikis
to enhance students’ social interaction (Twu, 2010). Wikis fa-
cilitate cooperation and enhances students’ social interaction
while creating an authentic learning community.
Marks (2010) describes wikis as a “warehouse of shared
knowledge” in which learners can deposit work while increas-
ing their knowledge base (p. 78). Wikis can be public sites
where any person can edit and comment or private sites con-
trolled exclusively by a group or individual. The most widely
known example of a public wiki is Wikipedia. On the Wikipe-
dia site, multiple users can edit and create content. Similar to
Wikipedia, classroom wikis allow more than one student to
create and publish content. Students start with a blank work-
space and can add and edit images, text, animations, links, and
files. Multiple students have the ability to collaborate on a sin-
gle document (Koopman, 2010). In addition, educators can
choose to set the security level of wikis. Wikis can be set at
public, protected, or private; however, many educators choose
to set the security to private so that only certain individuals may
view and edit the page, thus ensuring student privacy (Siegle,
2008). PBWiki (pbwiki.com) offers a free wiki site that educa-
tors can use in the classroom and only requires an email address
and login information. Through PBWiki, teachers control who
can read and edit the wikis. Wikispaces is another wiki site that
is free to educators. Similar to PBWiki, educators can set up
private accounts through Wikispaces with an email address and
login information. Both sites ensure student accountability be-
cause teachers can track students’ posts and changes they make
to their wiki pages through their account information. Using
sites such as PBWiki and Wikispaces, educators can safely
integrate multi-user technology into the classroom, enabling
students to work with their peers and think critically about
How Do Wikis Promote a Safe Collaborative
After introducing a classroom project and allowing my stu-
dents to form groups, I noticed a predominantly social student
sitting apathetically at his desk and staring at his assignment.
When I asked why he was secluding himself from the rest of
the students, he confided that he was upset that no one had
picked him to be a part of their group. As educators, we en-
countered students who feel isolated from other students in the
class. Many teachers attempt to overcome the issue of student
isolation by forming groups for students. However, educators
are then faced with the issue of groups of students who do not
get along or refuse to work together. The same isolation and
group formation issues are present when implementing activi-
ties involving technology in the classroom; however, wiki
technology provides opportunities to build a safe collaborative
classroom atmosphere. A project that involved the use of wikis
would have enabled the student to work collaboratively with
the rest of the class without the threat of isolation.
Wikis are a powerful 21st century tool that redefines what it
means for students to collaborate with their peers and are being
widely promoted as safe collaborative tools (Judd, Kennedy, &
Cropper, 2010). Students need to experience security and ac-
ceptance, and wiki technology provides a safe learning envi-
ronment in which learners examine their previously held beliefs.
Furthermore, wikis teach students to criticize ideas, not people,
because learners are provided with a forum to discuss their
thoughts. Koopman (2010) maintains, “Wikis provide a non-
judgmental method of discourse that makes it safe to walk way,
reflect, consider how a comment is being viewed by others, and
then focus one’s thinking or ask for clarification” (p. 25). Wikis
allow students to work together without the danger of students
being isolated from groups or students being forced into groups.
Additionally, collaborative classroom wiki projects foster the
social skills of cooperation, respect, and sharing through group
study. Wikis provide a digitally safe space for students to gen-
erate new ideas and reflect on their beliefs with out threatening
face-to-face interaction with their peers.
Wiki technology allows students to simultaneously develop
social and cognitive skills. Ruth and Houghton (2009) contend,
“Wikis facilitate the construction of knowledge at the screen-
face such that interacting with learning processes occurs in a
place as a construction rather than a body of knowledge being
absorbed” (p. 135). Through wiki technology students engage
in higher-order thinking, discussion, and analysis by working
together with their peers. Wiki technology promotes practical
learning experiences that emerge from the social construction
of knowledge. Group collaboration enables learners to craft
understanding, and learners are able to grapple with their pre-
viously held beliefs and ideas (Cheng, Lam, & Chan, 2008).
For instance, research (Marks, 2010) signifies that students feel
wikis advance collaborative work and learning. Additionally,
by integrating wikis into the classroom, content area teachers
create a shared writing and learning space for students (Kissel,
Hathaway, & Wood, 2010). Wikis enable students to safely
collaborate with learners and create positive peer while engag-
ing in stimulating critical thinking.
There are several collaborative applications for integrating
wikis into content-area classrooms (Kissel, Hathaway, & Wood,
2010). Learners can use wikis to construct knowledge with
other students and reflect on content they have learned in class.
For example, in a social studies class students could participate
in a collaborative storytelling wiki in which students make
contributions and design a historical fiction story together.
Content area teachers may present discussion of supplemental
text through wiki technology. For instance, when reading an
article about the unexplored ocean floor in science class, stu-
dents can engage in discussion of ideas through a wiki page.
Figure 1 illustrates an example of a wiki page where students
formulated discussion about the unexplored ocean floor. Stu-
dents were asked to share their response to the question, “Do
you think exploring the ocean floor through robotic technology
is worth its cost?” Students were also encouraged to ask ques-
tions about the topic and share any further information they
Similarly, when reflecting on how to solve real-world prob-
lems in a math course, students can discuss possible explana-
tions to the problems and compare their ways of solving the
problems. Wiki technology can also be used to discuss litera-
ture used within a content area classroom. Kissel, Hathaway,
and Wood (2010) contend, “The wiki enhances literature circle
groups and helps students see the connections among various
texts and the lessons to be learned from them” (p. 59). Fur-
thermore, students have opportunities to share their personal
JPEG of a Science Classroom Wiki Page. This figure illustrates what a wiki page us ed in a science classroom th r ough the PBWiki site might look like.
work by uploading poetry, stories, and class projects through a
student portfolio wiki.
How Do Wikis Promote Content Area Literacy?
After completing a wiki project on the Bill of Rights, one
student told me, “It was cool to see what I know about our
rights up on the web site. I didn’t realize the Bill of Rights was
so important until we had to think about them and create our
web page.” In this project, my students were asked to create
wiki pages about each of the ten amendments included in the
Bill of Rights. Figure 2 illustrates how my students had to ex-
plain the amendments in their own words and develop exam-
ples as to why the amendment is still relevant today.
Students enjoyed this activity because they were responsible
for creating a meaningful and informative web page about the
Bill of Rights. Furthermore, my students were able to explain
the content material in their own words and reflect on their
understandings of content (Knipper & Duggan, 2006). The
students did not even realize how critically engaged they were
with social studies content.
Content teachers understand that in order for students to be
successful they must develop literacy skills that can be applied
to content area learning. Learners need opportunities to develop
cognitive processes by critically evaluating content area mate-
rial, rather than rote memorization (Knipper & Duggan, 2006).
Wiki technology enables students to demonstrate their learning
through a digital space. Learners can use wikis to identify rela-
tionships between concepts and make connections to prior
knowledge. As students create their wiki pages, they develop
their ideas while connecting and integrating new concepts
(Johnson & Holcombe, 1993). Wikis help students become
better problem solvers and help students understand how to
analyze and synthesize information. Furthermore, wiki activi-
ties allow students to critically evaluate the world around them
because learners are able to expand learning to make meaning
of content (Knipper & Duggan, 2006; Peterson, 2007). They
can ask each other questions to probe further thinking (Smith,
Rook, & Smith, 2007). Wiki technology in the classroom en-
bles learners to deepen their thinkin g process. a
B. CARNEY-STRAHLER 79
JPEG of the Bill of Rights Wiki Page. This figure illustrates the Bill of Rights wiki project used in a social studies classroom through the PBWiki site.
Through wikis, students improve reading, writing, and dis-
cussion skills. Jewitt (2005) reasons that wikis progress literacy
because wikis utilize multimedia, which provides learners with
contextual clues to comprehend text. In addition, wikis assist
students in interactive reading, which may motivate learners to
read and help with comprehension of difficult text structures
and vocabulary (McNabb, 2006). Wikis empower students by
providing opportunities to express their ideas while encourag-
ing reading, writing, reflection, and collaboration (Leight,
2008). After reading a text, students can add to the digital con-
versation by uploading their analysis and synthesis of the read-
ing onto a classroom wiki (Kissel, Hathaway, & Wood, 2010).
Wikis give students a voice and allow them to take responsibil-
ity for their own learning. Furthermore, wiki projects enable
students to synthesize their views and ideas (Smith, Rook, &
Smith, 2007). Through, reading, writing, and discussion activi-
ties, educators can implement wikis into the learning environ-
ment through practical ways to promote collaborative class-
Wikis can be used as a digital space for students to practice
literacy skills in content area classrooms. Figure 3 illustrates
various ways that wikis can be integrated into content area
For instance, wikis can be generated to explore vocabulary in
a science course. Students can use the wiki to collaborate on the
science vocabulary terms definition, synonyms, antonyms, and
examples. Additionally, students can use wikis to brainstorm
about various content area topics or ideas. Students can create
graphic organizers and concept maps through wikis that help
them organize their thoughts and ideas about a concept. For
example, when solving a story problem in a math course, stu-
dents can use wikis to create a graphic organize that helps them
share their ideas as they solve the problems. Learners can
demonstrate math concepts through real-world applications
using a wiki page. For example, in a lesson on geometric fig-
ures, students could upload images of real-life geometric fig-
ures using a wiki page. Learners could further share informa-
tion by creating a content-based class newspaper. In a social
studies course, students can create historical newspapers
through a wiki page by adding news stories and graphics. Every
Ways to Integrate Wikis into Social Studies, Math, Science and English Classrooms. This figure illustrates specific examples of how wiki technology
can be integrated into content area classroo ms.
student has an opportunity to contribute to the wiki page and
enhance his or her content area literacy skills. Thus, wikis are a
beneficial form of technology that can increase collaboration
and literacy in a classroom.
Furthermore, wiki technology enhances language learning by
providing students with opportunities to write and publish col-
laboratively (Twu, 2010). Research (Lund, 2008; Mak & Co-
niam, 2008; Wheeler & Wheeler, 2009; Zorko, 2009) found
that wiki technology enhanced the development of writing
skills for English as a Second Language (ESL) and High-Con-
text Culture (HCC) students because wikis provide opportuni-
ties for creative, authentic, and collaborative writing. Twu
(2010) contends, “Language learning in wiki environments is
more than just cognitive and mechanical interaction via reading,
writing, and editing their own contributions and the contribu-
tions of others. The aim is to focus on the attitudes of students
toward using Wikis and language learning tools” (p. 60). While
research identifies some barriers to utilizing wiki technology as
a language-learning tool (ex. technology challenges, lack of
motivation or confidence, and reluctance to contribute), wikis
support language learning through cooperative writing oppor-
tunities (Kessler, 2009; Matthew & Felvegi, 2009; Twu, 2010;
Wheeler & Wheeler, 2009). Therefore, wikis can be used to
break language barriers and establish a collaborative learning
B. CARNEY-STRAHLER 81
What Do Educators Need to Consider before
Integrating a Wiki into the Curriculum?
Before integrating wikis into the classroom, educators should
recognize specific curricular considerations. First, teachers
should discuss proper posting etiquette with students (Du-
plichan, 2009). Even though accounts can be set to private,
learners should understand that what they generate stays on the
wiki for everyone to see. Students should understand that they
are responsible for what they post. Second, educators need to
decide how students’ work on the wiki will be assessed and
clearly outline the requirements of the work to be done for stu-
Educators should develop rubrics evaluating learners for con-
tent and originality to help provide feedback to students (Du-
plichan, 2009). Figure 4 illustrates example criteria educators
may use when evaluating wiki projects and activities in their
content area classrooms.
Third, educators must recognize that these technologies can
take on many forms (Luehmann & MacBride, 2009). The suc-
cess or failure of wiki depends on the way the teacher structures
the wiki and designs student activities. Finally, there is a con-
cept as too much technology. Educators must consider if the
wiki activity is appropriate for the learner objectives and if the
students will benefit from the integration of technology. Any
technology can be overused or used inefficiently and detract
from student learning.
As educators, we understand the significance technology
plays on students’ daily lives. Teachers should embrace tech-
nology and integra te it into the curricula where they see appro-
priate. However, not all teachers are equipped with the latest
high-tech devices to accomplish this task. Fortunately, through
free web technology such as wikis, teachers can integrate tech-
nology into their classroom in order to promote collaborative
classroom literacy. Research (Marks, 2010) indicates that
learning environments that enrich collaboration are beneficials
Wiki Page Assessment Criteria. This figure illustrates how educators
can assess learners through the organization, presentation, and col-
laboration of their wiki p ag e .
to student learning. Moreover, promoting classroom literacy
provides learners with opportunities to participate in critical
thinking, productive learning, and content retention (Smith,
Rook, & Smith, 2007). Consequently, creating classroom envi-
ronments that promote collaboration and literacy are crucial to
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