Back to top

Using Wikis


A wiki is a website that allows edits to content by any user via any browser. Ward Cunningham used the word wiki (the Hawaiian word meaning quick) to name the collaborative tool he developed for use on the Internet in 1994. Wikis are organised by content an edit trail built in and inadvertent deletes can be salvaged, papers uploaded to a wiki can be edited by any of the authors at any time from any location perhaps the most famous and commonly used wiki is Wikipedia, ( which is an online editable encyclopaedia.

Wiki spaces are usually free and straightforward to use and gives students ownership of their collaborative learning experience whether in a face to face course or fully online module you can use wikis for your students to organise a group-work activity, whether to share data or on-site notes, create a photo journal or plan a project wikis offer versatile collaborative teaching and learning, wikis are seen as being to be more permanent and serious than blogs and could serve as repositories of knowledge (Goodwin Jones, 2003).

Benefits of Using Wikis:

  • Wikis are a great way to get students learning by doing rather than by teachers telling them information ‘the medium works most efficiently when students can assert meaningful autonomy over the process’ (Lamb, 2004 p.45)

  • Wikis are a good tool to use to get students interacting in a peer-learning environment which is asynchronous.

  • Its real power lies in the fact that groups can collaboratively work on the content of the site using nothing but a standard web browser ‘Online content creation is able to proceed rapidly with contributions from every member of the unit rather than from a handful of Web authors’ (Lamb, 2004, p.40)

  • Tutors can keep track of the history of a document as it is revised each time a person makes changes to a wiki page, that revision of the content becomes the current version and an older version is stored, versions of the document can be compared side-by-side and edits can be rolled back if necessary.

  • Wikis offer the ability to discuss changes before they are actually made and track who edited what and when.

  • The process is the product meaning it is developed and guided out of the social interactions at the point where text is created, "wikis discourage “product orientated writing” whilst facilitating “writing as a process” and ease students into writing for public consumption”(Lamb, 2004, p.44)

  • A wiki offers educators a look at how students contribute to a working document it also gives the educator the ability to see how students can work together on a document and what their contributions are including:

  • Tutors can see where and how students have collaborated in the wiki.

  • Tutors can see what students have contributed in comparison to the original text.

Freely available wikis include:

 A comparison of wikis can be found at:

Good Practice:

  • Wikis are best used for the construction of collaboratively authored documents, ‘Where learners and peers are committed to achieving the same goals they tend to regulate each other’s performance a positive outcome that can be facilitated through the use of shared digital learning environments.’ (Boulos et al, 2006)

  • They work best when everyone has something to gain from the finished resource - the general principle being if everyone contributes a little they all benefit from the overall collaborative finished resource.

  • They do not take long to set up - but it is important to build a basic infrastructure into them to guide the contributions into a general shape, if it is left blank students may find it too hard to get started. 

  • If you have students who you think will have trouble using a wiki provide some training or some training notes and also put a page on the wiki for people to practice editing with some dummy information in it – call it the ‘sandbox’ or something similar. Clear this out or reset every now and again.

  • They do need to be managed but because changes are always archived and the contributions are recorded students cannot get up to much mischief.

  • Students will not respond unless they've got something to gain from it or they'll get some kind of punishment if they don't (carrots and sticks) Go for carrots rather than sticks if they can see a clear benefit (and if it’s well designed they should do) then they'll continue to use it.

  • You may have to set some rules - that if they don't contribute a certain amount they won't pass or something similar make sure the students know what is expected of them.

  • Make sure that the students who contribute to a wiki understand that their words may be deleted or changed by others.

  • Don't expect that the novelty of using a wiki in your classroom is going to motivate your students to continue to use it, model the type of collaborative behaviour that you would like to see your students’ exhibit through the use of the wiki.

  • You might encourage your students to moderate their own spelling and grammar rather than something that's tutor directed, keep them engaged with the topic of the wiki while focusing on their ownership of wiki content, the tone of the wiki is set up by the tutor through discussion both online and offline.

Assigning Roles:

Assigning specific roles to students which might also help to ease students into the use of a wiki the role might be assigned with the understanding that these students are still free to contribute to the wiki in any of the other roles outlined, a few examples might be:

  • Innovators: Find new ideas that relate to the topic and include those ideas into the wiki.

  • Debaters: Challenge the information presented in the new ideas through discussion in order to help legitimise or debunk new information.

  • Researchers: Look at connections between the wiki content that has been created and provide links to research that discusses that content, check that the facts that have been included in the wiki are correct.

  • Protectors: Stop spammers or editing that detracts from the content being created, and check for plagiarism in order to protect the integrity of the wiki.

  • Editors: Formatting the text so that it is more appealing (i.e. bold, italics, font size) Correcting spelling and grammar errors in the text.

Assigning Tasks:

Another way you can help students to engage in the wiki is by assigning a task list to students, examples include:

  • Formatting.

  • Fact Checking and Plagiarism.

  • Linking the Wiki.

  • Create New Content.

Establish a ‘Style Guide’:

This is a guide that relates to the specific customs and culture of the wiki. This outlines how students should model their contributions in this particular collaborative environment. A style guide may include specific wiki formatting (See Wikipedia’s Style Guide at )

Examples of How to use Wikis in Education

  • Easily create simple websites: The wiki provides a ready to use site with a simple user interface where you have the ability to easily add pages and simple navigation structure. This allows students to spend more time developing the content of the site, instead of trying to learn how to make one.

  • Project development with peer review: A wiki makes it easy for students to write, revise and submit an assignment since all three activities can take place in the wiki. This allows the teacher and peers to see the evolution of the paper over time and continually comment on it, rather than offering comments only on the final draft. When the student completes the final draft, the teacher and peers can read it on the wiki and offer feedback.

  • Group authoring: Often groups collaborate on a document by ‘pushing’ it out to each member - emailing a file that each person edits on his or her computer and some attempt is made to coordinate the edits so everyone’s work is equally represented, Using a wiki ‘pulls’ the group members together to build and edit the document on a wiki page, which strengthens the community within the group and allows group members with overlapping or similar ideas to see and collaboratively build on each other’s work. It also allows all group members immediate equal access to the most recent version of the document.

  • Track a group project: Considering students’ busy schedules, a wiki is very useful for tracking and completing group projects. It allows group members to track their research and ideas from anywhere they have internet access. It helps them save time by seeing what sources others have already checked, which then gives them a central place to collectively prepare the final product. One way to do this is to give each group a wiki page in which to write the paper itself and give each member of the group a separate page to track his/her research and ideas for the paper. The ‘paper’ page lets you see how the group is working collaboratively to construct the paper and the individual pages let you track how each group member is developing his/her contribution to the paper.

  • Presentations:  Some people are using a wiki in place of conventional presentation software like PowerPoint.

  • Use as a collaborative handout for students.

  • Create and maintain a classroom FAQ.

  • As a classroom discussion and debate area or a space to brain-storm suggestions.

  • A place to collect web resources or references.

  • Choose a topic on Wikipedia, break the topic into facts. Students verify the facts using their information literacy skills and make changes accordingly (Citing sources).

Case study:

Task: To build a ‘History of Empire’ encyclopaedia resource using a wiki.

Learning objectives for the class: to build students’ awareness of what Homi Bhabha refers to as the ‘forces of centering’ whereby colonial discourses encourage a turning in to the colonial centre.


Stage 1: The tutor creates a wiki that has a table with a series of questions that require answers (e.g. ‘Who was Geronimo?’, ‘What was the Zulu war all about?’) for which they may have some ‘inkling’ but little detailed knowledge.

Stage 2: The students are then requested to sign up for one/two questions then undertake the necessary research and build an answer with other students (both in their cohort and in years to come). It is a good idea for the tutor to do the first one as an example and to model good practice.

Stage 3: The students are then required to read other students' work and comment on them and make any appropriate links between the pages.

Stage 4: The students are asked to reflect on their learning (this could be via a blog or learning journal) and how their opinions/attitudes may have changed from undertaking this activity.


Useful Links to Websites or Resources in Brightspace:

Written guide on how to create a wiki in Brightspace

Written guide on how to use a wiki in Brightspace

Screencast on how to create a wiki in Brightspace

Screencast on how to use a wiki in Brightspace


7 things you should know about Wikis:

Davis, M. Wiki Wisdom: Lessons for Educators

Wikis in Higher Education:


References to Scholarly Articles:

Deters, F., Cuthrell, K., & Stapleton, J. (2010). Why wikis? student perceptions of using wikis in online coursework. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(1), 122.

Gomes, R., & Sousa, L. (2013). Teaching and learning through wikis in higher education. International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 3(6), 627-633. 

HULBERT-WILLIAMS, N. J. (2010). Facilitating collaborative learning using online wikis: Evaluation of their application within postgraduate psychology teaching. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 9(1), 45.

Lai, Y. C., & Ng, E. M. W. (2011). Using wikis to develop student teachers' learning, teaching, and assessment capabilities. The Internet and Higher Education, 14(1), 15-26. 

Wheeler, S., Yeomans, P., & Wheeler, D. (2008). The good, the bad and the wiki: Evaluating student-generated content for collaborative learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(6), 987-995.

If you have any feedback, suggestions for improvement or spot any errors on this page, please email further details to:, thank you.