Project Wiki!: An Effective and Motivating Tool for Big6 Collaborations

Author: Barbara Jansen

Q: How do you motivate students to engage in the research process and cooperate with the other students in their group?

A: Allow them to use a wiki for your next Big6 project!

Most of us know of the term wiki from Wikipedia, the extensive free online encyclopedia created and edited by the public. Due to its editable content, often library media specialists and teachers will not allow students to cite it for research papers and projects.
But no matter your opinion on Wikipedia, there is no controversy in using wikis in the Big6 process. According to Wikipedia,“a wiki is a type of Web site that allows users to easily add and edit content and is especially suited for collaborative writing.” In other words, this format is perfectly suited for the workstyle of many Big6ers – collaborative, cyclical, and flexible.

Creating a wiki for your Big6 curriculum project is easy and free using a service such as David Weekly’s Peanut Butter Wiki. If your district or school cannot or will not host your class project Web pages or will not allow students to post Web pages, you and your students can create and edit your own wikis. Wiki editing is much easier than coding hypertext mark up language (HTML) or using Web authoring software. Each page will contain advertising to support the service, however for $5/month you can upgrade to a premium account which gives you ad-free pages and a larger amount of server space.

Ways to use Wikis
The flexible structure of wikis makes it easy to create a resource your class will use. I like to create one large wiki with sub-wikis for student groups. You can use a project wiki to introduce the unit and each stage of the Big6 as your students create group wikis and collaborate to maintain interest and stay organized. You can also upload documents students will need for the project, putting an end to students losing important assignment sheets.

On the home page of the project wiki, you will want to introduce the project. The home page is a good place to write the information problem that will get students interested and motivated to want to study the content and engage in the Big6 process. For an example, see my Big6 project wiki.

Once you put students in groups for the subtopics, have each group create a wiki (you assign the password or record the one they give you so that you can help to shape the content if needed. Instruct groups to create a sidebar listing each of the Big6 Stages. As you instruct students in the specifics of each stage, each group will add a page, including ideas and responses to assignments. On each group’s home page, students can put their names and the topic they are studying. Have them paste the project URL on their home page. They can also copy and paste the information problem on the page.

As you instruct the class in each stage of the Big6, create pages for the project wiki which include information which groups may refer to during their independent work. In this way, the project wiki and the small group wikis work together to help students keep track of information they find, chart their progress through the assignment, and follow the path of the Big6.

Each group’s wiki can function as a container for resources, notes, planning for the results (Synthesis), self- and group evaluations and research journal entries. A student who is absent for several days and has access to the Internet can continue to communicate with his or her group. You can comment on students’ progress directly on the wiki, keeping them focused and answering questions or solving problems they may post for you.

Wikis keep students organized, materials together, and kids enthusiastic and motivated. Consider using wikis with your upper elementary through high school students for Big6 collaborations.

Work cited:

“Wiki.” Wikipedia. 27 Nov. 2001. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 Jan. 2006 

(Find out more about using wikis with each stage of the Big6 in the new Linworth book by Barbara A. Jansen, Big6 in Middle Schools: Teaching Information and Communications Technology Skills, Fall 2006.)