Thursday, July 2, 2009

8 Ways To Use A School Wiki to Increase Communication, Collaboration, and Enrich Instruction

Wikis are a great tool to help a school enrich instruction, and increase communication and collaboration among staff. They are also free (for educators using wikispaces) and provide unlimited storage for digital materials including video, screencasts, presentations, pdfs, etc.

When I explain these benefits to educators and their administrators they often nod in agreement, but still want to know the nuts and bolts of what this looks like in practice. The best way to explain this is to use examples of actual school wikis in use here in New York City. I've selected examples of how schools are using wikis in the following ways:
  1. Decrease Disruption of Instructional Time with Digital Daily Announcements
  2. More Efficient and Effective Team Meetings and Planning
  3. Collaborate On Important Documents Like School Comprehensive Education Plans
  4. Enhance School Professional Development Using a Wiki
  5. Share and Collaborate On Curriculum Maps
  6. Save Trees /Save Time and Unclutterize Your Room or Office by Posting School Resources
  7. Know Where Everyone Is When Schedules/Programs Are Posted
  8. A Portal for All Your Lessons
    Information on How to Get Started
Decrease Disruption of Instructional Time with Digital Daily Announcements
Each day daily notes are posted on the school wiki. Gone are the days when instructional time is stolen from students with announcements that often don’t apply to them. Instead, each day staff knows where they need to look to find out the important information. The template Jason Levy, Principal of CIS 339 uses for his daily notes includes:
-Announcements and Reminders by Department
-Staff Attendance
-Out at PD / Visitors
-Staff Recognizing Staff
-Celebrating RED (Rigor. Engagement. Differentiation) in Practice
-Other Stuff:
Notes also may contain surveys and/or forms for teachers to complete, readings, or other important news and notes of the day. Many of these items (i.e. recognizing staff, celebrating RED) are dynamically populated using Google docs. This provides an ongoing reinforcement of staff priorities and vision.

After the staff member has read the daily notes they digitally sign a Google document with their initials indicating they have read the daily notes and they can also indicate if there are any questions, issues, feedback or concerns. You can see what this looks like here and here.

More Efficient and Effective Team Meetings and Planning
All team meetings and planning can be coordinated right on your wiki. This gives staff and administration a one stop shopping spot to see exactly what is happening and how work is progressing at various team meetings.

At CIS 339 the team meeting pages include team norms and activities in which teams should be engaged followed by a listing of each team and a link to all their meeting notes, agendas, documents, and materials. Each team meeting page also has a discussion board where conversations can continue. You can see an example of what this page looks like here.

Collaborate On Important Documents Like School Comprehensive Education Plans
CIS 339 uses their school wiki to collaborate on the creation, revising, and updating of their school’s comprehensive education plan. The wiki is organized with general planning and process documents, then each department has a section for their piece. This enables everyone to see where anyone is at any time and the discussion tab allows for ongoing conversation while the documents are being created. You can see an example of what this page looks like here.

Enhance School Professional Development Using a Wiki
Anytime your school is having professional development all the materials can be loaded to the wiki. No more copies to run off, folders to buy, teachers sharing if there aren’t enough copies, or worrying about writing on your only copy. Additionally, a discussion forum is associated with each wiki page. This is a great way to elicit feedback during professional development and to keep the conversation going afterwards.

Share and Collaboratee On Curriculum Maps
Wikis are a great tool for schools involved in curriculum mapping. Washington Irving High School (click thumbnail on right) posts their English department curriculum maps on their wiki. At the Marta Valle Secondary School, curriculum maps for each content area are posted on their school wiki. Departments begin with the curriculum mapping template that teams can collaborate on to complete. Department members can easily put links to all materials and important documents required for each piece of the map. This also allows for planning across grades and department since all information is transparently posted. The discussion tab provides a powerful communication mechanism for those implementing the curriculum to collaborate. You can see a sample of what that looks like here.

Save Trees /Save Time and Unclutterize Your Room or Office by Posting School Resources
Wikis are a clutter terminator. If you're like most educators, your classroom or office desk or bookshelves are filled with documents, memos, guides, etc. that while important, rarely need to be accessed. You know, the school handbook, conference handouts, flyers, guides, articles, etc. etc. All those documents, boxes and boxes worth, can be posted in an easily accessible format, right on the wiki. In addition to saving space, schools will save time by not having to place all these documents in everyone’s mailbox every day.

At MVSS you’ll find documents such as the opening day packet, school handbook, school safety plan, principal’s letters and presentations, frequently used forms, instructional resources, discipline code, quality review documents, the vision statement, the mission statement, school brochure and more. You can see an example of what this page looks like here. At CIS 339 you’ll find many of these documents as well as a compilation of relevant articles and links which you can see here.

Know Where Everyone Is When Schedules/Programs Are Posted
All teacher schedules, bell schedules, meetings, etc. can be posted right on the wiki so any staff member can locate their colleagues at anytime. This combined with the posting of staff absences and class coverages in the daily notes ensures that staff will always know where and when their colleagues can be found.

A Portal for All Your Lessons
At many schools there may be more than one teacher teaching the same subject/unit of study. However, there never seems to be enough time to collaborate. A wiki solves that issue. All lessons can be posted right on the wiki and using the discussion tab, teachers can connect and collaborate. I used a wiki to do this for teachers across New York City who were running iSquad 21st Century Student Support teams. The faculty advisors and I brainstormed lesson ideas and posted all the lesson topics on the wiki, then faculty advisors signed up for the lesson they were writing by placing their name next to it and posting their lesson. Each advisor wrote one or two lessons and we instantly had a bank of lessons accessible to all. You can see what that looks like here. I also coordinated curriculum integration teams responsible for creating technology-infused lessons in literacy, science, social studies, math, and fitness. Teams met in person from time to time, but most of their work was done remotely where they collaborated to write a bank of lessons that can be used and accessed by teachers anywhere which you can see here.

How to Get Started
You can have your own free school wiki in 30 seconds or less by visiting Once there you select your wikis name and click create, then VoilĂ , you have a wiki. If you want to know more about using wikis in education, TeachersFirst has created a handy Wiki Walk-Through which steps you through using wikis in education in a clear and easy to follow way. You can also, take a look at the Educational Wikis space. It has examples, a guide, and links to other resources.

This post was picked up in the August 2009 edition of Tech and Learning Magazine .


  1. Wikispaces has a help page for K-12 Educators that includes links to video tutorials that can guide educators when setting up their wikis -

  2. I'm wondering what experience people have with pbwiki?

  3. @Susan, I used PBwiki prior to wikispaces and found wikispaces easier to use and more functional on the free account for educators. I am not aware of functionality on the free PBwiki account that is not available on wikispaces. Could be more specific about what it is you are wondering?

  4. Wow, great information! I am just learning about Wikis and didn't realize they could be used in this way. How long has you school used wikis? Does everyone like it, or do you have some teachers that don't like change?

  5. Below is a concern shared by a Manhattan assistant principal emailed to me in response to this post and principal Jason Levy’s (referred to in the post) advice in response to that concern.

    -I think using Wiki as information sharing tool in schools is a great idea. My only concern is we are rapidly introducing new communication systems without ever ensuring that our current systems (e.g., ARIS, NYStart, etc.) are an effect used as intended.

    -I would see these as completely different systems. The internal Wiki is an opportunity to build community within your school, through constant communication, updates, and sharing. The other city systems aren't for communication--they are more for information that has already been captured so that people can make decisions. But all of these other systems can be hyperlinked from the wiki. And they are only a percentage of what a school does, so the wiki can provide so many more resources.

  6. can a "ning" page do the same as a wiki?

  7. After reading your article in tech learning I am convinced that using Wikis will bring my school to a highter level of technology integration and student achievement. Lisa, how do I begin?

  8. i don't care what the top post ranking sez, this is a great post!