Wiki world – Creating a Digital Classroom to Develop Teamwork and Thinking Play Presentation
Valerie Lyon

Valerie Lyon

Valerie Lyon, B.A; B.ed, has taught middle school for the past 20 years for the Peel District school board.  She especially enjoys finding new ways to keep learning interesting and relevant to young people.  She and her husband stay busy keeping up with their three teenagers but in her spare time she enjoys reading, surfing the net and travelling.

Table of Contents


Using a Wikispace to improve the critical inquiry and collaboration of grade 8 students as they research social issues for a Model UN.

Back to Top

Purpose of Learning Object

Students will discuss global issues as they prepare for a Model UN. They will post their comments and discoveries on a Wikispace so all students may critically probe, reflect and build upon the research.

Keywords: Wikispace, digital collaboration, page, postings, research, elementary UN, global citizenship, podcasting, internet, Web 2.0, critical thinking, questions.

Back to Top

Description of Learning Tasks

The culminating activity will be an in-depth on-line discussion among students about the ideas presented in the position papers posted by all the country groups.

Summary of steps as follows:

  • Students create their individual position papers for their committee, based on the ideas generated by their group.
  • Once a position paper is written, it is posted on the secure Wiki site dedicated to this purpose.
  • Other students from the same committee post their position papers on the same Wiki site.
  • Guided instruction from teacher on posing critical questions.
  • Each student is instructed to read the posted positions and to post comments on the ideas to clarify or challenge the statements that have been made in a discussion thread. (“critical friends”)
  • Students may also respond to comments that have been made about their own papers.
  • Students are expected to make a required number of comments or posts, to be evaluated by the teacher.
  • Revisions to papers take place.

Back to Top

Curriculum Connections

Reading Connections

1.2 identify a variety of purposes for reading and choose increasingly complex or difficult reading materials appropriate for those purposes

1.4 demonstrate understanding of increasingly complex and difficult texts by summarizing important ideas and explaining how the details support the main idea

1.5 develop and explain interpretations of increasingly complex or difficult texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations

1.6 extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other texts, and to the world around them

1.8 evaluate the effectiveness of a text based on evidence taken from that text

Media Connections

3.3 identify conventions and techniques appropriate to the form chosen for a media text they plan to create, and explain how they will use the conventions and techniques to help communicate their message

3.4 produce a variety of media texts of some technical complexity for specific purposes and audiences, using appropriate forms, conventions, and techniques

Learning Skills

  • Co-operation with others
  • Use of information
  • Conflict resolution
  • Goal-setting to improve work
  • Initiative
  • Class participation

Back to Top

Required Technology

Teachers and students need access to the Internet, a working knowledge of the Internet and the Wikispaces site. Prior knowledge of posing critical questions or participating in a threaded discussion may be useful.Help Wikispaces K-12 Getting Started Handout.

Back to Top


  1. Student survey of the skills of their group prior to embarking on the unit.
  2. Teacher observation.
  3. Monitoring of on-line discussions for specific group collaboration strategies.
  4. Rubric marking participation levels and critical thinking skills. Wikispaces Rubric Handout
  5. Survey at conclusion to self-assess skill development.

Back to Top

Scope and Sequence

This project fits into the second term of the Grade 8 year. It is a step along the way to creating resolutions for the debates at the Model UN. Example.

This project is designed to fit within a larger project that includes writing position papers and resolutions, as well as preparing speeches. Much of the preparation work is done using the Wiki space to allow students to see the work of their partners, and to let other grade 8 students view it as well.

Students will have 2-3 weeks to review each other’s postings and make comments on the discussion thread. Instructional events are as follows:

  • Students receive lessons on how to be a critical friend and how to use Wikispaces.
  • Students learn about threaded discussions and given practice time.
  • Students read UN speech summaries and decide on the three most important areas mentioned in the speech from the following categories: Poverty & Hunger, Education, Health Care, Human Rights, Peace-Keeping, Environment, Economy. Through class discussion each country is assigned to one of those areas.
  • Country groups then review the speech to determine their country’s position on the topic. i.e., Germany believes that education in Afghanistan will only improve when the security situation improves.
  • Students start preliminary research to determine background knowledge, opinion, and strategies. These three areas form the basis of their position paper. Most of this information can be gleaned from the country’s UN speech summary.
  • Students receive guided questions and expand their research beyond the speech. They are expected to use the Internet for the bulk of their research as much of the required information would be classified as current events. As a starting point, the teacher provides a list of news sources which may be posted on the country Wiki page. Each student is responsible for answering one question and finding one resource.
  • As a group, students combine their research and write a one paragraph position paper following the model they were given, which is then uploaded to Wikispaces.
  • Country groups will read each other’s papers and make their comments on the Wiki discussion board. The ‘critical friends’ model is used to guide the discussion. Each student will be required to post an assigned number of questions. While this is an individual activity, students may interact with one another through the postings. In the comments section, they can ask clarifying questions, or challenge other countries about their particular position. Example Image.
  • Countries don’t have to respond to the questions at this time, but may do so if they wish. The goal is not to generate debate at this point, but to stimulate thinking and help students critically examine their position so they can defend it later during the role-play at the Model UN.
  • At the end of this period, students write individual position papers as a preliminary task to writing their resolutions. (Writing the individual position paper is not part of the focus of this Innoteach project. For more information, click on the project of Angela Pretorius.)

Back to Top

Accommodations or Modifications

This collaborative activity can benefit all types of identified groups.

ELL students have the opportunity to practice and expand vocabulary within the group. ISSP students with strong oral skills can participate in the planning and developing of ideas, while the reading and writing aspects are modeled by stronger members of the group.

Gifted students can develop their critical thinking skills as they examine different sources to determine a point of view.

Mixed ability groupings allow stronger students to support weaker students in this activity however, accountability must be built into the requirement.

Back to Top


While there is room within the scope of the Model UN project for differentiation, the tasks of researching, posting and critiquing position papers do not allow for a great deal of differentiation.

Students may use either traditional newspapers or Internet sources when searching for information. Depending on what is available, they may be able to choose the length and difficulty of the articles.

Wikis and Differentiation

Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book, How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms (2nd ed.) explains that differentiation occurs through the various ways in which students interact with Wikis and with each other. The teacher may assign specific tasks that all must complete, but students can also interact with the site and challenge each other in particular areas that have piqued their curiousity. Students can focus on different activities, according to their interests. They have the option to post a variety of formats, including links, photos, power point presentations, etc.

Wikis and Critical Thinking

In his article, Arthur L. Costa (2008) focuses on five themes:

  1. Learning to think.
  2. Thinking to learn.
  3. Thinking together.
  4. Thinking about our own thinking.
  5. Thinking big.

While this article does not specifically address the use of technology, it does present a framework for examining the type of activities that use Wiki to develop critical thinking.

Under the theme “Thinking together,” Costa explores how collaborative learning, which Wiki facilitates, develops critical thinking.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Wiki in the Classroom

Researchers at Stanford University looked at the use of Wiki to build a community of learners.

They developed a poster identifying the three stages for implementing this new technology into the classroom: design, implementation, and sustainability.

Within each stage, there are steps that teachers can take with their class to create an optimal learning experience. ELI_Poster

Back to Top

Research Base

The classroom in the 21st century is continuing to evolve, and a growing number of educators are now incorporating Wiki technology into their teaching practice.

Grisham and Wolsey (2006) show that students who use on-line tools to communicate express themselves more authentically. As well, they experience a high level of comfort with reading materials that are posted to a website.

Examples of successful classroom Wikis are showcased in the Will Richardson book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms 2nd ed. Richardson’s book provides rationales and practical strategies for incorporating the new technologies into the classroom. It is packed with websites that show the different ways that Wikis are being used by teachers of all levels.

Back to Top

Evidence of Innovation and/or Exemplary Practice

Students are regularly interacting with Internet outside the classroom. This project shows how teachers can use the web in the classroom to engage students and develop critical thinking skills.

In my school, many teachers were initially intrigued by Wikis but abandoned the tool because they found the learning curve somewhat steep. However, by providing practical and tested methods, more teachers may find it possible to use this tool effortlessly and regularly.

Benefits of Wiki for Students

  • For students who are digital natives, Wiki provides a way to transfer classroom discussion to a world they enjoy and with which they are comfortable.
  • Wiki provides an environment that allows students more time than is possible in the classroom to think, and make choices, about their conversation.
  • It allows students who are shy, or intimidated, in the classroom to share their thoughts safely.
  • It eliminates the distractions and posturing of in-class peer interactions, allowing students to focus on what is being said, rather than on who said it. There is evidence of students benefiting from a newfound respect of their peers because of how they presented themselves on the Wiki page.
  • A greater maturity begins to emerge in the classroom as students honour learning and thinking within the space.

Back to Top

Other Applications (Extensions)

Wiki is being used in this project to develop group collaboration in preparation for a group debate. Wiki could also be used for:

  • literature discussions where students discuss book topics;
  • research work where links to outside sites can be posted, as well as any information they’d like to share with their group;
  • writing activities in which students can peer edit and post feedback on the work; and
  • photo displays of class projects.

Wiki is an extension of the classroom. As such, it can be used to support any activity which is intended to develop collaborative skills. The added benefit of Wiki is that it is a forum that students can access outside of school hours.

Back to Top

Impact Analysis

Until now, the only way to develop collaboration skills was to organize group work in the classroom. Students could also gather at a home, after school, to complete group assignments but this did not allow the teacher to monitor group dynamics and individual participation.

The Wiki introduces a new medium for student collaboration that allows the process to take place beyond the boundaries of the classroom and school day, yet still permits teacher monitoring.


Wiki contributes to student learning, engagement and motivation.

Students are already familiar with MSN and Facebook applications. Wikispaces are yet another way for students to ‘talk’ to one another digitally. With Wiki, they can ask each other questions, ponder their answers, and respond in a way that is less intimidating than in the classroom setting.

It not an instant medium therefore students have time to reflect on their responses. Peer pressure is diminished. For those students who are reluctant to speak out in the classroom, it is a powerful realization to know that they can still make their voices heard.

Students enjoy seeing others respond to their comments.

Students relish an instant world where responses are immediate, as they are on MSN or Facebook. Teachers must retrain students to see value in more reflective input. Wiki allows time to think, without the pressure of someone waiting for your reply. Thoughts can be framed, written and rewritten until the student is comfortable.

For students, another benefit of Wiki is that it allows them to submit work after hours.


Teachers using Wiki in their classroom need to plan slightly differently.

Initially, the novelty factor provokes much student enthusiasm. Once the novelty wears off however, the challenge for teachers is to sustain student conversation on the Wiki pages by prompting students to ask and respond to one another so as to develop their thoughts.

Educators should plan for teaching critical thinking skills so that students can develop effective questions to ask of each other. Students need instruction on ‘critical friends’ to learn how to ask the difficult questions and flesh out ideas. They should have ample time to practice these skills on a regular basis. They also require accountability.

We noticed on Wiki that some students initially responded to their peers with, “Good job, way to go.” However, with guidance they began to ask questions that reflected their understanding of the material and a desire to probe further.

The following are some examples of comments that Grade 8 students made to their classmates about their work for the Model UN:

“I enjoyed reading the points because they were all reasonable and critical facts to think about, but if prices of things do decrease due to more affordable prices for citizens and small businesses, eventually wouldn’t the economy just go down by bigger business owners?

I don’t know, I guess it’s just something to think about.

But it was a job well done!” (A comment on an economic resolution)

“Good resolution!, but you could’ve made it more clearer (sic) on what your country needs of the UN but is your country helping other countries by donating money to countries with little money and if your country does slow down, then does your country have any backup plans or alliances with financially stable countries that will help to stabalize (sic) your country again?”


Teachers who incorporate Wikispaces into their practice believe it helps develop collaborative skills among students.

Teachers are not used to working in digital environments and need strategies for implementation.

At our school, several teachers signed on to and set up their pages, but failed to keep these active as the year progressed. Relevant step-by-step strategic lessons to help teachers maintain the Wiki pages could make the difference. Those teachers who have sustained on-line collaborative activities for their classes recognize the benefits.

Back to Top

Additional Resources

  • Wiki rubric for questioning/responding
  • Critical Tasks summary
  • Student self assessment

List of research sites:

Back to Top

Copyright/Paper Citation Considerations

Case, Roland & LeRoi Daniels Introduction to the TC2 Conception of Critical Thinking. Retrieved Jan. 23, 2008 from

Grisham, Dana L. & Thomas D. Wolsey. Recentering the middle school classroom as a vibrant learning community: Students, literacy and technology intersect, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy; May 2006: 49, 8: Education Periodicals.

Richardson, Will. (2009) Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA, Corwin Press.

Helen Chen, Stanford University

Back to Top