Wikis as Textbooks

7 Apr
Is it just me? Every time I hear WIKIS I think about wookies.

Is it just me? Every time I hear WIKIS I think about wookies.

Let’s be honest. Wikis are ugly. At least the wikis I make are not sleek and arresting in a visual sense. Yet, I use wikis in a variety of ways that I find elegant and interesting. Think of them as a ten-year-old Toyota Corolla. They usually won’t turn heads, but they run beautifully and always do what they should.

Wikis as Textbooks

This past fall, I taught a brand spankin’ new public speaking course based on TED talks. I had never taught public speaking, so in preparation, I searched for the perfect textbook. I have never used a textbook in any class, but my own insecurities where sending me looking for some solid backup. Well, I didn’t find the perfect textbook (because they don’t exist). Instead, I decided to have the students create their own textbook using a class wiki:

Public Speaking Class Textbook

The experience reinforced my belief in constructivism. While far from perfect, our self-constructed textbook served our purposes perfectly. After giving their first speeches, I asked the students, “O.K. Now that you’ve given one speech, what do you think you need to learn?” Their answers became our chapters.

Over the course of the term, I assigned students specific questions. They became the editors for that section. Other students added content, too. I used a mixture of homework and in-class activities, asking students to make significant contributions to peers’ work. Then, the editors of each section had final say regarding content, layout, and links.


  • The wiki interface is a little clunky, so you have to be ready to help students deal with some frustration.
  • The final product does not look as sleek as it could (and this is partly “user error” here and partly the by-product of wiki limitations).


  • Students, especially in a laptop classroom, need to become curators of information.
  • Students learned more. By creating the textbooks pages, students were doing the intellectual “heavy lifting” and the content became stickier. We also read Made to Stick as a class, but the students were much more likely to refer to their online community textbook when developing their speeches.
  • Tracking this work was incredibly easy. I just used the history tabs for each page to see exactly what was added when.
  • The students write work for an authentic audience. They created content for each other and future classes. This textbook will morph with each subsequent class, and the students put in extra effort to leave a legacy for the underclassmen.
  • Mixed media works more effectively. Combining text, audio, and image helps the students retain the content.
  • Copyright literacy is improved. A one-off lesson on following online copyright rules (or comma usage or Shakespearean conventions or writing effective introductions) never works as effectively as consistent practice. Creating our own textbook throughout the term gave us ample opportunities to deal with copyright issues in a meaningful manner.
  • IT IS FREE. As educators, wikispaces (and other services) offer free accounts, and the creators retain the rights to the work (unlike iBooks).

You’re still reading? Great! You get some prizes:

Check out how Darren Kuropatwa uses wikis as Calculus Solution Manuals


how Melissa A. asks students to create online textbooks as a final exam


Wikibooks: Open Books for an Open World

One Response to “Wikis as Textbooks”

  1. Sylvia January 30, 2016 at 8:25 am #

    Great tips Thanks, Sylvia

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