Wikis (collaborative, easily edited web pages) seem to be the rage at all the educational conferences you attend these days. Because of their user-friendly interface (editors do not need to have an understanding of HTML to be able to edit them) they are sprouting up in classrooms around the world. Wikispaces alone has given away almost 71,800 wikis to educators in the last year. The benefits of wikis are numerous for teachers, but more importantly for students. They can house unlimited amounts of multimedia creations including video, audio, text files, PowerPoints, tables, charts, and pictures, just to name a few. In addition, users can easily link to other wiki pages they have created or particular websites on the greater Internet.
Wikis are collaborative in nature. Members of the wiki can work simultaneously on the content, building an accumulation of various content. They contain a built in discussion board where students can email each other within their project. Wikis also contain a crucial tool called the “history”. This is a page on which all editors’ additions and deletions (as well as the IP address from the computer they used to make the changes) are logged automatically as to date and time.
Educators are just beginning to explore the limitless possibilities of using wikis in their classrooms. Some of the more well-known wiki collaborations in the technology education world include that of the Flat Classroom Project ( and the Horizon Project ( In the Flat Classroom Project students from the United States and Qatar collaborate as they study the concepts in Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat. For the Horizon Project, several classrooms from around the world are documenting learning that is taking place using

At this point very little research has been conducted concerning the impact wikis have on student understanding in the classroom, and almost none in the area of science. The action research project presented throughout this paper is being designed to address this research and policy-informing need. Previous research conducted by Duffy and Bruns, “The use of blogs, wikis and RSS in education: A conversation of possibilities” (2006), Désilets and Paquet, “Wiki as a Tool for Web-based Collaborative Story Telling in Primary School: A Case Study” (2005), Tsinakos, Collaborative Student Modelling- a new perspective using Wiki” (2006), Sorden, A Cognitive Approach to Instructional Design for Multimedia Learning” (2005), and Worley, “Project-Based Learning through Global Learning Communities of K-12 Students” (2006) will be addressed, among others, in the literature review of this action research project.
In addition to the aforementioned wiki research, it will be important to include information from the Pew Internet and American Life Project report that was published in December, 2007. This report summarizes various findings related to what early adolescents are doing on the Internet in their spare time. It demonstrates the amount of hours and dedication these students are giving to building content on the Internet, including web pages, mash-ups of audio and video, digital photography, and other creative applications.
Finally, as part of the justification for the action research looking into how wikis can specifically address science content understanding, it will be important to provide data concerning the recently mandated state science assessments being conducted at the 3rd, 5th, and 8th grade levels. The need for students to be well-prepared in advance for the 8th grade test will be stressed. Recent science assessment score data as well as attaining the average hours spent at each grade level on science content may be included for support.
Two research questions will be addressed by this research study.
  1. How do students who are required to maintain a collaborative wiki of their science content knowledge compare to students who participate in a traditional science class on specific performance criteria?
  2. Do students required to maintain a collaborative science wiki show differences in mastery of content across six of the sixth grade NC Standard Course of Study strands?
Gathering data to answer these questions should allow us to determine if the educational use of a wiki, in which the students are creating their own content from inquiry activities in the classroom, is more effective for science mastery than traditional methods of delivery. It will also allow the researcher to begin to determine if creating science content on a wiki is more effective for some strands of the curriculum over others.

This action research study will take place in a rural middle school in central North Carolina. The students who attend this school come from the south western section of the county in which there continues to be a great deal of agricultural labor. For this reason many of the students are from Hispanic origin, migrating with their families through the growing seasons. The middle school will open its doors for the first time in August of 2008, having been built as a result of the vast overcrowding of the two existing middle schools. Several of the area elementary schools from which this middle school population comes, have been granted Title One status by the government due to the large amount of students meeting the eligibility requirement for free and reduced lunch. The school itself will house approximately 650 6th-8th grade students.

Participants in this action research will include two “teams” of 6th grade students. Working on the traditional middle school model the grade levels at SanLee are divided into 2 and 3 teacher teams. Students in the study will come from two of the 2-teacher teams. The treatment group will consist of approximately 50 students on the researcher’s team. These students rotate across the hallway between their two teacher’s classrooms, in one room gaining language arts and social studies knowledge, and in the researcher’s room science and math. The teams are constructed randomly with an emphasis on equal amounts of males and females and heterogeneity by the administration. Children served by academically gifted, exceptional education, and English language learning programs are spread out among the four sixth grade teams. Therefore the 50 treatment group students will be a random mixture of ability level students.
The teachers of the treatment group are both experienced educators having both been in the classroom for over 16 years. Both share similar discipline styles, and are excited about reinvigorating their careers in a new school where they can try out cutting edge educational reform efforts. Although they have never been placed as teaching partners, they have known each other for over 5 years, are coming from the same middle school (West), and both requested the move voluntarily.
The control group will consist of around 50 students from the neighboring team who are assigned to that team in the same manner as described above for the treatment group. The teachers of this team are both experienced teachers, one having taught middle school for over 25 years, and one 10 years. They are also both coming from the same middle school (East), and both requested the move voluntarily, mainly due to their prior positive experience with the newly hired Principal.

The science teachers on both teams (treatment and control) have received extensive training in using inquiry science kits in the classroom. Through a program entitled, TASC (Teachers and Scientists Collaborating), which is supported and funded by our local LEA, all county science teachers are able to attend training workshops in kit based teaching. Along with the intensive training, the county leases science kits which provide all the materials needed to conduct hands-on inquiry science lessons throughout the year. In this respect both groups of students will be involved in similar activities as they proceed through the science curriculum. They will also attend science class for the same amount of minutes each day. In addition, time has been built into the teachers’ schedules so they can collaborate on lesson ideas.
The make up of the classrooms are also identical. Both contain five new classroom computers, a printer, a mounted projector, and interactive Smartboard. The county subscribes to United Streaming so both educators will be able to include streamed video as a lesson enhancement. In addition, both of the educators continuously develop their skills integrating technology into their classrooms. It is therefore hoped that in all respects outside the treatment, the two groups will be delivered the science content in a very similar manner.
The treatment will be the use of student created collaborative wikis. Throughout each unit students on the treatment team will work in small groups (randomly assigned at the beginning of the year using a computer program) creating science content to populate their wiki. Following inquiry-based activities and labs during which they are able to use digital cameras and digital video cameras to record their work, time will be provided for them to document their understanding and learning on the wiki. Because wikis are internet based, the students will be able to add to and access their work any time they are at an internet-accessible computer (ie. public library, home, computer lab, classroom, friend’s house, etc.).
Wikis are collaborative in nature, allowing members to add, amend, and delete content as it is built. In addition, the students can easily upload pictures, video, audio content, and internet site links to enhance their written content. The member contributions are easily monitored through a history page in the wiki’s tabs. This page names the contributing member, their computer’s IP address, the date and time of the contribution, and displays exactly what was contributed, amended, or deleted.
During the first few weeks of school all treatment group students will be instructed on various technology components including use of digital cameras, video cameras, microphones, wiki construction, uploading, linking, and the use various online open source software such as Voicethread, Animoto, Slideshare, and other tools that will be beneficial to their content creation. By supplying this instruction at the beginning it is hoped that all efforts through the remainder of the year will be on science content creation rather than the tools themselves.
As each unit is started, and these include Scientific Method and Processes, Population Dynamics, Energy Transfer and Transformation, Cycling of Matter, Earth’s Lithosphere, and Solar System, each group will add a new section to their wiki for this content. Consequently at the end of the year, each group will have a comprehensive website containing their collaborative efforts and science understanding.
Finally as an important component of Project WISE, each collaborative group will be assigned a pre-service science teacher from nearby North Carolina State University. The purpose being to provide the students with content mentoring beyond that of the classroom teacher, as they create their wikis. The pre-service teachers and the students will be able to communicate through each wiki’s discussion page. In addition, various videoconferences using Skype will be set up to allow the students to converse with their mentors throughout the process.

The design of this research project is quasi-experimental in nature due to the fact that it is action research. Kurt Lewin, attributed with developing the term ‘action research’ describes it “as a way of generating knowledge about a social system while, at the same time, attempting to change it” (Lewin, 1945, as quoted in Hart & Bond, 1995, p. 13). Lewin also goes on to state that action research is cyclical involving a constant fluctuation between generating knowledge and changing social systems. Therefore the data gathered during the first year of this research project will only be the beginning. Although it will hopefully be used to inform local policy regarding moving our classrooms toward greater 21st century skills education, the entire project will be a continual process over the next few years.
Having said that, in the first year, data collection will be centered around gathering the evidence needed to answer the two research questions posed earlier.
  1. How do students who are required to maintain a collaborative wiki of their science content knowledge compare to students who participate in a traditional science class on specific performance criteria?
  2. Do students required to maintain a collaborative science wiki show differences in master of content across six of the sixth grade NC Standard Course of Study strands?
The dependent variable throughout the research study will be science content mastery, while the independent variable will be the use of creating collaborative science content on the wiki.
Quantitative data in the form of science content gains will be collected using pre and post-testing for each of the required units of study. Both the control and treatment groups will take identical pre and post-tests taken from the currently used science textbook adoption materials. Results will be compared between the two groups and differences noted and elaborated upon.
Qualitative data will also be collected throughout the year. Students in both groups will be surveyed prior to the start of the project, as well as after every other unit of study. These surveys will include twenty 5-point Likert-type questions designed to gauge student perceptions of science/technology and its impact on their learning. Attitudinal data collected will relate to five broad categories: (1) students’ perception and interest in STEM areas; (2) preference for hands-on learning; (3) relevance of STEM areas; (4) preference for creating Web 2.0 content; and (5) difficulty and personal motivation in STEM areas. Analysis of this data will probably either include an ANCOVA or a simple linear correlation. From my understanding, the simple linear correlation allows you to measure the correlation between each question and a question which is designed to measure "overall" attitude. The questions that correlate highly with the "overall" question are referred to as "drivers", having the most to do with the respondents' overall attitudes.
Finally, student-created content on each of the wikis will be coded and analyzed. According to the Visible Knowledge Project (2002) there are three basic ways to code data. The first is to develop a list of categories to look for in that which you are coding. For this project categories would be established related to the types of information students are required to master according to the North Carolina Standard Course of Study in Science and the relationship of this content with either of the two research questions. This could also include coding wiki entries according to content that seems novice (coding it with an “n”) and expert (coding it with an “e”). Definitions for what is deemed novice/expert would need to be established.
Other coding methods that could be used with the wiki content are to pull out key words that recur or illustrate a level of understanding, and/or identify emergent categories that seem to appear as the content is analyzed. In order to create a more reliable analysis, a technology facilitator also interesting in the program will provide collaboration in coding the data.
The triangulation of the pre and post-tests, Likert surveys, and the coding of the wiki content data should provide interesting and valuable insight into the effectiveness of student-created internet content using wikis on science content mastery. It is hoped that as this research project develops and continues, crucial information concerning how we can guide our students toward becoming independent, global, content-creating science authorities will emerge.


Désilets, A., & Paquet, S. (2005). Wiki as a Tool for Web-based Collaborative Story Telling in Primary School: A Case Study. Published at EdMedia 2005, World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications. Montréal, Québec, Canada. June 27 - July 2 2005.
Drummond, J., & Themessl-Huber, M. (2007). The Cyclical process of action
research. Action Research. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
Duffy, P. & Bruns, A. (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities. In Proceedings Online Learning and Teaching Conference 2006, pp. 31-38, Brisbane. Accessed from
Sorden, S. (2005). A Cognitive Approach to Instructional Design for Multimedia Learning. Informing Science Journal, pages 263-279.
Tsinakos, A. (2006). Collaborative Student Modelling- a new perspective using Wiki. WSEAS TRANS. on ADVANCE in ENGINEERING EDUCATION. Issue 6, Vol.3, pp. 475-481.