Using Wikis with Student Research Projects and Portfolios

by Celeste Scholz

University of Oregon (Oregon, USA)

Keywords: collaborative learning, portfolios, research projects, wikis



A wiki is a powerful, free Internet tool that allows users to quickly create web pages organized into websites without special training. The web page editing screen has recognizable formatting tools. Although these tools are limited, wikis have a number of exceptional features that enhance web page creation for educational use, both individually and collaboratively.

This article begins with an introduction of some key features of Wikispaces and then looks at how wikis are implemented in the ESL classroom. Examples of student assignments such as research projects and portfolios using Wikispaces demonstrate that wikis enhance collaborative work in project-based learning, allowing students to practice critical researching and writing skills in pairs and small groups.



The World Wide Web has available applications and services that allow users to easily post original content. Many call this trend Web 2.0 or the “read-write web.” To get an idea of just how extensive this trend is, click on this link to view a web trend map (Reichenstein, 20062009). Looking at the lower right corner, you will see Wikipedia, the largest and most wellknown wiki, an encyclopedia that allows the user to edit its content.

“Wiki” is the short form of the Hawaiian phrase “wiki wiki,” which means fast. A wiki is a website made of wiki pages, or web pages. It is a powerful, free Internet tool that allows users to quickly create web pages organized into websites without special training. The web page editing screen has recognizable formatting tools, as shown in Figure 1 from Wikispaces (Bellizi, 2008), a large, educational wiki provider.

Figure 1. Editing screen for “page” tab

Although the tools are limited, wikis have a number of exceptional capabilities that enhance web page creation for educational use, both individually and collaboratively. This paper will focus firstly on the features of wikis and their use with collaborative groups and secondly on student-created research projects and portfolios.

Four features commonly available from Internet wiki providers are “discussion” tab, “history” tab, privacy choices and uploaded media files.


“Discussion” tab

Each web page in a wiki or website has a “discussion” tab that allows readers and creators to have a running dialog about that web page. This takes the appearance of a discussion forum where replies are posted under the comments preserving the original threads. In Figure 2, you can see the threads are listed with the most recent on top.

Figure 2. Threaded conversations in “discussion” tab 

When you click on one of the links under “Subject,” your screen looks like Figure 3 showing the username, user’s profile photo, date and time in addition to the main text of the comment.

Figure 3. Sample threaded conversation in “discussion” tab 

The comments are useful for peer and self-evaluations as well as those of teachers and parents. This and the following two examples are from the K12 Online 2006 Conference Wiki Competition, Student Data Storage Needs and Methods (Davis, 2006).


“History” tab

The “history” tab attached to each web page records the name, time and date, each time a user saves as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Sample screen lists revisions under “history” tab 

Each saved page has a link to the version represented by the date and time. When the link is clicked, the deletions are highlighted in red and the additions in green, as seen in Figure 5. A

“revert to this version” button on the page also allows a user to resave the web page in a previous version. Participants can easily track the changes and avoid losing anyone’s work, invaluable during distance collaboration. Classroom teachers can also tell who contributed to the web page if it is assigned for work outside class.

Figure 5. Sample revision shows deletions in red and additions in green


Privacy choices

Privacy choices determined by the teacher or organizer include “public,” “protected” and “private.” The “protected” feature allows anyone to view web pages but only members to edit the pages while the “private” feature permits only members to both view and edit. When working with sensitive material, password protection at the “private” level gives members peace of mind.


Documents, images, slide shows, voice recordings, videos

You can upload documents (.doc), images (.jpg) and voice recordings (.mp3), to your wiki by clicking on the “tree” icon on the toolbar. Images show directly on your web page and documents and voice recordings show as hyperlinks that the reader clicks. You can also link to videos (e.g. YouTube) and slideshows (e.g. SlideShare) published by others by clicking on the TV icon on the toolbar and following the instructions for the correct media.


Collaborative work with wikis

Working collaboratively in pairs and groups allows students to negotiate meaning together to internalize their learning. When students of varying abilities work together, they can assist each other or create a scaffold that supports their learning. Later the students will successfully perform similar tasks independently.

In the wiki the “discussion” tab allows students to comment on wiki pages and negotiate additions and changes, before they actually make them. This simulates real-world collaborative writing. In addition, when teachers guide students in critiquing their classmates’ completed writing in the “discussion” tab, the students practice critical reading and writing skills, reinforcing their understanding of what makes comprehensible writing from the eye of the reader.

While writing collaboratively, the various drafts of the writing process with the many additions, deletions and changes can be confusing to the writers and almost impossible for the teacher to understand as an outside observer. The “history” tab organizes this by color-coding along with saving the versions under the user’s name and date of the contribution. Students now have these previous versions organized and readily accessible while the teacher can easily follow the collaborative writing process gathering information on students’ strengths and weaknesses.


Classroom applications

Students developing their English skills can incorporate wikis into their project-based learning in a number of ways. Intermediate and advanced ESL students improve their Internet research, and their reading and writing skills by responding to their personal research in their own words on a wiki. The wikis allow the students to incorporate video and photos, practice correct citation of resources and share their work with classmates seamlessly.

Another valuable use of wikis in the ESL classroom is for portfolio work. For effective language development it is important for learners to reflect on and write about their learning process, including successes and areas for improvement. Keeping a digital record of portfolio reflections in a wiki aids the teacher with organization and streamlines responses from classmates with the “discussion” tab feature. Students can include a photo of their poster, a recording of their poetry reading or even a short video of their skit, examples of student products that are difficult to include in traditional paper portfolios.

Following are two specific classroom examples of student-created wiki pages for research projects and portfolio reflections.


Student research projects

In September 2007, several high school classes from Cairo American College contributed to a wiki dedicated to Peace Day activities (Scholz, 2007). For Web Design class, students chose a related topic either individually or in pairs and developed a web page based on their own ideas formulated through research. The Peace Day Rubric guided the students’ efforts. This rubric was inspired by the K12 Conference Wiki Competition Rubric (Davis, 2007).

In Saad’s exemplary work, you can see that he created an interesting, well-conceived web page that includes a video and the required citation of resources. His ideas are in his own words and easy-to-follow, through his use of subheadings to get the reader’s attention and organize his thoughts.


Student portfolios and responses to classmates

At the same college, in the Yearbook 2008 class at the end of the third year, when all the yearbook spreads were completed and at the publishers, the students were asked to reflect on their yearbook work on their own web page of the CAC Yearbook Wiki (Scholz, 2007).

The reflection included a thumbnail image of each spread and the answers to five questions: For which deadline was the spread? What do you like best about this spread? What did you learn doing this spread? What risks did you take? How would you improve this spread knowing what you know now?

The rubric in Figure 6 guided the students’ efforts.


Figure 6. Partial rubric for student’s reflection 


Students were able to look at exemplars of student reflections from Yearbook 2007, the previous year’s class.Adriana’s reflections met the criteria at the A level, because she details her journey over the past 3 quarters in a thoughtful way, highlighting her risks and progress. The thumbnails help the reader visualize the descriptive comments.

After their reflections were complete, students commented on their classmates’ reflections by using the “discussion” feature of the wiki. The rubric in Figure 7 shows how students should respond to their classmate’s reflection and say whether they agree or disagree with the classmate’s statement.


Figure 7. Partial rubric for student’s response to classmate’s reflection 

Again, the students used the exemplary work of the previous year for inspiration. Tienjen’s comment on the “discussion” tab regarding Adriana’s Spirit Week spread is one such example. She is thoughtful in commenting on three aspects of the spread and agreeing with Adriana’s own reflection on color.


Setting up a class wiki

Here are the initial steps for teachers, along with some helpful guidelines:

  • Select a meaningful URL for the class wiki. When the teacher first opens up an  account at with username and password, he will determine the URL  of his first wiki. Making it something that’s easy for the class to remember like “cacpeaceday” or “cacyearbook” is very helpful. Note that you create additional wikis  inside the same user account, so there is no need for multiple accounts.
  • Have each student join Wikispaces with an identifiable username. With the “public”  or “protected” permissions, the teacher can give his students the URL and ask them to  click on “Join” in the upper right hand corner. Wikispaces will prompt students to join  Wikispaces, if they are not already members. It is important to instruct students to  select usernames that the class knows, avoiding last names. The teacher will receive a  message in their Wikispaces account to accept the student user into the class wiki.
  • Set up wiki pages and student links. The teachers can instruct students to create their  own wiki page within the class wiki by clicking “New Page” on the side bar, but  many teachers find it helpful to set up the wiki pages for their students in advance.  This way the teacher can organize the student links on a wiki page as in the  cacpeaceday example. Some teachers prefer to put the links to student pages along the  sidebar.



A quick review of the Cairo American College Peace Day and Yearbook wikis shows that wikis have strong potential as course management systems, like Blackboard. Teachers can post assignments, attach handouts and list links to resources. This paper looks beyond those capabilities at two ways students can contribute to wikis by creating web pages on a research topic or portfolio reflections. Student contributions are made easier through powerful wiki features including “discussion” and “history” tabs, privacy choices and use of sound and video media. Students create these web pages with minimal training and share them with their class or larger community. With wiki providers for K12 and adult education like Wikispaces, teachers can experiment with wikis at no cost and harness the potential of Web 2.0 for their own classrooms.


Presentation dates and locations

This paper documents the presentation at Cambodia TESOL ’09 in Phnom Penh on February 22, 2009 and at the TESOL ’08 Conference in New York City on April 3, 2008. Click for the PowerPoint slides and handout with active links.



Bellizzi, D. (2008) Wikispaces for educators. Wikispaces. Retrieved February 28, 2009,  from

Davis, V. (2007). Wiki grading rubric. K12 Online Conference 2007. Retrieved February 28,  2009, from

Davis, V. (2006). Student data storage needs and methods. K12 Wiki. Retrieved October 30,  2006, from Data+Storage+ Needs+and+Methods

Popinchalk, J. (2007). HS international relations. CAC Peace Day Wiki. Retrieved February 28, 2009, from Reichenstein, O. (2006-2009). Web trend map 2. Retrieved May 5, 2009,  from Scholz, C. (2007). HS web design. CAC Peace Day Wiki. Retrieved September 30, 2007,  from

Scholz, C. (2007). Reflections 2007. CAC Yearbook Wiki. Retrieved November 26, 2007, from


About the Author

Celeste Scholz has presented at regional and international conferences, while working at schools in Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa and Egypt. She has served as technology integration specialist, head of department and team leader, and taught technology, ESL, language arts and publications. She currently resides in Jakarta. Check Celeste’s online portfolio or send her an email.

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