What are wikis?

Wiki documents are meant to be edited. Posting content to a wiki allows others to discuss and edit the content, making productive collaboration on written content possible. Settings can be adjusted to determine who can edit the wiki. The "history" section of a wiki charts the specifics of revisions: who made the revision, when they made it, and what it was. In addition to tracking revisions, wikis allow users to revert back to an older version if necessary, making editing collaboratively stress-free.

Why use wikis?

Wikis are a way to engage students in collaborative writing that is motivated by the creation or development of shared resources. The wiki is often public, which provides both an authentic audience for student work as well as an avenue for engaging in public scholarship. Wikis are an excellent tool for helping students understand the importance of revision and citation in scholarly writing.

What can I do with wikis?


Creating a course-related encyclopedia or glossary is one of the most popular uses of course wikis. Maggie Debelius, for example, had her undergraduate English students compose biographical entries on the various "new women" that they were studying in the course. This gave them the opportunity to take charge of authoring a component of what became a collaborative compendium on their course material, while at the same time being able to contribute to their classmates' encyclopedic entries.

Group projects

Group projects rely on collaboration and communication, and a wiki provides both. Loredana DiMartino, who teaches Intensive Italian, sectionided her students into four groups and asked each of them to compose an Italian fairy tale using their own group pages on a course wiki. Sharing a wiki space allowed the student groups to compose in a place visible to their classmates as well as edit their group members' work. A wiki "history" tab allowed Professor DiMartino to track the students' edits and participation.

Course notes

Wikis also make a good place for students to create shared study guides and a course note repository. Students in a biology course, for example, collected course notes on a wiki. When collated from and edited by all students in the course, a course notes repository becomes an invaluable study aid.


Wikipedia―an online, crowdsourced encyclopedia― is an often (inappropriately) cited source for student papers, but it does serve an important function in making knowledge freely and easily accessible around the world. Students can contribute to that effort by becoming Wikipedia editors, helping to keep Wikipedia pages updated and unbiased and fill gaps in the body of knowledge represented in Wikipedia, including information about the history of Georgetown University. Contact the digital scholarship librarian for more information.

How can I get started with wikis?

Depending on the need, there are multiple options for a collaborative editing space, or wiki. A Google Doc is essentially a wiki and is a great option if the goal is to create a document that has multiple authors.

If you are interested in creating just a few wiki pages, consider using the wiki feature within Canvas. After creating a new page, click edit, check the setting option at the bottom that allows both students and instructors to edit pages, and save and publish. Students will then be able to access the edit button for that individual page and make and save changes.

Google Sites is appropriate for a more extensive wiki. To access Google Sites, log in at the Georgetown Google Sites portal, click on the menu icon (nine small squares) in the upper right corner, and select Google Sites. For how-to support, visit Google’s support pages for Sites. To learn more about other Google Apps, visit the Google Apps tools page.

For a consultation to discuss the use of wikis for class assignments, including best practices, please contact CNDLS.