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Building a Wiki Template for Reoccurring Classes

A wiki is a flexible tool for creating and organizing online information that reflects teaching goals, classroom topics, and student learning. CCNMTL offers each Columbia course a wiki environment through the Wikispaces service.

Many instructors use Wikispaces as a replacement for course management systems such as Courseworks. Unlike a course management system, a new wiki is a web page with very little information and structure. It is set with open permissions, allowing students to edit all pages on the site by default. Systems like Courseworks, on the other hand, have only certain sections that students may edit and contribute to; in many cases instructors must enable this functionality.

The flexibility of a wiki requires an instructor to plan how the wiki will be organized to facilitate student use. The process of building a wiki for student collaboration is similar to building a template to ensure that students place information where the instructor and their peers will find it and make use of it. Building a wiki for course activities may take a considerable amount of time and effort. For courses that run regularly, it may be worth requesting a wiki template site for migrating structure and settings to a new course site each semester.

Image from Flickr user Alan Levine

The Purpose of the Wiki Template

A wiki starts out as a blank slate, with no structural elements, only tools that make it easy to build structure, develop activities and assign permissions without the need to know any code. And after all the work is done, it makes sense that an instructor may want to apply the same settings to a new wiki each semester. The problem is, unlike the compartmentalized nature of a Courseworks migration, once students begin to add content it is difficult to abstract their content from instructor text, settings and structure. The best solution is to create a template for the course.

Examples and Additional Considerations

Wiki Archives

A language professor creates a wiki structure that powerfully facilitates the creation of a collaborative student created dictionary. The content of last semester's dictionary is rich with examples of student learning and the language instructor would like to preserve these examples for faculty and students to study. She is excited about the prospect that each archived instance of the collaborative dictionary wiki may provide a rich resource for comparing student understanding and the effects of any changes to the language curriculum over time.

Using the collaborative dictionary wiki template, the language professor plans to migrate her useful collaborative dictionary structure to a new wiki for the fall semester without having to remove student work or rebuild the structure in a new wiki. She may even request that the template is shared with department colleagues as part of a new learning initiative across introductory language classes.

Custom Wiki and Page Permissions

A law professor wants to migrate content from his fall wiki to his spring wiki. He hopes to migrate from his template to his new wiki and keep almost 100 pages of case studies and lecture notes intact. During the semester, his TAs will reveal the pages applicable to each week's lesson.

One way to accomplish this is to make changes to wiki and page permissions through the template administrative settings. With the wiki set to the proper custom permissions, all pages by default may be accessed by organizers only. Once appropriate settings are enabled, it is time to migrate the wiki to the new semester course site and as the semester marches on the law professor may control which pages of the wiki are accessible to students by making the page viewable and possibly editable by members of the wiki. It is important to note that with this permission arrangement, students are not able to see the left hand navigation so instructors will need to provide navigation on the main page of the site, possibly by linking to wiki pages through the introduction or syllabus. Additionally, students may not create new pages, only edit those to which they have been given access.


A wiki-template site can make the most of the initial time investment necessary to successfully use wikis in a classroom. The template may be improved upon each semester as the instructor learns which settings and structures contribute to the successful attainment of course objectives. An instructor may even share his or her wiki template with department colleagues as a courtesy or to help facilitate curricular alignment. Instructors interested in learning how to develop a wiki template should contact CCNMTL at