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I’ve always wanted to encourage every student in my lab groups to stay engaged while the lab was in progress — but there always seemed to be one student who would dominate the group and complete all the tasks, while others disengaged.

I’ve tried reducing the group size, but that required more classroom space and also increased the need and costs for equipment and material. I tried giving quizzes after every lab, but then students’ focus shifted to memorizing formulas and answers — not quite achieving the higher order thinking I wanted to promote. I tried strict classroom monitoring, but that only resulted in a culture that promoted a fear of failure and a lack of curiosity and excitement. It was only when I discovered the opportunity to develop a classroom wiki page that I felt I was able to foster engagement with all students in a lab group.

A wiki is a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users. Wiki is also a Hawaiian term meaning “quick.” Two high-quality sites that offer teachers a place to host a classroom wiki page are pbworks and wikispaces* (both of which offer low- or no-cost options for educators).

Left: Screenshot from wikispaces*, Right: Screenshot from pbworks

Assigning tasks

Before the lab begins, I give students an opportunity to decide which job they want to perform during the lab. Not every job will require a student to collaborate on the classroom wiki. The jobs are as follows:

Lab Tech
The Lab Tech will conduct the procedure of the lab. They are expected to obtain consistent, high-quality data using accurate measurements, and share this data with the others in the group. At the end of the lab, or at a time designated by the instructor, they are expected to submit a lab packet that contains completed data tables, calculations, and answers to guided questions.

The Runner is expected to collect and return all equipment, chemicals, and equipment in a safe manner, as well as clean up the lab table when the lab is finished. They are expected to assist the Lab Tech with the procedure and data gathering. They are also responsible for turning in their own copy of the lab packet with the completed tables and answered guided questions. I encourage collaboration with the Lab Tech when answering the packet. If the Lab Tech is absent, The Runner assumes responsibility for conducting the lab.

The Wiki person has a job similar to a reporter. They will log onto their wiki page and describe three areas of the lab experiment: purpose, data/calculations, and conclusion. In the purpose section, I encourage them to investigate the background of the lab and answer the question, “Why are we doing this?” or “What does it have to do with the topic covered in class?” The wiki also must create data tables and explain any calculations that were required. In the last section, students explain how the data can be used to determine the conclusion of the lab.

The photojournalist is responsible for documenting the entire lab procedure with pictures. They collect and upload snapshots of each step and write a caption that specifically describes what is happening on their wiki page. Pictures should include proof of any measurements taken during the lab, such as mass, length, or temperature readings. There are a variety of tools that could be used to capture images: cell phones, digital cameras, or computers. Since students in my district are not permitted to use cell phones during class, I have them use the built-in camera on a laptop computer.

Photo at righ: Example of work from one student charged with photojournalist job.

Assessment of tasks

Each student is now accountable to complete the tasks set forth in their assigned job. The Runner and Lab Tech work together to perform the lab, while the others record information on their wiki page while the lab is in progress.

As shown below, I use a simple three-point rubric for each student’s role that describes their job outcome as Proficient, Basic, or Needs Improvement.

Rubric: Lab Tech and Runner

Proficient (3 pts) Basic (2 pts) Needs Improvement (1 pt)
  • Packet includes completed data tables with correct units.
  • Correct calculations with work shown.
  • Guided questions answered correctly with proper grammar and correct spelling.

  • Missing data.
  • No proof of calculations (work not shown).
  • Incorrect guided questions.

  • Incorrect calculations without proof of work.
  • Unanswered or off-topic answers to guided questions.

Rubric: Wiki

Proficient (3 pts) Basic (2 pts) Needs Improvement (1 pt)
  • A clear statement that identifies the purpose of the experiment and how it relates to the chemistry topic covered in class.
  • Organized data table with appropriate units.
  • Explanation of calculations is provided.
  • A clear conclusion paragraph that explains how the data collected fulfilled the purpose of the lab.
  • Purpose statements are lacking description or clarity.
  • Unorganized data tables and/or calculation descriptions.
  • Conclusion statement is not supported by the data.
  • Vague purpose statements.
  • Incorrect/missing calculations and descriptions.
  • Conclusion statement not related to the experiment.

Rubric: Photojournalist

Proficient (3 pts) Basic (2 pts) Needs Improvement (1 pt)
  • Images are captured for all steps of the procedure.
  • Captions describe the procedure step being conducted in detail.
  • Missing images that capture steps in the procedure.
  • Captions do not describe the procedure step or detail is missing.
  • Pictures are blurry, lack details, or are not related to the lab.
  • Captions are missing or incomplete.
  • Missing most of the requirements.


Since I started using wikis in the lab, I have noticed an increase in engagement and collaboration between students. As the instructor, you have options as to how to handle assigning student jobs. I allow students keep the same job, if they wish, until the end of the quarter when I assign new seats and lab groups. The members of the new lab groups then decide which jobs they want, as long as each job is covered within the group. By doing it this way, I realize that there is a potential for a student to have the same job all year, but I have noticed that students usually are willing to try each of the different jobs throughout the year.

There are other advantages as well. Since students can view the other students’ pages in the class, anyone who was absent for the lab now has an opportunity to review the lab from the perspective of each Wiki or Photojournalist. As the instructor, I can always refer to the class wiki if students want to know what they missed while absent, instead of using class time to explain the details.

Another advantage is the ability for students to review other lab group data and check for errors. If a student finds inconsistent data, they can compare their work with other student work. Did they calculate incorrectly? Mix up a step in the procedure? They can refer to the wiki to try and find the answers. A student potentially could quickly correct a mistake before the lab is complete.

So, do you already use wikis in your classroom? If so, I encourage you to share your experience in the discussion section below. If not, I encourage you to give it a try … and engage your students through a wiki!

Tips for Creating a Wiki Page for your Classroom

To create a wiki to use with your students, there are several key steps (these steps are roughly the same whether you use pbworks or wikispaces*:

  • Create an account — Indicate login name, password, email for confirmation, and your classroom’s wiki name. I recommend using a name that students can easily type and remember. You can change the look and feel of your page by swapping out colors and textures, as well as uploading a school logo or mascot.
  • Invite students — Students must first create their own accounts, including passwords and emails for confirmation. Then you can either create a “join code” your students can use to gain access, have students request a membership, or email them an invitation to join.
  • Adjust permission and safety settings — I recommend that you keep the page “private,” so that only students in the class can edit and view the pages. Occasionally, I have changed the settings to “protected” for a limited time, such as when I want to give parents an opportunity to view work posted by the students.

Editor's Note: Wikispaces.com ended its Classroom and Free Wiki services as of July 31st. 2018.