Review by Paul Cancellieri, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2013

PBworks

Wiki service provides collaborative workspace but not enough structure

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Teachers say (5 Reviews)
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Grades
6-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Fully customizable, easy to use, and supported by knowledgeable staff and community.

Cons: Not enough structure or drag-and-drop elements, and too much blank space.

Bottom Line: A collaboration tool that requires lots of effort to set up and provides too little guidance on how to use it.

The best way to use wikis in the classroom is to put the tool in the hands of students. Train them in the use of the tool and also in related skills like Internet searches, recognizing bias, and citing sources. Then, put them in teams to add content to the webpages. This can be a one-time project or an ongoing website that grows and develops as the school year progresses. As a teacher webpage, a wiki created by PBWorks might offer a curated collection of resources including high-quality interactive lessons.

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PBworks is a full-featured wiki service, similar in many ways to Wikipedia. Wikis are simple, if somewhat clunky, solutions for building a classroom website or collaborating (teachers with teachers, or students with students) to share resources and organize information.

Why use a wiki? PBworks' tool provides formatting options that allow you to make the text look the way that you want. You can easily embed graphics, including images or video, from other sites and services, to create a customized webpage. With the click of a button, the site flips between editable and viewable versions, making it easy to check your work.

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The key is in how it's used by teachers and the time and effort that goes into preparing the webpages. By itself, PBworks is little more than a blank canvas with really nice brushes and paints that requires a lot of effort to set up and provides too little guidance for a busy teacher. In the hands of students, PBworks has the potential to be an empowering tool for digital creation. PBworks also includes settings for helping groups of teachers or students (or any combination of the two) work together to create webpages. It's pretty simple to control who can do what on the site, monitor who's making changes, and even revert to an earlier version if something goes wrong.

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Overall Rating
2

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
2

A "blank slate" that kids and adults can fill with almost anything (text, images, videos, etc.), this product doesn't offer much in its raw form to grab kids' attention. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
3

It's a very open and easy way to collaboratively create webpages. The tools make it simple to edit and add content.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
2

Help sections explain how to use the tools, but they're mainly geared toward adult users. An active forum can help users feel supported.


Common Sense Reviewer
Paul Cancellieri Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

3
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Featured review by
Charles Y. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Bethel Park High School
Bethel Park, PA
4
Deliver, Engage, Create, Publish with PBWorks Wikis

To get your feet wet, try delivering your instruction on a wiki page. Taking a standard lesson, perhaps a text, an image, or even a slideshow, deliver these along with questions or activity instructions. As you gain confidence in gaining your wiki skills, you'll ready yourself to teach students how to edit their own pages and submit work. It does take time (a few hours) to set up student accounts, especially if students don't have email access at school; but I found that it was a time-saving flexible way to prepare class activities, provided your students have computer access. There is an online manual for educators and I have always found the PBWorks support staff to be very friendly responsive. Most importantly, my students gain essential digital literacy skills from the experience of working in the wiki environment of designing pages, formatting and organizing files, and submitting documents online.

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