Advice for Students: Use a Wiki for Better Note-Taking

It’s back to school time, and it’s time to make good on the promises you made yourself last year to be more organized this time around! One of the stumbling blocks I see most often in my students is taking — and keeping — good notes for their classes. Ideally, you’d like to have notes on all your reading, as well as notes from lectures, and you’d like to have both available when you need the to study for an exam or write a paper.

Enter the wiki. While wikis are generally seen as part of the trendy “Web 2.0″ phenomenon, they are actually one of the older technologies on the Web. Named after a Hawaiian phrase meaning “quick”, wikis are easily-edited, automatically interlinked sets of documents. Pages can be created and edited on the fly, and most track changes and additions, allowing for effective collaboration between multiple writers.

Wikis have been especially popular with students, and a number of specialized wikis have been developed specifically with students’ needs in mind, including NoteMesh,, and PBwiki. Wikis are a great way to keep, organize, and instantly access class notes and other school-related information. Wikis offer students:

  • Legibility: No more squinting over class notes taken while half-asleep, bored stiff, or hung over!
  • Durability: Wikis can be developed over the entire 4 (or 5, or 6, or…) years of a student’s education, allowing him or her to access notes taken years earlier if necessary.
  • Searching: Wikis can be searched, in the page and across the entire collection of pages, allowing immediate access to their contents.
  • Links: Students can link to other pages within their wikis as well as to other sites on the Web, bringing new bodies of information together in one place.
  • Collaboration: Several people can collaborate on the same wiki, allowing you to benefit from the strengths of your classmates.
  • Affordability: Wikis are still closely tied to the open-source movement, so many wiki programs and services are free.

Some suggestions for your wiki

The collaboration features of wikis make organizing study groups easy and very effective. Gather up a few students in your class and divide your topic up into pieces for each person. As you work, you can link to your co-students’ pages, and vice versa. As new material is covered, you can go back and edit each other’s pages or correct each other’s mistakes.

Whether you create your wiki with a group of on your own, the ability to link topics and ideas creates a very effective review tool. Before a test or while preparing a paper, browse through your wiki, following links from page to page to refresh your memory of how things fit together.

Wikis are also useful for making connections between topics in different classes. While this might not be relevant for every class you take, for classes in your major be especially diligent in creating links to existing pages. At the end of your studies, you will have a rich repository of ideas and work in your discipline to call on as a reference.

Wikis are incredibly flexible, and these are just a few ways to apply them to your studies. If you are already using wikis as a study tool, let us know your tips for getting the most out of them!

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