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Why wiki?


Exploring the power of the community-managed web in education

Mark Wagner, CUE leader



To encourage the use of wikis in education, Wikispaces is offering free wikis to CUE members. But, what does this mean for you? What is a wiki anyway, and how can a wiki be used in education?

Wikis are websites that can be quickly edited by any visitor. The term wiki comes from the Hawaiian word wiki wiki, meaning quick or fast, and if you can use a word-processor, you can edit a wiki. Most wikis allow a user to simply click an "edit" button in order to start editing the page just like any other document. Text can be added, changed, or deleted... as can pictures, audio, or even video. One visitor can post a new thought, which can then be improved upon by subsequent visitors. If a wiki is ever abused, used inappropriately, or vandalized, the next visitor can revert back to an earlier version of the page.

The Wikipedia, at wikipedia.org, is the best example of a wiki. The Wikipedia is a collaboratively edited online encyclopedia with over a million entries in English and nearly a million users world wide. It has the capacity to become something like the repository of all human knowledge because anyone from any walk of life can contribute his or her expertise. The Wikipedia is vigilantly moderated and some users become passionate about contributing and maintaining accuracy and high standards. The Wikipedia works because the "white hats" out number the "black hats" by orders of magnitude; if someone posts inaccurate information or vandalizes a page, it is quickly reverted to a previous more authoritative version by another visitor. The nature of the Wikipedia makes it a natural place to begin discussions about information literacy, verifiability, and bias in a text.

Even more importantly, Will Richardson, blogger and author of Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms, writes, "If we begin to look at the Wikipedia as another opportunity for our students to contribute what they learn and know to a larger audienceñ we can begin to appreciate it for the really incredible site that it is" (p. 64).

On a smaller scale, teachers and students use wiki services, such as Wikispaces, to create collaboratively authored class texts. Everything from grammar exercises to essays and from hyperlinks to video projects can be shared on a wiki, with each student pitching in his or her own contribution. Wikis are perfect for student group work, and for teachers who are working together, or who have similar interests. For instance, if one teacher starts a wiki in order to share online resources related to an adopted textbook, teachers all over the school - and all over the state even - can contribute. The more people who contribute, the greater resource the wiki becomes. Wikis are perfect for grade level teams, subject area departments, and professional learning communities because wikis can extend the conversation between face-to-face meetings.

David Warlick, blogger, CUE spotlight presenter, podcaster and author of Raw Materials for the Mind: A Teacher's Guide to Digital Literacy, says, "Avoid training teachers to use sophisticated web editing software. Teachers are not web masters... they are communicators. Help them to communicate" (p. 280). He also advocates student use of wikis for collaborative note taking, for learning journals (or weather diaries in a science class), for collaborating with students in other countries (in a foreign language or social studies class), for online vocabulary or creative writing (in an English class), and for collaborative student generated study guides in any subject (p. 91-97). He even suggests that educational technology coordinators can use a wiki as a support site for a school or district (p. 97).

Will Richardson is interested in student and teacher use of wikis because of the way they facilitate "the purposeful work of negotiating and creating truth" (p. 62), and because they support the philosophy that "the quality of the collectively produced product is more important than owning the idea" (p. 63). When students are using wikis they are "learning how to develop and use all sorts of collaborative skills, negotiating with others to agree on correctness, meaning, relevance, and more" (p. 65). Teachers can develop these same skills, of course, and Richardson suggests that wikis can even be used as "a showcase for best practices, and [as] an articulation tool" (p. 65)

Many traditional assignments, even web-based assignments, can be made more interactive with a wiki. A webquest can become more than a hunt for information if the students need to create the webquests themselves. Imagine if each student posted (on a class wiki) a link to a relevant resource along with questions or annotations - each student would benefit from the efforts of the others. Rather than being worried about using the web to cheat, teachers can now ask students to use the web to collaborate.

Wikis can bring the "member-to-member" philosophy of the CUE conferences online. CUE members, especially those in affiliate leadership positions, can use wikis to communicate, share, and collaborate with fellow members, and thus to benefit from the collective body of knowledge that is the CUE membership. A wiki might serve as an affiliate web page, with announcements of events or frequently asked (and frequently updated) questions, or a wiki might serve a temporary purpose as a collaborative space for a specific project. It is simple to sign up with wikispaces and it's very easy to use. Try out a wiki today.

References


Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, wikis, podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Corwin Press.

Wagner, M. D (2006). An introduction to the read/write web in Education. Gifted education communicator. Summer 2006, Vol. 37, No. 2.

Warlick, D. F. (2005). Raw materials for the mind: a teacherÔøΩs guide to digital literacy. Raleigh, NC: The Landmark Project.