Wikis in Education

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This page originally authored by Alvin Gross (2008).

This page has been revised by Sophie Rosso (2009).

Utilizing wikis in education is a growing trend, popular to many because of the innate constructivist and constructionist philosophies that can be realized by using the collaborative writing software. A wiki site is generally a collection of web pages that can be easily and quickly modified by anyone granted permission to do so by the owner. Wikis are non-linear, evolving, complex and networked texts which affords student collaboration in the production of texts and discussions (Bruns & Hymphreys, 2005). Using a wiki as a tool allows students to collectively build a digital document, and also enables teachers to monitor and constantly assess student learning by having access to the latest document version, as well as by utilizing the history feature to assist in both formative and summative assessment.

This entry focuses on examples in how wikis can be used in K-12 education, as well as provides a listing of recommended wiki software for schools. It also discusses the benefits and criticisms of using wikis in education, and provides links for further research and study.
This image shows the Carman Collegiate Library Website, a wiki created using the PBWiki software(Screenshot taken March 2, 2008).

Educational uses of wikis for student learning

This section focuses on some of the pedagogical uses of wikis that classroom teachers have been using to enhance student learning.

Website creation

Since wikis are innately easy to use, their use can eliminate many of the common technological obstacles that go along with projects involving student created websites. The simple wiki user interface affords ease in the creation of a navigation structure and the ability to add new web pages quickly. This allows students to spend more time developing the content of the website instead of spending time overcoming technical obstacles (Pearce, 2007). Although design customization is somewhat limited in wiki software, students can still include videos, pictures, sounds and other multimedia elements along with their text and navigation.

This image shows the Wikipedia Homepage, the most popular wiki in the world. (Screenshot taken March 2, 2008).

Wikipedia as a research source

Wikipedia is the most widely known public wiki, and provides students with free content.Using Wikipedia as a research source is controversial to many educators because content is often anonymous and can be unreliable. Wikipedia has a huge and active contributor community made up of whoever chooses to be involved (Lamb, 2004). Although there is a tendency for articles that are sabotaged to be corrected by the community, there is a possibility that an article could have been sabotaged seconds before a student accesses the article and uses it in his research. Still, many students and educators continue to use Wikipedia and similar websites. By allowing students to use Wikipedia as a research resource teachers acknowledge both the benefits and drawbacks. Some believe that the anonymous nature of authorship on Wikipedia eliminates deterrents for publishing bad information and allows constantly morphing content that is unsuitable for an academic environment. Many opponents of using Wikipedia as a research source in schools believe that higher quality content from authoritative sources is widely available and preferred. They believe that students are too impressionable and may not innately understand that Wikipedia information can be flawed (Shareski & Winkler, 2005).

The writing process

Wikis can be an instrumental tool for teachers to help students learn the writing process. This can apply to various forms of writing, and can help provide a digital structure to the development of a writing piece. For example, a wiki environment can help a student learn how to carry out a research project, ultimately leading to the writing of a research paper, with the wiki documenting the ongoing work (Duffy & Bruns, 2006). In this case, a teacher could assess the development of the research project and target various mini-lessons as needed to support specific groups of students. The wiki environment provides for ongoing feedback because the teacher has access to the latest version of the writing draft and provide students with timely feedback.

At the beginning of the writing process, a student might use a wiki to track and record their initial ideas and background research (Pearce, 2007). This enables the teacher to formatively assess the student’s work early in the process, in a managed environment. As the rough draft begins to develop, feedback can be ongoing from peers and teachers, instead of the student merely receiving feedback at widely spaced intervals or at the end of the end of the assessment process. Using a wiki in the writing process emphasizes text, not software, and promotes close reading, revision, document history and ultimately facilitates writing as a process (Lamb, 2004).

Group authoring

Wikis can be used as tools for group authoring of student writing (Duffy & Bruns, 2006). They are a powerful learning tool in school and the collaboration they allow extends into the community. The use of wiki software provides unprecedented ease of managing each writer's contribution, as well as continual assessment of contributions from group members. When authors collaborate, merging content and ideas from members often becomes a secretarial task that consumes time and energy. The use of a wiki can ease this burden and allow more time to be devoted to writing. A wiki pulls together group members onto a known space, strengthening community as all members have equal access to the most recent version of the document (Pearce, 2007). Using wikis for group authoring facilitates teaching of network literacy, which is writing in a distributed and collaborative environment (Lamb, 2004). Network literacy is a skill that is desirable as our world becomes increasingly interconnected. Wikis offer a fundamental shift from fostering individual knowledge to fostering collective cognition.

Presentations and portfolios

The use of a wiki to facilitate a presentation could allow other students to comment on and give suggestions to a student who is presenting (Duffy & Bruns, 2006). For example, a student could present a wiki page and then other students would be given time to comment on that section of the presentation. More students could provide their feedback than would be possible if verbal feedback were given. This would also add interactivity to a presentation and provide management of feedback that would be recorded for future implementation. Some institutions are also experimenting by using wikis as e-portfolios (Educase, 2005).

Other uses of wikis in the K-12 environment

Wikis are also being utilized by K-12 schools outside of the classroom for administrative uses and communication. Wikis are being used to enhance staff communication and collaboration, as well as to communicate more efficiently with the wider community.

Staff communication and collaboration

Faculty can use wikis to collaborate on projects, such as creating a reading list, syllabus or writing a new policy document (Educase, 2005). The same ease of use and benefits that encourage the use of wikis for student authorship are also clearly beneficial to improve staff collaboration. Schools are constantly collecting data, and this can be enhanced through the use of a wiki, which can eliminate paper and email chains that often have to be compiled, wasting valuable time and resources (TEP, 2006). In addition, teachers can use wikis to build a knowledge base of reflections and thoughts regarding teaching practices (Duffy & Bruns, 2006). Such an environment could benefit the mentoring of new teachers and encourage collaboration between teachers by facilitating a method of communicating and collaborating that is manageable from the perspective of teachers and administrators. Finally, wikis are being used as repositories for meeting notes and for teachers and administrators to efficiently contribute agenda items (Educase, 2005).

This image shows Mrs. Barnett's class websites created using the WikiSpaces software (Screenshot taken March 2, 2008).

School and classroom wiki websites

Some schools are choosing to utilize a wiki framework to efficiently publish timely information to students, parents and communities, instead of using the more traditional static website. A major benefit of using wikis for this purpose includes the ability to manage contributions from various parties in an easy to use and accountable manner. Most schools using wikis allow only pre-selected authors such as teachers, administrators and other trusted contributors, and changes can be traced back to individuals. Using wiki based websites helps to remove the burden faced by schools who want to have a useful and updated web presence, but have limited resources to put towards a school website. Many teachers also choose to create classroom websites using wiki software, and these can be natural extensions of wider school wikis.

Benefits and criticism

The unrivaled volume of free content in an easily accessible environment is a pulling factor for many students and teachers. Some also believe that Wikipedia embodies Thomas Friedman’s flat world metaphor, and offers a more global perspective because of its democratic nature (Shareski & Winkler, 2005). Whether or not its use as a source is encouraged, Wikipedia can provide a great starting point for research, in part because of the wealth of high quality links within many of the articles. Schools need to ensure that students are taught to deconstruct Wikipedia articles and to understand the process of their creation, because it is likely they will use Wikipedia for information as well as similarly developed content or resources in the future.

Benefits

From an instructional technology perspective, wikis allow participants to efficiently collaborate on documents in ways that are not possible using traditional paper or other technologies. While some traditional software tools, such as Microsoft Word can also manage document versions, wiki environments are mostly free to users and more widely available. Versioning capability allows the evolution of thought processes as participants build knowledge, and allows for teachers to assess an ongoing project in ways not previous possibly (Educase, 2005).

Wikis are an example of creating a venue for active and authentic audience participation. Lund and Smordal(2006) investigated how a community of learners, through collaboration and negotiation could create a fundamental shift in how knowledge is acquired and shared. The classroom goal in using wikis is heightened achievement and should result in the development of shared cognition.

Criticisms

As with any new technology being introduced to the classroom, wikis require the classroom teacher to have some technological skills. It is the responsibility of the teacher to know how to use technology and how to teach students to use it responsibly to improve their learning and also to ensure that society's values are maintained and honored when using these tools. Some criticisms of wikis are that students use blogs and wikis in more casual ways than might be expected (Davidson, 2008). Another criticism is that embracing wikis in schools could ultimately upset the more widely adopted and accepted writing process. Although there appear to be many benefits in using this technology, it is still a new technology and more studies need to be done. By encouraging the use of wiki software and content, schools might ultimately encourage students to favour knowledge built by consensus, which is problematic when the consensus arrived at is undesirable.

The nature of wikis enables ease in adding, deleting or editing material by more parties, but this also carries risks that unacceptable content may appear more easily than it might with more traditional content websites. The larger a wiki grows, the more difficult it becomes to eliminate outdated or unwanted content. Also, wikis can create problems when contributors disagree, potentially causing an edit war, which occurs when users continuously edit the content of a document so that it fits a particular agenda (Duffy & Bruns, 2006). The increasing implementations of wikis for various purposes in K-12 schools suggests that many teachers and educational decision makers deem the benefits of wiki software to outweigh the negative aspects that may stem from their in educational pedagogy and practice.

Recommended wiki software for schools

WikiMatrix allows users to compare most popular wiki software and services to help facilitate choosing a specific wiki software for implementation. It is recommended that potential wiki users extensively research and compare wiki software before choosing a particular solution. Much of the software has both a free and a paid versions, with free versions often being supported with advertising, and paid versions being ad-free and including additional features. Some content management systems, such as Moodle, also have built-in wiki modules. The links below, where possible, link directly to pages created specifically for educators.

Free software

See Also

References

  • Bruns, A. & Humphreys, S. (2005). Wikis in teaching and assessment – The M/Cyclopedia project. Proceedings of the 2005 International Symposium on Wikis.
  • Davidson, M. (2008). Using focus groups to learn about my wiki. Computers in Libraries, 28 (1), 16-19 & 47-48.
  • Duffy, P & Bruns, A. (2006) The use of blogs, wikis and RSS in education: A conversation of possibilities. Proceedings Online Learning and Teaching Conferences 2006, 31-38.
  • Lamb, B. (2004). Wide open spaces: Wikis ready or not. Educause Review, 39 (5), 36-48.
  • Mayer,R.(2003). Elements of the science of e-learning Journal of Educational Computing Research,29(3),297-313.
  • Shareski, D., & Winkler, C. K. (2005). Are wikis worth the time? Learning & Leading with Technology, 33 (4), 6-7.

External Links