REFLECTIONS ON USING WIKIS
I have visited Wiki World for an occasional change of flights but never for an extended visit. I have never really stayed long enough to experience the culture. I have visited Wikipedia to look up a definition because it was more current, accessible and easier than finding a dictionary. Wikipedia definitely has its advantages. It is the most common Wiki used but it is far from the only Wiki in use. A Wiki refers to “a social computing system that allows a group of users to initiate and evolve a hyper-linked set of web pages using a simple markup language” (Turner and Wang, 2007). The beauty of wikis is that anyone can simultaneously read, post or edit a topic anytime, anywhere (Will Richardson, 2009). Wikis facilitate information sharing and allow people to collectively develop, refine and improve a body of knowledge. I myself have never participated in creating, editing or contributing to a wiki but look forward to learning about the wiki culture.
I began my stay at Wiki World visiting several sites. I visited Wikibooks, Wikijunior, the Flat Classroom project, Welkers Wikinomics, Planet Math and a few described in the textbooks. Some of the websites had restricted access so I could only see the home page but the ones I could get into were intriguing. They had a great depth of potential and seemed as though they would add another dimension to the learning of students.
I then watched the links in the Trailfire left by Joanne. But the more I saw the more confused I became. I understand the difference between the chronological set up a blog and the more interactive hyper-linked pages of a wiki (Mindel and Verma, 2006). What I found though was that several wikis merely posted information but were not interactive. They may have been collaborative effort in the initial set up of the pages but when you look at the history of the site there is no interaction on several of the pages. To me then it is just a website not a wiki. Or am I missing something? Is having one page a collaborative page, where people are interacting, enough to call the site a wiki?
I wanted then to try my hand at designing a truly interactive wiki to post and share book reviews. I began by asking an English teacher on staff to give me some book summaries. I then designed a wiki to facilitate the sharing of short narratives on the books the students were reading. My idea was that students would initially post a description of the book they were reading and as other students read the same book they could update the description adding their own ideas about the features of the book. (Eg. Use of Literary techniques, character analysis, etc.) The summaries posted, were just as I suspected, quite shallow in their depth of analysis. My hope is to cultivate a space where students can analyze character development, plot design and themes. The wiki would encourage students to share ideas about what they had read and help them develop critical reading, thinking and writing skills. This wiki is only in its development stage but I have included a link to it in my blog (even though I had not gotten the type of writing that I wanted). I am hopeful that students will find it interesting to see how others perceive a book that they have both read. As well, I hope that the discussion that is created will enhance not only the student’s understanding of the complexity of the novel writing process but that the Wiki will also act as a repository for book reviews to help stimulate further reading.
Wiki World is now another place on my list of must visit again locations. During my next visit I can create more wikis or join a wiki already in existence.
PERSONAL USE OF WIKIS
Visiting other worlds helps you to learn about their cultures. Once you are home then you can appreciate and maybe even adopt the positive things about the culture you visited. After visiting Wiki World, I can see myself reading, joining, contributing and even creating wikis.
I can see myself reading, joining and contributing to wikis about scrapbooking and cooking (Wikibooks). I would enjoy building and sharing collective knowledge in these areas.
Creating a wiki as a means to facilitate ownership in the committees that I am currently involved in also peaks my interest. Creating a Wiki for a non-profit organization would allow all stakeholders to collaborate about philosophy, rules, issues, projects, etc. The wiki could act as a site to compile up to date information about programs, dates and schedules. Through a wiki all members would have an opportunity to have input into all activities of the organization.
A Wiki for the book club I belong to is another great idea. The book club site would be similar to the one I set up for school. It would allow people to contribute to discussions about plot, characters, theme, etc. I could also see myself setting up a wiki where I could share scrapbooking ideas with my “Chicklets” (group of scrapbbookers).
On-line collaboration about community or global issues could also be done using a wiki. A wiki could be a forum for finding out the most current information, allow you to take part in the building of knowledge about a prevalent issue and be a place to ask questions to test the possibilities of solutions to an issue.
So much to do, I may have to cut my vacation short.
PROFESSIONAL USE OF WIKIS
The culture of Wiki World can also be assimilated into my professional life. Wikis are a successful way to have students and staff collaboratively build and share knowledge (Davies and Merchant, 2009). They can read, write, edit, refine and rewrite information (Mindel and Verma, 2006) in order to push others to expand their definitions, knowledge and opinions. Wikis can be used in many facets in the school from parent organizations to school administration to classrooms to PD.
However, the use of wikis is controversial. There are champions for the use of wikis and there are people who believe that wikis can not be trusted (Ferris and Wilder). The champions believe that wikis encourage teamwork and collaboration to build collective knowledge (Davies and Merchant, 2009). Some people believe that wikis encourage people to seek information that is honest, responsible, neutral and accountable (Davies and Merchant, 2009). Proponents of the use of wikis say that wikis prompt people to read, think and write critically, verifying all of their information in the process. These people believe that the collective public wisdom of wiki development looks after protecting the accuracy and credibility of the wiki (Davies and Merchant, 2009). Wiki doubters turn to events like the false posting that libeled a prominent journalist to prove that wikis are a battleground of crap (Ferris, Wilder). They seek to highlight the inaccuracy and difficulties made possible by the use of a wiki. No doubt there are issues with vandalism, authorship, authenticity, reliability and inaccuracy but these are minimized by the truly collaborative nature of wikis. Will Richardson (2009) writes about Alex Halavais a Professor at University of Buffalo who wanted to test the reliability of information on Wikipedia. He created errors in thirteen sites all of which were fixed within a few hours. This helps to reinforce the credibility of sites like Wikipedia and point to the collective positive impetus of wikis.
Once the decision has been made to use a wiki there are many other issues to be addressed. Some of the decisions center on the access to the wiki (read/write or read only unless the person is an authenticated user), structure ( single page or multi-age format) and number of people working on the wiki (Mindel, Verma, 2006).
The use of wikis in the classroom is a strategy to enhance the true collaborative sharing of knowledge in any subject. Students can write by themselves and then edit each others work or write as a group; some students are good technical writers others have more creative ideas. Wikis can be used by students to work collaboratively to complete research, work on science experiments etc. All of these activities cause students to read, write and think critically, as well as, to work as a team. Wikis could also be used as a means to scaffold activities for struggling students or students who were absent
Some helpful tips for using a wiki in the classroom involve having small groups, delegating one person to be the editor and having each topic on a separate page (increases the access to many students and increases the ease for collaboration and editing) (Mindel, Verma, 2006).
Professional development could be enhanced through the use of wikis. A wiki could be used to collaborate on curriculm or pedagogy. Teachers could use wikis to co-create lessons, assessments, calendars of activities, etc. or to enhance the strategies that they use in their classrooms. As teachers try to define the uses of particular strategies they will push each other to expand their repertoire of teaching knowledge, strategies and beliefs.
The school could also use wikis for school or classroom newsletters, input for policy writing and school goals, generating of projects, interactive school calendars, schedule for Parent/Teacher interviews, sign-up for helpers for school activities, etc.
The biggest issue for me is using the accurate tool and not using technology just because we believe it is going to make us a “cool” teacher. The technology needs to enhance what is currently being achieved. Speed and ease should not always be the driving force. The driving force should be the purpose of the activity. Is using technology effective? Will using technology deliver the outcomes that I want?
My week at Wiki World is almost over and I have learned many new things and at the same time opened up many questions. I think I will need to reflect upon my visit and then return.
Davies, Julia. Merchant, Guy. (2009). Web 2.0 for Schools: Learning and Social Participation. New York, NY: Peter Lang
Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press
Turner, David; Wang, Chien-min. (2007). Extending the Wiki Paradigm for Use in the Classroom. As retrieved on Oct 18, 2009 from
Wheeler, Steve; Yoemens, Peter; Wheeler, Dawn. (2008). The Good, The Bad and The Wiki. As retrieved on Oct. 18, 2009 from
S. Pixy Faris, Hilary Wilder. Uses and Potential of Wikis in the Classroom. As retrieved on Oct 18, 2009 from