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    Commentary – Wikis

    Discussion of the Tools: Wikis

    Wikis are probably less familiar to the academic world than blogs. Two useful survey articles are Lamb (2004) and Ferris and Wilder (2006).  Most websites allow the owner to edit them, but others can only read them.  A wiki is a website that any authorized person can modify (not just the author), all without access to or knowledge of web publishing software.   In other words, a wiki has multiple owners; it can even be open to the world (as is Wikipedia).  If a blog is a personal webspace, a wiki is a collaborative space for a group.  It is both a repository for and facilitator of communal thinking, another way social software promotes collective intelligence.

    Imagine a classroom blackboard where everyone, not just the instructor, has both chalk and an eraser.  The instructor poses a question.  The class begins to discuss it, and one student writes a tentative response on the board. The class discusses the response until another class member goes to the board, erases part of the answer and writes a revised answer. The process continues until the instructor indicates that the answer is complete.  Now imagine that this blackboard is available 24/7 and accessible from virtually anywhere, not just the class room. This in a nutshell is how wikis are used in education.

    Wikis have been used in a wide variety of pedagogically useful ways, as containers for course content, to make collaborative lists, to take collaborative notes, to create collaborative documents, to present content, to teach writing, to serve as a virtual classroom, and more.  I’ve used wikis in various ways to extend the course outside of the classroom by creating a parallel electronic version of the course.

    The wiki can be used as a way for students to develop parts of the course outline, for example, in a seminar where the content is not prescribed.  After choosing topics for study, students search for sources of information on each topic, posting reference information, and where available, links to the content itself.  This information can be text as in a traditional course, but also audio, video, graphics, data, simulation or anything digital that is appropriate to the topics of study.

    The wiki can be used as a medium for creating and a repository for storing collaborative class notes.  I often ask two students to take the “official” notes during class sessions.  Afterwards they consolidate their versions, and post them on the wiki so that others can revise them as needed.  I’ve also asked groups to develop collective summaries of text chapters.  The act of writing notes, processing the notes, negotiating with others about the best way to summarize them seems to add to the learning.

    Students can also post essays on the wiki, and then read and comment on each others’ papers.  Often I ask students to use different sources for their essays, so the works take a somewhat different angle even though the assignments are the same.  I have assigned students group research presentations, where they used the wiki to post readings for the class to prepare, as well as their presentation materials for subsequent study.

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