What are Wikis?

As defined by, a Wiki is, “A collaborative website whose content can be edited by anyone who has access to it.” To further describe the details of a Wiki, access to edit the content of a Wiki can either be open for anyone to access and edit parts, even other author’s work. Or, in the case of single-user offline Wikis, access can be granted/accepted by a designated person. Pages within a Wiki can be linked for easy reference from one web page to another.
external image wikipedia_20070406.jpg

Wikipedia, whose symbol is shown above, is an example of one of the most well none and visited Wikis. Wikipedia is a free, online encyclopedia. It has many different languages and has articles on many different topics all created collaboratively and accessed/edited freely by anyone that wishes to add their input.

Learning Theories that Guide the Use of Wikis

Wiki's are perhaps most closely linked to Cognitivism. This theory of Information Processing connects the idea of the learner using some form of construction to piece together the lesson and help to mentally solidfy concepts. In a wiki, a learner must gather the materials for themselves and must identify ways to organize the material so that it can be accurately applied and understood in the Wiki. When a Wiki is created from scratch by the learner, they must use knowledge of the Wiki topic from their experience or the information that is gathered and learning takes place as an active participant. It is also a chance for the student to visually lay out the concepts in a way that makes sense so that they are an active part of learning the lesson.

As an instructor in the Cognitive theory, it is important to promote a students' learning through experience. In a wiki students literally link the new information they are gathering to the existing knowledge by organizing the pre-existing information and adding the new information to it. In this way, students will learn the concepts indpendently and the instructor has encouraged active learning. Instructors should further encourage the student by dialogue about the Wiki as it is created.

The Benefits of Using Wikis

Wikis are fast becoming popular in education for their strong focus on the collaboration they foster. Wikis are especially useful in creating team efforts in writing assignments; group papers can now be done with great ease while the edits and updates are readily available for students to review and inject their thoughts.

Another benefit of a wiki is the ease with which it can be set up, edited and applied relative to other online options. Below is a chart demonstrating the edge that wikis have over conventional Web Pages:
Wiki vs. web pages table
Wiki vs. web pages table

The Challenges of Using Wikis

external image rgn_wikipedia_wideweb__470x458,2.jpgNaturally, because wikis can, for the most part, be created and edited by anyone regarless of their level of knowlege on the subject, their accuracy is questioned. It's a medium open to anyone by it's nature but that can lead to inconsistencies in information which could end up being confusing.

In addition to the lack of "checks-and-balances" of information posted on wikis, some students may feel that if they are going to put hard work and effort into a wiki's content, they do not want to make that work vulnerable to others who could change the quality of the wiki with their edits.

Special Guidance for Using Wikis

Proper formatting of a Wiki, called wikitext, should be used tbe sure it is organized appropriately (especially for more Right Brained students or for visual learners.) Wikitext is a language used for coding and creating an HTML format to the layout and the text of a Wiki so that when the Wiki is viewed by the student it has various formatting throughout to make headings larger, links stand out, to bold, italicize, underline, create lists and more. An example of this from Wikipedia is as follows:

MediaWiki syntax
“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I ca’n’t take more.”

“You mean you ca’n’t take ''less'',” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take ''more'' than nothing.”
Equivalent HTML
<p>“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.</p>
<p>“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I ca’n’t take more.”</p>

<p>“You mean you ca’n’t take <i>less</i>,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take <i>more</i> than nothing.”</p>
Rendered output
“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.

“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone: “so I ca’n’t take more.”

“You mean you ca’n’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

Research on Wikis

There is a The International Symposium on Wikis (WikiSym) which is focused on wiki research and uses for best practices. However their findings are relatively unestablished as of yet and there is nothing to note at this point. Wikis have, thus far, been pretty well taken at face value and little research has been done looking into their use since it sti has its foundation in such basic priciples (i.e. report writing and collaborative efforts.)

Wiki Lesson Ideas

If a Wiki is being created by the instructor to teach the student, the instructor has the responsibility of laying out the information in such a way that it will be appropriate for the students who are learning from the Wiki. To ensure it is appropriate for the stage of learning hte student or audience is currently operating in, the instructor should build on concepts already introduced and link any new information so that the lessons and intruduction of new ideas builds upon pre-existing information.

As an introduction, students can create their own individual wikis to learn formatting, linking and more useful information on how to create a website. By learning on a Wiki students can experiment and learn as they go.

As a means to transition a student to a group wiki which will take collaboration, teachers can assign students to research a topic and to write a paper online. This way the teacher can monitor the student as they research to make sure they are on track and to monitor how a student is doing while putting their site together. Here is an example of such an assignment. Following the introduction and transition, students should be successful in working together to create a Wiki in a group effort.

A single wiki can be used by the entire class to do a review of a teacher, a question answer page for a class or a topic, or to keep a running list of Frequently Asked Questions for a later class to review. Teachers can have students continue to build on the wiki year after year to pass on the lessons learned in previous years and to give current students examples of what has been done for them to build on.

Wikis can be used by teachers to structure curriculum and gather the thoughts of other instructors.

Wiki Links

Wikis can be used for sourcing textbooks (Wikibooks), for a dictionary in any language (Wiktionary), for a famouse quote or proverb (Wikiquote), to find a destination and information on a place to travel to (Wikitravel) and can even be viewed to see artiles on wiki conservation to keep its aims as where originally intendec (Recyclopedia).