Monday, February 27, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Loathing the Wiki

(This article was originally published in MouseTales, a publication of Technology Across the Curriculum at North Shore Community College).

This article won’t convince otherwise those who are predisposed to frown upon anything containing the word “wiki.”  So, if just those 4 letters evoke angry twitches or nightmares of plagiarized papers, hold off on reading this until you’ve learned a bit more about wikis.   This article is for those who are over that particular hump and are considering wikis for their online courses.  To be certain, there is much to be concerned about in accessing and using Wikis.  Timothy Messer-Kruse’s article on “truth” and wikis is worth deliberating upon for both you and your students as you move into using them in the classroom.  But knowing that the military has found wikis quite useful for training and other relate needs, says a lot about their power and usage.

So what’s a wiki?  Wikis In Plain English is a good place to start if you need some context and and a brief introduction. Wikis at their most basic are easy-to-use website page-makers that allow users to organize information and link it with other pages created within the wiki.  When used in an online course, an instructor could employ the students to create a wiki of content covered as they move forward in the course; thereby transforming the traditional notebook into a hypertext collection of student work.  If done on a free wiki site such as Wikispaces or through GoogleSites, the student would always be able to return to the wiki for later reflection, reminders, etc. It allows for the integration of a variety of material such as text, image, sound, and video.  But most importantly, it’s a medium to organize and connect knowledge.

Like any digital tool, Wikis have their place and the instructor should determine if wikis work with course objectives while representing a reasonable means of evaluation for the students.  But wikis (when properly executed—whatever that means) can be excellent tools for students and instructors.  Since online instructors play a decentralized role in the students’ learning, more facilitator than “sage on the stage”, a wiki provides an excellent opportunity to allow students to be collaborators and creators of content for the course.

Wikis could also be used to encourage students to build upon the information, ideas, and knowledge presented within the class.  Let’s face it, in many courses; we never get to cover all the things we’d really want to cover.  This could allow students to take course content and then focus in on areas that they are particularly vested in and turn it into a wiki (to which other students could learn from and potentially add to).  Therefore, the students could both learn more and exhibit what they know.

As an educational tool, it has much potential.  It empowers students to become content creators while also encouraging critical thought through discussion about the deployment and development of each wiki page.  It also provides the instructor with a substantial product at semester’s end to reflect on how much the students learned and where the instructor may need to improve his or her game in the future.

Educause Learning Initiative has a great handout for those interested in a clear and concise explanation of Wikis and their usage.  Wikipedia itself even supports the usage and development of Wikipedia as a classroom project and provides examples of other colleges and the work they've done creating new entries or developing present entries on Wikipedia.    And finally, Mark Frydenberg also explains in detail why wikis can change and elevate learning in Wikis as a Tool for Collaborative Course Management.
  • How do you feel about wikis as a learning/teaching tool?
  • What ways do you imagine using Wikis in your classroom?
  • What do you see as challenges to using a Wiki in your classroom?