Martha Meloy Internet Integration Research Summer 2009 The World of Wikis The World of Wikis
The power of using one of the new Web 2.0 tools, the wiki, is profoundly useful in education, business and for personal use. There are many opportunities to collaborate, create, analyze, synthesize, and share ideas through this new Internet tool. Today’s Internet, known as Web 2.0, is not simply used for reading stagnant web pages, where audience members are passive onlookers but it’s changing to an interactive environment that allows users to become active participants who are immersed and absorbed in the material presented to them (Park, 2007). Wikis facilitate this desired active participation, which develops many higher-level thinking abilities in students and their contributors. It is also noted that the Internet is the biggest revolution in information since the development of the printing press in 1440, which has enabled a plethora of information to be freely available to people (Badke, 2009). The nature of the availability of information and the lack of time restraints allows users to continue conversations, collaborations, and sharing of ideas at any time of day. It also provides an opportunity for students or users to further investigate topics that interest them (Imperatore, 2009). Using a wiki allows users to contribute to these topics of interest resulting in the student or user becoming part of a community of practice. These communities of practice enable members to create viable knowledge synthesis from the information given and allows them to participate with others reaching a common goal of knowledge creation for others to learn from and respond to (Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008).
What exactly is a wiki? “A wiki is a collection of webpages whose content is typically organized around a specific purpose or topic” (Knobel & Lankshear, 2009, p. 631). The pages of a wiki can contain text, images, tables, videos or hyperlinks. The content in a specific wiki can be collaboratively authored by many users and edited at any moment by a single user to create new and updated content. Consumers of the Internet become creators on the web when using a Wiki (Lamb &Johnson, 2009). The pages in a wiki are connected with hyperlinks to external pages on the web or, internally, within the wiki itself. It is this connectivity or webbing to other pages that allow users to maximize their learning potential by not only collaborating and creating for an individual site but having the ability to connect to other places on the web, thus encompassing many avenues to gain information. Wikis can be set up for private use, protected use or public use to meet the needs of the facilitator. For example a teacher may choose set up a classroom wiki using private use to protect the privacy of his or her students on the web (Morgan & Smith, 2008). Members or observers of the wiki can monitor changes to the wiki. Users can simply use the history options to see previous pages on the wiki and compare the previous pages with the current page (Lamb &Johnson, 2009, p. 48). Thus eliminating the user’s fear of making mistakes on the page or more importantly being able to easily remove unwanted or irrelevant information on the wiki, especially within the classroom setting.
Wikis are an educational asset to any classroom in that they offer an abundance of educational advantages to the students who use them. One of the greatest advantages of using a wiki in the classroom is to give the writer a sense of purpose when writing. “Students feel a grater sense of ownership and pay greater attention to detail when their works are published online” (Imperator, 2009, p. 30). Smith (2008) used a wiki for classroom writing and several benefits were noted. By tracking the changes made to the writings students could see how “the writing process became emphasized and revision consisted of a continual process of slight collaborative modifications” (Morgan & Smith, 2008, p. 81). It was witnessing these revision processes and engaging with the text as readers and writers that fostered an environment where immediate feedback and collaboration occurred simultaneously to create an effective audience, purpose for writing, as well as a defined structure for the writing (Morgan & Smith, 2008, p. 81).
Smith (2008) also observed how ideas were not set in stone before posting on the wiki. Sometimes brainstorming ideas or preplanning stages were posted to the wiki and it was the collaborative feedback that helped the simple ideas or thoughts blossom efficiently (Morgan & Smith, 2008). Lambert and Johnson (2009) conclude wikis have shown an increase in exploration as users “assimilate new information and draw inferences. This leads to reflection and additional questions. This recursive process leads to increasingly complex questions, more in-depth analysis, and deeper understanding” (Lamb & Johnosn, 2009, p. 50). Wikis and their collaborative abilities establish the idea that “combined knowledge of the group, also known as the wisdom of the masses, is assumed to be greater than that of the individual” (Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008, p. 989). When using the wiki in an educational setting the potential benefits are great and extensive.
I had frequented Wilkipeia for information many times before taking this class. However, it was this class that actually enticed me to explore the wiki further. I knew a wiki was a place where one could update information on a certain subject if desired but I had no notion of the number of wikis that existed on the web or the actual benefits of them. The first time I had posted on a wiki was for this class. At first I was very scared of someone seeing me make a mistake and it made me nervous. To figure something out that was somewhat unknown to me in front of others made me feel unsure about my supposedly “tech savvy” abilities, which after this class, I now know were in great need of an update. I found many wikis informative but I chose to dive into The Thousand and One Flat World Tales Project, where young people write stories and provide feedback to one another. There were many tabs and pages within the site that gave information about the site, pages where you could see the responses of the students to each other and it was so refreshing to see authentic learning taking place within a community of young writers. As a teacher, to see true collaboration with a willingness to help each other among young people was beyond wonderful. On the site are areas to subscribe to feeds for recent updates using RSS software and an area that was protected that did not allow me to search through. I also investigated many other wikis online and found that they are very useful for collaboration with teachers, students, and even between the two. While trying to find information on fall classes on the Georgia Southern webiste, I noticed a place that listed the titles of the books used for the fall classes. When I clicked on the link it brought me to a wiki. It was one of the great uses of the wiki. All of the professors in the department could update their booklists, as they become available. There is no getting individual book information to the one person who posts a stagnant page but it’s an everchanging document that can be adapted and updated as needed. The benefits of using a wiki in education and as well as for personal use are very apparent to me.
Wikis develop a community of learners and it serves as a storehouse of knowledge created and enhanced by students or other users of the site. Higher-level thinking skills and socially rich activities are a few of the experiences that come from student centered learning and the use of the wiki (Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008). It is also noted that some students will not contribute as much as others in a wiki environment but studies have shown that learning can take place from reading the dialogue posted on the wiki known as lurking (Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008). The simple act of reading the posts on the wikis develop stronger reading and writing skills (Imperatore, 2009). Some of the social aspects of the wiki include the use of tagging sites using software such as Delicious. The social tagging that occurs are cohesive with the wiki topic and allows users to alert others to locations of information and it’s quality, which replaces the traditional means of hierarchy. This social tagging is reflective of the group, known as folksonomy, which provides a more fluid and accurate representation of the group. (Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008). Some students who don’t always speak up in class may be more adept to speak up on the Internet (Imperator, 2009). It should also be noted that sometimes the novelty of a wiki could dissipate, so the types of questions posted should facilitate discussion. Open-ended essential questions are effective to get responses if discussion is desired. By partaking in such vast areas of knowledge and the potential social communities students can get involved with, student’s abilities to grow academically and socially are clear.
Along with the benefits of using wikis in education, there are a few limitations associated with using a wiki. Since it is led by a collaboration of entries it is important to highlight is the issue of accuracy. “The sheer audacity of creating an information resource of this scope, essentially controlled by no one and everyone, is mind boggling” (Badke, 2009, p. 54). This statement sums up one of the big concerns for obtaining information on wikis and some of the sites available to young readers. “Students need to lean to navigate the sea of information that surrounds them” (Badke, 2009, p. 55). Badke (2009) suggests that students be taught information literacy when seeking information on the web and suggests that using the CARS checklist (Credibility, Accuracy, Reasonableness, Support) will ensure that they understand how to evaluate the vast amount of information presented to them (Badke, 2009). Another concern with the wiki is the issue of ownership and intellectual property (Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008). Students are happy to post their ideas but they feel they should have credit for their work and they can get upset if their work is altered or deleted by others (Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008). Due to the fact that wikis are free software there are a few technical issues with posting data. Postings can get lost or deleted if two people are posting at the same time. (Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008). There are a few impasses to overcome with wikis but the overall positive benefits out weigh any negative dilemmas.
The vast opportunities that wikis offer to users on the Internet are amazing. Our world is changing and technology is changing right along with it. The World Wide Web is no longer a stagnant place for onlookers to view but an interactive place where users are active participants with the new technologies (Park, 2007). Students will become better critical thinkers who can contribute, collaborate, take criticism and revise ideas appropriately. The amount of higher level thinking that occurs when students not only read information but synthesize the information and have a desire to contribute to it all have profound effects on the thinking process. If we can use wikis in education on a more regular basis, with appropriate funding for more computers in the classrooms, schools will become borderless. Not only will students be able to communicate with students in another school in the same county, they can communicate and collaborate with students in other countries. Professionals can be summoned for input and advice on different topics and issues for all to see as well as the sheer value of working together can not be underestimated. It is vital that we grab this opportunity to get our students ready to partake in this great advancement of technology. If not, we are doing them a disservice by not making them literate in the technologies offered. Grab hold to the “world of wikis” and see how global your students can become. Isn’t that what we want as educators? For our students to be the best they can be and achieve leaps and bounds. How can we expect this greatness, if we deny them the opportunity to collaborate, create, synthesize, realize, contribute and analyze information on a global level through the use of the World Wide Web and the wonderful wiki? ☺
Badke, W. (2009). Stepping beyond Wikipedia. Educational Leadership, 66 (6), 54-58.
Imperatore, C. (2009). Wikis and blogs: your keys to student collaboration & engagement. Techniques: Connecting Education & Careers, 84 (3), 30-31.
Knobel, M. & Lankshear, C. (2009). Wikis, digital literacies, and professional growth. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 52 (7), 631-634.
Lamb, A. & Johnson, L. (2009). Wikis and collaborative inquiry. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 25 (8), 48-51.
Morgan, B. & Smith, R. D. (2008). A wiki for classroom writing. Reading Teacher, 62 (1), 80-82.
Park, J.Y. (2007). Empowering the user as the new media participant. Digital Creativity, 18 (3), 175-186.
Wheeler, S., Yeomans, P. & Wheeler, D. (2008). The good, the bad and the wiki: evaluating student – generated content for collaborative learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39 (6), 987-995.
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