Wikis might be seen as the original and archetypal web 2.0 tool. Wikis are collaboratively authored websites: they encourage users to jointly create multimodal documents, and comment on and edit each other’s work. However, wiki services have not made the move towards mobile learning in the way that some other services have; while some wikis have partly optimised their displays for mobile devices, dedicated mobile wiki services or apps are unusual.
The largest and best-known wiki is of course Wikipedia (see the logo at the top of this page), which does exist in an app format. However, Wikipedia is just one example of a wiki: there are countless wikis, large and small, on the web, covering all kinds of subjects. Many of them have been set up by educational institutions, where they may be used with students of all ages, from kindergarten to tertiary level.
Fully public wikis, like Wikipedia, allow anyone, anywhere in the world, to make additions and modifications (though Wikipedia has restrictions on pages covering sensitive topics, such as some international conflicts or biographies of political figures). Partially public wikis are publicly viewable but can only be edited by those with a password. Fully private wikis, such as those often used at school level, require users to have a password even to view the wiki.
Wikis rely on the principle of collective intelligence and the notion that the product of collaborative work is often superior to what can be created by a single individual. Advantages for students include the ability to draft and redraft work collaboratively, with each contributor adding to and modifying the work of others. Nowadays it is also easy to embed images, videos, RSS feeds and other dynamic content. Wikis are the perfect platform for social constructivist and community of practice approaches, and they are ideal for promoting a sense of a learning community. Feedback can be received from the entire internet (with a public wiki) or class peers (with a private wiki). Of course, collaboration doesn’t just happen by itself: students need detailed instructions, and activities need careful scaffolding, in order to ensure full engagement. Nor is collective intelligence a predetermined outcome; collective ignorance is also a possibility, meaning that a teacher needs to keep a close eye on students’ emerging ideas, and intervene if and when necessary.
Standard wiki functions, often shown as a series of tabs at the top of wiki pages, include:
- discussion: each wiki page normally includes a discussion function, giving access to a version of a dedicated asynchronous discussion board. This allows users to discuss the content of a given page.
- history: this function allows changes to be tracked by users. The history function is a wiki’s inbuilt security mechanism: if a page is vandalised or, more likely, if material is accidentally deleted, it is easy to undo these changes by going one step back in the history log. The same history function also makes it possible for teachers to track individual students’ contributions to group projects, because each change (including the identity of the author in a system where users require a password) is logged.
- subscribe: most wikis allow users to subscribe to an RSS feed so that they can be notified of changes made to pages they have chosen to watch.
For a light-hearted introduction to the principles underpinning wikis, see the Common Craft video Wikis in Plain English. WikiIndex is a wiki about wikis, and includes links to wikis on a vast array of topics. If you’re interested in setting up your own wiki, see Nik Peachey’s Creating a Wiki. For ideas on how to use wikis in education, check out:
Like blogs, wikis can be quickly and easily set up at no cost, though many wiki services work on a freemium model where basic functionality is available for free, but users pay for more advanced functionality. Some wiki services offer enhanced functionality to educators at no additional cost; it is simply a matter of registering a wiki as being for educational purposes.
The most popular wiki services with educators include Wikispaces and PBworks, with alternatives including Wikidot and Wiki Foundry (formerly Wetpaint). Some website creation services now also offer wiki-style functionality.
As noted above, the most famous wiki is Wikipedia, which has versions in many languages. For an example of how a typical Wikipedia article evolves, see Jon Udell’s screencast of the “Heavy metal umlaut” article or Wikipedia’s Evolution of an Article – An Example.
While many student wikis are not publicly viewable because they have been password protected to create safe learning spaces, some older wiki projects may still be found online and, despite dated interfaces in some cases, are worth consulting for ideas. These include: flatplanet (an environmental wiki collaboratively built by high school classes in Canada and the UK); Y11 Evolution (a biology wiki based at a Hong Kong school where students collaboratively ‘wrote the textbook’ in a Wikipedia-style format); and The 50 Greatest Rockers of All Time (based at a US school). For further examples, see Wiki Foundry’s Student Created Wikis or Wikispaces’ Examples of Educational Wikis.
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