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Monday, November 27, 2006

Hey Wiki! Your so fine you blow my mind. Hey Wiki

After setting up a very basic wiki, I have just started to take a look at the use of wiki's in education. My findings are summarized below and are based on reading the following 4 web documents and listening to a skypecast (link below).

1. Naomi Augar, Ruth Raitman and Wanlei (Nov 2004) Zhou “Teaching and learning online with wikis”
2 Joe Grohens and Norma Scagnoli (Spring 2006) . “Uses of Wikis in Teaching”
3. Chien-min Wang Turner, D. (April 2004) “Extending the wiki paradigm for use in the classroom”
4. Steve Hargadon blogspot (Aug 2006)
“Exploring Wikis in Education with Vicki Davis and Adam Frey” including recording of “The uses of wiki’s in education” skypecast

After reading educators feedback on these various websites, seeing how wiki's are currently being employed on the web and listening to an interesting skypecast led by Steve Haregedon it does seem that a wiki in education does indeed have the capability to metaphorically blow your mind. It would appear to be a very powerful tool to engage the students and produce good quality, useful content much more quickly than a student working alone.

Through my reading and skypecast listening I know have a basic understanding of the point of a wiki. With a little more knowledge about the features, functionality and role of wiki’s in education I intend to setup new wikis and collaborate on existing wiki’s to further improve my understanding of the educational uses of a wiki.

Differences between Wikis and Blogs
Before I summarize my findings I’d like to pick up on a couple of interesting points made by Vicki Davis (2006) on the difference between wiki’s and blogs. According to Vicki she explains that the way she looks at it:

1. A wiki is more concerned with facts and a blog is more about opinions and
2. It's easier to contribute to a wiki rather than a blog.

Although I don’t think this will or can be strictly applied, these are two interesting points which may be a nice neat starting point in distinguishing between the uses of the two types of technology.

The Wiki
A wiki is basically a very simple and easy to edit web page. It is designed for group collaboration. Users can either read the content of or add content to a wiki document page.

Vicki Davies (2006) a teacher at Westwood Schools in America and a strong advocator of wikis predicts that wiki’s will become the hub of education in the future. Vicky sees wiki’s as the toolbelt that holds all her technology learning tools together, the central focus of what she teaches. Joe Grohens (2006) supports this view in that he uses wikis as a complete course management system.

Augar, Raitman and Zhou (2004) describe wikis has having 2 different writing modes, or styles of usage:

1. Document mode, where writers create collaborative documents written in the third person and
2. Thread mode, where contributors carry out discussions in the wiki environment by posting signed messages. Others respond leaving the original message in tact and eventually a group of threaded messages evolve.

Pages of wiki can also be described as having two states a ‘read’ state and an ‘edit’ state. To edit a page users click an edit button. Editing a page on most wiki websites is made easy by providers who provide editing toolbars. If no editing toolbar is available then users need to understand wiki language syntax to edit a page (although not too difficult, the edit toolbar makes it a lot simpler for users)

Wiki Features and Functions
The main features and functions that you will find in a wiki include:

1. Authentication – By participants logging into a wiki any addition’s to content can be authenticated providing accountability in terms of who said what and when. [with authentication participants may also have use of a signature tool to move into edit mode automatically inserts the participants wiki username. The signature tool is often hyperlinked to a personal user page which helps students to build an online identity in the wiki environment.
2. Backup and Retrieval of earlier wiki entries.
3. Tracking – Usually in the form of a recent changes page where student participation can be assessed.
4. Notifications by email of any recent updates so that users can check on any new material that is of interest to them and change information if incorrect.
5. Uploading of images and other media

Strengths of Wikis
The basic strengths of a wiki are:

1. Simple and easy to use
2. Easy to learn how to use.
3. Excellent for collaboration and collaboration over time
4. Easy to share.
5. Simple technology – only need internet access and a web browser.
6. Ability to compare two different versions of a wiki

Student Benefits
For students the benefits of a wiki include:

1. It is a student centered environment, students can be involved in the structure and the content.
2. Everyone in a class can access the same version of the work.
3. Previous versions of the work can be recovered
4. Easy to correct mistakes
5. Because it is simple and easy to use, barriers to contributing are removed.
6. Accessible from any computer allowing students to work on assignments at any time.
7. Group work skills can be improved.
8. Steady incremental improvement in both the organization and the content of a document.
9. Social interaction is enhanced. A sense of community can be built up.
10. Information easily disseminated.
11. Information easily stored.
12. Collaborative production of documents. This can build a body of knowledge wider and quicker than an individual. The social and technological interaction can enhance learning. Steve Haragedon (2006) believes that “collaborative efforts are generally better than individual”.

Teacher Benefits
For teachers benefits include:

1. Easy place to post assignment instructions.
2. Easy place organize course material.
3. Wiki’s can be password protected
4. Better than discussion boards, easier to administer according to Joe Grohens
5. Easy for students to submit there work
6. Keeps a log of revisions of student work

Educational Uses
The educational uses of a wiki will be wide and varied some uses that have come to light during my reading include:

1. Summary of Lessons
2. Collaboration of notes i.e. sets of documents that reflect shared knowledge.
3. Dissemination of important information
4. Build up core content and Topic base e.g. creating a book
5. Pre Class planning e.g. Ask students ahead of time what they want to study and shape the content around that.
6. Students can supply feedback to each other
7. frequent revisions and drafts due to the inherent simplicity of wiki technology.
8. Exchange of ideas.
9. Facilitates group interaction. E.g see Auger, Raitman and Zhou’s example idea of an introductory icebreaker.
10. Individual Assessment projects?

Usage Guidelines
An important aspect not to be overlooked is a clear set of usage guidelines, Augar, Raitman and Zhou (2004) advise from their study that these should be short, simple and written in a positive tone. There guidelines “encouraged users to be considerate of others and be active and friendly in their wiki posts”.

Despite all the positive sounding noises, Scagnoli points out a number of challenges and issues that need addressing. These include plagiarism/ copyright issues, monitoring can be difficult and problems of outside editors should a public wiki site be used.

Hopefully this blog although not capturing everything relevant, touches upon the main aspects of a wiki from an educational point of view. My focus now will be to work and participate in wikis and to identify specific, practical exercises that enhance student learning.

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