Friday, February 27, 2009

Teaching with Wikis

I have been asked to give a presentation for the staff at the Department of Language Studies (my home department) on using wikis in teaching.

My introduction to wikis was from the incomparable Bryan Alexander, who visited Umeå University and HUMlab in 2003. Back then it was Wikipedia that was grabbing the attention of many.

A wiki is a Hawaiian word for "fast". A wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language. Wikis are often used to create collaborative websites and to power community websites. The collaborative encyclopedia Wikipedia is one of the best-known wikis. Wikis are used in business to provide intranet and Knowledge Management systems. Ward Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki software, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as "the simplest online database that could possibly work" wikipedia


The strength of the wiki is it is very simple. A wiki is primarily a text based web page where editing can be done in a simplified markup language, sometimes known as "wikitext":

There is no commonly accepted standard wikitext language. The grammar, structure, features, keywords and so on are dependent on the particular wiki software used on the particular website. For example, all wikitext markup languages have a simple way of hyperlinking to other pages within the site, but there are several different syntax conventions for these links. Many wikis, especially the earlier ones, use CamelCase to mark words that should be automatically linked. In some wikis (such as Wikipedia and other MediaWiki-based wikis) this convention was abandoned in favor of explicit link markup, which Wikipedia calls "free links", for example with [[…]].


Changes can be made to the wiki either using an editing tool, with pictures and buttons to make changes or it can be written in code, which does not take long to learn:


Editing window of the teaching wiki I use for English A Realia


A wiki has the potential to be a highly collaborative tool where communal authorship (that can be based on group or individual work on campus or over distance)can be explored in learning. Any one who is registered with the wiki can author content on it. Content is saved, so any mistakes that may be made can be changed back immediately.


Webpage from a teaching wiki. The backup files are shown.


The use of a wiki in a course should be connected for a desire to encourage learner participation and presentation based learning. With a wiki students can organize themselves into groups, comment and discuss in forums, take up elements from the course and develop them further, comment and critique them. This is where the revolutionary aspects of wikis in the classroom come forward.

If a wiki is to be used to the full of its potential in learning and teaching the role of the teacher is changed. The teacher must be prepared to have their own work placed in a position where students have the opportunity to use it in a number of ways . By using a wiki as a platform in learning material can be added to the course by students, work that is discussed in the classroom can be altered or remixed by students. The course can be arranged to include this student input in the assessment or teaching plan.


Post Seminar

In the seminar I was joined by Satish Patel from Kalmar College, who has a lot of experience with using learning platforms in teaching. Satish told me about this video, Wikis in Plain English:



We discussed a number of potential applications for wikis, both as teaching tools and for coordinating research and teaching in the department. An interesting suggestion was made concerning using wikis as an archive for the writing process. Based on the way a wiki saves older versions of a text, one could use it to keep a record of a writing or research project. This could be done by a single author or a group. Patish recommended PBwikis and Wetpaint Wikis to get started. I have been using ProjectForum wiki and recommend it highly.

I hope to have further collaboration with Satish. As I was leaving university today I met a colleague who said he had just set up a PBwiki for his first foray into the world of wikis. I was very happy to hear it.

1 comments:

Bryan's workshop blog said...

What a fine seminar, Jim! How exciting to see you guys open up so many uses in higher education.