The Good, The Bad and the Wiki?*

March 9, 2008 at 4:48 pm (wikis)

The Good

I really enjoy reading The Horizon Report.  The first one I read was from 2006 that Valenza linked to in Web 2.0 Meets Information Fluency PowerPoint at informationfluencywiki)I like how it not only outlines the up and coming technologies providing a tentative timeline for adoption, but also goes into a detailed explanation of each including examples.  The 2006 and 2007 editions suggest the following benefits of wikis:

  • ability to review, edit & comment on each other’s work
  • within a few clicks, collaboration on a shared site, which may have been more challenging in the past, benefits everyone who can access and see it, especially in different locations
  • “social aspects of these audience-centered technologies [including wikis], firmly extablished as powerful tools for creative expression, offer great potential to build community in the context of teaching and learning”
  • “using tools for creating…content, teachers can foster collaborative work not only among their own students, but with colleagues, students and community members from around the world”
  • “connect people and facilitate work without the need to consult a central technology support center”
  • “allow[ing] users to…edit it online makes[s] it possible to work from any computer with an Internet connection, and for multiple users to access, view, and work on the same files.  Issues of file format, operating system compatibility, disk storage space, and versioning, all of which can stand in the way of productive collaborative work at a distance, disappear when using server-based shared editing spaces”
  • “The tools allow (and encourage) shared responsibility for development of course resources, links, and materials”
  • “give voice to communities and encourage idea sharing”
  • create an archive of resources and reference material
  • write a collaborative document
  • attend a conference held entirely online 
     

In Coming of Age, Terry Freedman (2006) identifies additional strengths and uses:

  • brainstorm and record ideas for a project or problem solving
  • contribute knowledge by creating something for others to use 
  • demonstrate the need to verify information
  • demonstrate information ethics and social responsibility – copyright, acceptable use, plagiarism
  • “critical thinking & web literacy e.g. challenging what we find onine and being slow to accept what was found as ‘the truth’.”
  • updated more frequently than print resources
  • peer-reviewed by community
  • represents many viewpoints
  • covers topics not otherwise found in Britannica
  • students write using language that is appropriate to their level; Freedman calls this new language “child-speak.”

Will Richardson (2006) says

“there are vastly more editors that want to make it right than those who want to make it wrong.  So when mistakes occur or vandals strike, the collaborative efforts of the group set it straight, usually very quickly.” 

Richarson also identifies the versatility of a wiki as another benefit. 

“Everyone together is smarter than anyone alone.  In the process, we check facts, provide ‘soft’ security by acting like a community watchdog, and weed out bias and emotion from posts in an attempt to arrive at a neutral point of view….Each entry is the group’s best effort, not any one person’s….Wikipedia is the poster child for the collaborative construction of knoweldge and truth that the new, interactive Web facilitates….if need be, you can easily use the history list to revert back to a previous version of the page should someone come and muck things up.  This…is how most vandalism is dealt with.” 

The use of wikis can fit in with the processes of Focus on Inquiry (pdf).  While a blog works for an individual’s inqiry, a wiki can serves as the archive for a group inquiry.  In particular, a wiki fits with creating and contributing to the body of knowledge and sharing it with the world.  The skills required to do this involve the upper levels of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy: analyzing, evaluating and the new creating.   

Unlike our WebCT discussions, which are very linear, Freedman (2006) says wikis allow for

“short amounts of text [to be] connected by hyperlinks, rather than a lot of text…it enables you to conduct an online discussion without limiting it to students who have a relatively high level of literacy, and without excluding those students who have a visual learning style.” 

I found this interesting on several levels.  Short amounts of text are less intimidating for reluctant readers (those who can read but choose not to) and strugging readers (those that find reading challenging).  The hyperlinks break up the monotony of the text adding an interactive component.  If students are creating their own wiki, they are using a language with which they are comfortable and familiar.  The different ability levels will allow peers to challenge and support each other.  In addition to building in context clues, students could make a glossary that links words to a definition they created and added in their wiki, or link to an online dictionary, to assist with meaning.  I like how the wiki has the potential to meet the learning needs and learning styles of a variety of students. 

How, you ask, are we meeting the needs of visual learners through a wiki that is mainly text based?  An understanding of the non-linear, 3-dimensional text structure of a wiki, requires memory of where one has been, where one is going, and their relationship (Freedman, 2006).  One must construct a visual mind map of internet travels.   Further, by participating in the creation of non-linear content, students will become more adept at navigating this context.

The Bad

  • “ease of and public access to content revision can be problematic”; the “person doing the writing doesn’t have to own up to their changes”; however, “errors and their authors can be uncovered” (Braun, 2006)
  • due to spam, an open wiki is not recommended
  • opinions may be passed off as facts
  • more text based, less capability for images
  • “The danger is that content can be modifed incorrectly to prove a point . . . educators must teach students how to evaluate the accuracy and appropriateness of content”
  • an inhouse technical trouble shooter is recommended for hosted wikis (Freedman, 2006, in Coming of Age)
  • Abuse such as Police chief forces staff to monitor his Wikipedia entry to stop users posting rude comments about him, The Daily Mail, U.K.

Ebay has recently renovated it’s feedback system to “stem the erosion of trust.”  “The original intent of eBay’s public feedback sytem was to provide honest, accurate record of member experiences.”  Instead it backfired, causing retaliation between buyers and sellers.  Consequently, no buyers leads to no sellers.  EBay’s new system aims to put trust back into the system.

“The dealth of self-rule on the internet…is very disillusioning….radically rewriting the constitution of democratic republic of Ebay.  For most of [its] 13 years, EBay has been run largely as a self-policed island, a place where order was preserved less by real world laws than by norms and customs and expectations and reputations that were almost entirely virtual.  Ebayers governed themselves…” (Patti Waldmeir quoted by Nicholas Carr).  

What does this have to do with wikis?  Carr says,

“It follows a common pattern thay we’ve seen play out in other ‘social production’ sites like Digg and Wikipedia….As these sites grow, keeping them in line requires more rules and regulations, greater excercise of central control.  The digital world, it seems, is not so different from the real world.”

First, it is important to point out that Carr is an editor of Britannica’s Editorial Board of Advisors and writes for Britannica Blog, where this post originates from.  With the advent of Wikipedia, Britannica’s use has been on the decline.  Despite this, I think it is important to keep in mind in the context of our own school-created wikis.  Start small.  Keep it manageable.  Have students discuss and set the parameters, or netiquette, of what is acceptable and what is not (Lee & Berry, 2006, in Coming of Age).  If they create it, rather than being told, they will own it and be more likely to follow it.  They can be done in a wiki.  Closed wikis, that require a password to edit, or private ones, that no one can see except for registered users, are less likely to be tampered with.  Should questionable content be included, it would be the perfect time to review the parameters the community defined for itself.  However, in the reading I have done about the use of closed and private wikis in schools, tampering is virtually non-existent, most likely because student names are attached to the editing.    

The Wiki?

*The title of this blog post, “The Good, The Bad and The Wiki?” is a play on “the good, the bad and the ugly.” However, this is not the “ugly section.”  Rather, here I want to connect to some larger themes that further serve to support the use of wikis and other social software in teaching and learning. 

Richardson (2006) says

“Wikis pose some pedagogical challenges…. They can be so effective at fostering collaboration that the teacher really needs to carefully examine her role in their use.” 

The benefits of wikis and other social software will not magically come to fruition.  I can’t help but connect the use of wikis in the classroom, and other web 2.0 tools, to the work of Carol Kuhlthau and the Karthigeyan Subramaniam (2006) article “Teachers’ mindsets and the integration of computer technology,” British journal of educational technology 38(6), 1056-1071, the discussion of which Simon and I will be facilitating this week. 

It is a delicate balance between freedom, guiding and directing or taking over.  Rather than giving students complete freedom, characterized by the absence of teacher-as-guide, teachers and teacher-librarians must decide when intervention within the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky) will be most beneficial to the learner when using computer technology for learning.   

Richardson articulates it like this:

“early implementation of wikis in educational settings have shown that the more autonomy teachers give to students in terms of negotiationg the scope and quality of the content they are creating, the better.  It’s a very democratic process of knowledge creation.  In using wikis, students are not only learning how to publish content; they are also learning how to develop and use all sorts of collaborative skills, negotiating with others to agree on correctness, meaning, relevance and more.  In essence, students begin to teach each other.  Teachers who impose a lot of right and wrong on the process can undermine the effectiveness of the tool.” 

For me, wikis are a web 2.0 tool that validate the social nature of learning and the creation of third spaces, both of which I discuss in separate posts.  The social nature of learning can be capitalized in the third space online if students are free to take ownership while the teacher skillfully guides maintaining a balance between not enough and too much freedom. 

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2 Comments

  1. Jennifer said,

    I agree. A wikis is social constructivism lived online and for teacher-librarians and teachers I think it is the most powerful of the 2.0 tools.

  2. cindy said,

    Your comment that wikis involve the higher levels of critical thinking of Blooms taxonomy is very relevant. In classrooms where questioning and the ability to critically analyze material is encouraged, a wiki can support and enable this to occur and continually develop.
    I appreciate your indepth discussions on your blogs Arlene!

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