Friday, October 22, 2010

What is a Wiki?

What is a Wiki? 

The 21st-century educator and media specialist have an array of Web 2.0 tools to utilize in their endeavor to make resources available for the students and staff they serve. Web 2.0 is based on user participation that encourages open communication, allows for data to be controlled by many people, and inspires teamwork. In education, it can be used as a vehicle that allows teachers to connect, communicate, and collaborate. Our students use Web 2.0 tools on a daily basis in the form of blogs, tweets, and Facebook postings. Teachers who want to maximize their ability to relate to today's student must know what their students know about technology, and must be able to learn with the same tools students learn with every day.

Although there is a place for all of these tools in the pursuit of their goals, perhaps one of education's greatest tools is the wiki. It is a tool that allows the media specialist and teacher to demonstrate collaborative and leadership skills that serve students in supportive ways. Wikis can be the most effective tool we have in today's educational setting, where time to collaborate face-to-face has almost disappeared. 

The word wiki derives from a Hawaiian word that means quick. This definition is applicable to this tool, as a wiki is a Web site that can be created in a hurry. Wikis have many uses, among which are managing information, knowledge, and ideas. In today's world of fast-paced, highpressure, high-stakes learning, educators have a specific need to manage the tremendous amount of information available to their students. We can no longer ignore the fact that the remarkable amount of information, tools, and strategies available to today's teachers and students needs managing and organizing in order to be useful. Wikis can bring order to this information overload phenomena and help students make sense of facts, statistics, details, and data they collect while doing research or even while browsing for information. Moreover, teachers as well as students increasingly need to do this managing in a minimal amount of time, which is precious. They also need a vehicle that is of nominal cost or free to use. (Free is the universal keyword to educators everywhere!)

The most well-known and most used wiki today is Wikipedia, which has developed into a huge free, collaborative, Web-based, multilingual encyclopedia. It grows larger every day as users add to the base of knowledge and correct misinformation others have posted there. While the editors strive for accuracy in this source, many articles are not verifiable or are out-and-out wrong. Because the information on Wikipedia cannot be considered authoritative, this wiki has developed a tarnished reputation. While the content is generally factual, many school districts will not allow students to cite Wikipedia articles in research. However, students still tend to gravitate to Wikipedia frequently for their own purposes in gathering information.

So, given the popularity of wiki use, what is the value of wikis in education today? Even though today's students are probably the best multitaskers the world has ever produced, the sheer amount of information they take in can be overwhelming and block them from spontaneously doing the higher-level thinking that is required for analysis and synthesis. Educators looking for a method of improving the environment for these students to facilitate information management will find that wikis can provide them with an instrument that will systematize, organize, classify, and categorize knowledge, information, statistics, and ideas. These elements serve to enhance student learning. Wikis are not only beneficial to teachers and media specialists but are extremely helpful to students.

There are three types of wikis that educators will find helpful: the library wiki, the reciprocal wiki, and the student-produced wiki.

A library wiki provides a storehouse for resources, information, documents, and audiovisual artifacts that the user collects for a particular purpose. It is usually locked down, or secured, so that users of the wiki cannot alter the information it contains; however, users can comment on the information.

One of the best uses for a library wiki is one that systematically lists information, resources, and directions for a student-centered alternative assessment project. The product of this type of project assignment can be anything from a formal research paper to an oral presentation, Power Point, podcast, or video production. The library wiki warehouses safe online resources; teacher-directed instructions; links to useful interactive
sites; as well as images, video, audio, documents, or other materials that students may or may not need to complete a particular assignment. A library wiki becomes an online extension of the media specialist, as it leads students to relevant, safe, unbiased, and factual knowledge that they can analyze and synthesize into the final product. This type of direction is most useful to students who are just learning how to do research, how to cite sources, and how to use information they get without plagiarizing the source material.

Another use for the library wiki is for communication of school-based information for staff, because it can maintain a secure file of data that teachers and staff need to access on a regular basis. This type of wiki will become the place where teachers could find important information without searching files of e-mails or documents on their personal computers.

The reciprocal wiki is an online tool used by educators and media specialists to collaborate with classroom teachers, students, and parents. It is used primarily for organization and brainstorming. It can take the form of to-do lists, planning guides, curriculum plans, forecasting charts, or schedules. The purpose of this type of wiki is to enable diverse groups to work in partnership to achieve a common goal. They offer collaborative online storage space to create, revise, enhance and modify documents of all types and offer the choice of making the wiki a private (open just to designated individuals) or public (open to everyone) site.

The Student-Produced Wiki
More than any other Web 2.0 tool or application, wikis represent access to total open content. This fact alone appeals to the 21st-century student, who texts, tweets, chats, and blogs on a daily basis. Online collaboration with other students and teachers is engaging to students, who quickly learn the procedural steps in wiki creation and usually are not afraid to experiment with the features wikis provide. This leads to exciting shared community conversation and development of documents and projects. While the student-produced wiki is not a good vehicle for publishing, its real power is in the collaboration of developing, revising, and maintaining research, as well as sharing findings with a larger audience.



Adapted from Wikis: The Educator's Power Tool
Kay Teehan
Linworth, 9/2010

Wikis provides information on the ABC's of Producing a Wiki, in-depth information on each type of wiki, helpful organizational charts, copyright considerations, using wikis with foreign language students, and more.

1 comment: