Wikis

In the second half of 2005 I became interested in the wiki as a tool for collaboration, particularly for students and staff who aren’t confident in using html, and particularly for multi-author web sites.

I set up a few wikis, mainly for myself to learn the coding and to evaluate some of the differences between the various wiki ‘engines’, and went further in 2006 and actually get some productive use out of them.

One way I’ve used a wiki is to set up a wiki for a small team at my school, to publish agendas, meeting notes, decisions and to plan together professional development offerings across the college. That worked well, although it was still a culture change to ask team members to log in to a web site; that wasn’t natural for some of them.

I also set up a wiki to explore my experience with using a tablet, and how that’s gone. In this case the collaborative shared authorship I’ve hoped for hasn’t really eventuated though the wiki platform does work for a single-author website too. Wikis are quick and easy to edit and don’t need full expensive programs like Dreamweaver to create.

In 2006 I also wanted to to work with students on a wiki which was to be a kind of ’study guide’ on the novel we’re studying this year. That was not approved by the school administration out of fear about where the student data lives, but I’m hopeful that this kind of multi-author, shared, edited, constantly improved and updated web page has a lot of promise.

On the way I’ve tried wiki engines from pbwiki, jotspot, wetpaint and wikispaces. They all have different qualities and strengths and weaknesses, but if I had to choose one right now, it would be the pbwiki engine (with its flexibility and simple coding) and wetpaint (which is easier and prettier, but less flexible) I’ll keep looking around.

This page will explore some of that thinking, but I’ve also developed a wiki on the use of wikis!

Wiki Theory

Wiki encourage collaboration. Wikipedia is the most obvious example; a giant encyclopedia created by all its users, constantly re-framed, re-shaped, edited, refined, improved. So, why couldn’t that model work for a teacher team, a school or a class.

Why email when you can wiki? One writer argues that wikis and blogs can transform workflow so that rather than send an email to a group, and hear 30 different responses and refinements to the original idea, the wiki grows 30 times as each user adds and edits.

Jude Higdon from the University of Southern California wrote about trying to define the essence of the wiki from a user perpsective. ‘The first step in this process was to determine what, in essence, a wiki truly was. While the mythology of wikis tends to center around the egalitarianism of the tool, as we looked closer we came to believe that that wasn’t its defining feature. At its core, a wiki is a Web site that is fully editable from a Web browser. If you have that, you have a wiki; if you don’t, you don’t. This means that you must be able to add, edit, and delete pages, text, and hyperlinks right from your Web browser; no messy HTML, JavaScript, or FTP programs required. The wiki shares all of the non-linear affordances of standard Web sites. In this way, it is distinguishable from other types of social software, such as blogs, which are designed around the post, a timely entry that appears linearly, in reverse chronological order.’

Higdon also argues for some levels of control in wikis; a heresy to the open source community perhaps: ‘While there are some situations in which a democratized environment could work quite well, it is also the case that in some situations you want to limit some members’ abilities to add, edit, and delete content from your wiki space, but still give them some rights in the space. In so doing, I don’t think you’ve violated the tool, or made the wiki somehow not a wiki. To be frank, we found the democratized framing of the wiki to be unduly constraining; many of our faculty collaborators had extremely thoughtful projects that required varying levels of collaborative engagement among the wiki members that wouldn’t have worked if everyone had full edit privileges.’

In a student environment, allowing a class to operate freely within the wiki during the editing stage, and then finalising and locking the wiki, might be another approach.

Questions to try to find good answers to.

But what if someone puts the wrong information up?
But what if people vandalise it?

Other very practical questions

Should wikis be viewable outside the school intranet?
Should they be editable outside the school intranet?
What kind of security and password control is needed?
What are the features that are most important in the wiki software?
How important is RSS of wiki changes?
Is WYSIWYG editing important?
How much disk space should a wiki be allocated?
Should staff be able to establish multiple wikis?
Should students be able to establish a wiki without teacher imput?
Should students be able to establish multiple wikis?
How important is template support in wiki design?
How much customization is necessary/advisable?

Wiki Practice 1

These are wikis I’ve set up as collaborative tools.

Teacher Collaboration: The Tablet PC Wiki

The TabletPC wiki is a wiki set up for a group of teachers to share ideas and resources as they trial the use of tablet pcs (Fujitsu T Series Lifebooks) in the classroom.

http://tabletpc.pbwiki.com/

This is a work in progress; check out my reflections on how it’s going here

Community and Environment: Creeks and Streams of the Mornington Peninsula

A wiki I set up to try out Wet Paint software, and also to indulge an interest of mine!

http://peninsulacreeks.wetpaint.com/

Wiki Practice 2

These are wikis established by others that serve as good examples of wikis as collaborative tools.

Wikipedia

The daddy of them all, a giant online encyclopedia with thousands of articles. It’s almost too big now to serve as a good example; it’s so impossibly big! Maybe one way of thinking about it is, that there wasn’t an article about the fine Australian poet Diane Fahey until I created one.

http://wikipedia.org/

Wiki Travel

Another giant collaborative wiki, this one focused on travel information; giving Lonely Planet a run for their money!

http://wikitravel.org/en/Main_Page

The Staff Handbook Wiki

Dromana Secondary College are using a wiki for their staff handbook. The write: “Any member of staff can update pages… any page. If you know something that should be in the handbook, just add it in. You might have some tips about a specific yard duty area, a good website for assessment rubrics or have some information to share about welfare… you can add it in.

It is hoped that this will be the first port of call for staff wanting to know any operational details of the school. It should be a dynamic and evolving document containing relevant information rather than a dusty handout in your drawer.”

Year 9 English Wiki

David Coales and Alberto Rizzo at Melbourne Grammar School are using a wiki for students to share ideas, responses and creative writing about Australian art.

Memory Archive

Kind of like wikipedia for memory. People submit their personal memories.
http://www.memorywiki.org/en/MemoryArchive

Info Wikis in Independent Schools

Their mission: When teachers from schools around the world work together it should be possible to fairly quickly develop open-source online textbooks. “Textbooks” isn’t really the right word for collaborative online digital information collections, so until a better word comes along we will call these things infowikis. Imagine a course with a primary information source that is constantly evolving, that allows teachers (and students) to contribute their best work, that contains not only text and still images but animations, simulations, and video. In addition, imagine that this information resource costs a fraction of current textbooks and weighs… nothing.

http://1to1.editme.com/

Improving and enhancing teaching & learning through technology.

66 Tech Help Articles

This space is a collaborative environment where educators can contribute to and access information related to using technology in K-12 classrooms.
http://wiki.monroe.edu/index.php?title=Main_Page

The School Computing Wiki

The collaborative guide to technology in k-12 schools
http://schoolcomputing.wikia.com/wiki/School_Computing_Home_Page

There’s also a page there about my working with this technology currently with Year 11 English in a Reflections page.

Warrick Wynne

9/7/2009

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