By Terry Freedman
Imagine a web page which you can edit right there in situ. You can add text, and even add links to pages that don’t exist yet – in fact, creating the link creates the page! That, in essence, is a wiki, which takes its name from the Hawaiian word meaning “quick”.
Of course, there are limitations, such as not being able to include sophisticated graphics, or even any graphics, as a general rule. However, as a collaborative tool, it has enormous potential – such a shame, then, that its use in schools, at least in the UK, is sporadic to say the least.
So, what sort of (useful) things can you do with a wiki? The most well-known example of a wiki is Wikipedia. This is an online encyclopaedia which is created, amended and monitored by members of the online community. (See the article on page 85 for a comparison between Wikipedia and Britannica.) So, using that as a starting point, how could you make use of the power of a wiki?
What you have to do is think “collaboration” rather than think “web page creation”. Web pages created with a wiki are usually pretty basic in terms of appearance and formatting, but that’s not the point: if you want a “glossy” web page then use a web page creator or html editor. What a wiki enables you to do is share ideas in much the same way as you might capture points from a discussion on an electronic whiteboard or on a flipchart – with the added benefits that it can be accessed from anywhere in the world if you want it to be, and you can track changes, and who made them.
Ideas for using a wiki might include:
Develop group ideas for a project.
Capture ideas for a policy or strategy (for example, students could use a wiki
to develop a set of protocols about good conduct online).
Create a resource for others to use.
See the interview with John Bidder on page 87 for an innovative project which explores the potential of wikis in Bolton, England.
So how is a wiki different to a discussion forum? Well, although a discussion forum can obviously contain links, it tends to have a rather linear appearance: someone posts a message, then someone else responds, then the first person reacts to that, and so on. That’s clearly very valuable, but when you look at a discussion forum it does not have the immediacy of a “big picture” view which the wiki does.
I like to think of it as the difference between a set of bullet points and a three dimensional balloon diagram or concept map. Both have their value, but perhaps another dimension to consider is that a wiki lends itself to having short amounts of text connected by hyperlinks, rather than a lot of text. In other words, 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.