Wikis in Education: Social Construction as Learning

By Robinson, Marc | Community College Enterprise, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

Wikis in Education: Social Construction as Learning


Robinson, Marc, Community College Enterprise


THE USE OF WIKIS in education has increased dramatically over the last two years. Web entries and conference sessions abound, but there is still a lot of confusion about what Wikis are and how to use them. In a short amount of space, I can't possibly provide all that you might want to know about Wikis, but I can say emphatically that they are effective tools for educators.

The most familiar Wiki is Wikipedia, a "Webbased free-content multilingual encyclopedia project. It is... a website that allows any visitor to freely edit its content" (Wikipedia, 2006). Although Wikipedia has been the subject of a few scandals over inaccuracies-an accepted risk of the format-a peer review of several articles found Wikipedia's accuracy is similar to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Giles, 2005). As such, it can be a good starting point for research.

The good news is that Wikipedia, as a product (and with all of its flaws) is not the subject I want to cover. Rather, I would like to share the ways in which Wikis-as a process tool -can be used by educators. The real promise of Wikis, and what makes them such a powerful educational technique, is the fact that Wikis facilitate group collaboration. Another important educational feature is the Wiki's ability to keep track of the history of a document as it is revised. At a glance, a reader can see how the document evolved, who made alterations, and whether they were substantive. If the need arises, users can "roll back" the document to a previous version.

Wikis must be well thought out and integrated into a rigorous assessment plan. As with other well-designed group assessments, the following specific elements have proven very important in effectively using Wikis:

1. Identifying the task that students are to perform.

2. Identifying and defining the composition of the group and the way the group is formed.

3. Identifying the way that the task is distributed within and among groups.

4. Identifying the mode(s) of interaction.

5. Identifying the timing of the phases (Dillenbourg, 1999).

The first educational Wiki that I saw was a comparison of two Shakespeare plays. The instructor started with two statements-something such as, "The Tempest is a Shakespearean tragedy about two star-crossed lovers. It is very different from Macbeth, which is a historical account of legendary Danish Prince Amleth." The students then collaboratively altered and built on the statements until there was a well-cited 10-page paper. According to the instructor, the quality surpassed anything that an individual student had ever done in her classes. As an interesting side note, this instructor also used a Wiki to build a shared list of student and instructor responsibilities for each class section.

In addition to group authoring, Wikis also have many other uses in education-and in the "real world" workplace. According to Mader (2005), educators, scientists, and employees worldwide are using Wikis to build courseware, develop papers, track projects, and review classes and teachers. Some examples that I have seen include:

* Building courseware. …

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