Wednesday, 24 June 2009

What's a wiki-for those who keep asking me

Wiki what is that? By Sheila Vine,

In this article, I would like to introduce you to a web tool. I am sure most of you have heard of the ubiquitous ‘Wikipedia,’ the free online editable encyclopaedia. Wikipedia is the most famous example of the use of a wiki. Wikipedia has been criticised in many areas however, it does provide an excellent example of what can be done with wiki technology. However, Wikis used for educational purposes do not have to be anything like as complicated as wikipedia.

The name wiki originates from the Hawaiian “wikiwiki” which translates as “very quick.” Steve Jones (UIC) defines a wiki as “Web-based, Interactive, Kollaborative, and Iterative” .
This ICT tool can be used to exchange, store and contribute to the construction of knowledge collaboratively.

A wiki is a collection of editable pages, it looks like a website but it allows the users to add to and edit the content. Users do not need any knowledge of web page authoring. The “no HTML required” has great appeal; the easy to use font buttons alongside ‘Edit’ and ‘Save’, mean that students who can use ‘Word’ can use a Wiki. The ability to edit content is the main difference between a wiki and a website, because on a website only the owners can edit the information.

The flexibility of the wiki has led to a huge development in the use of Wikis for educational purposes. They are used in a wide range of settings, from schools and EFL learners to the Open University Masters Programme.
Creating your own or a class wiki
Anyone can set up a wiki by using one of the many free services that are available. The leading ones are Wikispaces , and Peanut Butter Wiki negative side to using a free service is that you will often have to accept advertisements on your site.

Wikis can be open to all, others are closed, or password protected, relying on invitations to access, this is dependent on the way the wiki is set up. Because a wiki is web based, interactive, collaborative, and iterative, it changes over time.
Wikis keep a chronological history for every page, so nothing is lost forever, no changes can be completely destructive, and changes can always be undone; this is known as version tracking. This means that, you can revert to an earlier version of the wiki or wiki page by simply accessing the history section and using a fetch-back button.
Another key feature is you can monitor a wiki or a particular page and receive notification of any changes to that page (by email).

How will it help teachers/learners?

Recent years have seen a huge uptake of wikis for educational purposes. The main reasons are related to increasing the opportunities for collaborative constructive authoring. Nowadays the freely available software means any teacher can set up wikis, which allow for two students, a whole class, or multiple classes to work together. This can lead to exchanges and develop a worldwide audience or simply be a useful system for connecting a closed group of learners. A wiki is a great place for learners to start posting their work so that peers and teachers can correct, improve, and discuss ideas online with them. Wikis are not based on hierarchy – all contributors are equal and can be easily accessed at any time from any online computer.
So if your class are preparing a journal article or report, putting any sort of list together or sharing project resources this could be a useful tool.

Try this video link for a simple explanation of a wiki.

What I like about Wikis
 They are simple and quick to set up, which means that the technical side is a minor aspect.
 They add an element of technology to a face-to-face course without stretching the students’ resources and time too far.
 They encourage collaboration and peer correction, which is often missing from ‘normal’ classes.
 They make it easy to set up team and group working.

What I am less happy about
 The advertising pop-ups, which it is possible to avoid by paying for a premium service.
 Once the students start to experiment themselves, the basic design is often a little limiting.

Some ideas of how to use Wikis
 Uploading documents that contain the types of errors your students often make, and setting them the task of editing the documents. Different students could use different colours for example or they could each have their own version on the document on their own page.
 Collaborative story telling - Give the title of a story and let the students continue it sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph. You could give them a vocabulary list of words to use. Or set up a beginning and an end for them to work between.
 Set up a page for typical errors, which you could list without identifying the students concerned but using quotes form their work and asking for corrections.
 Make a list of idiomatic expressions or phrasal verbs that the students could add to as they come across them during the course. Individual students could print this off at a later stage.
 Encourage the students to share pieces of writing they are proud of with their colleagues on the course, get the students to vote for the best piece and award a small prize.

Using Wikis can make education two-way; they open up new possibilities for collaborative writing projects and can capture and disseminate knowledge in unexpected ways.
Wiki wiki! What are you waiting for? Encourage your learners to participate! The power of “wiki” technology lies in flexibility and multi-dimensionality.

Thanks to Valentina Dodge and Nik Peachey for some of the information in this article.


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