Should you use a wiki for teaching (and which one?) — from Matthew Allen

Yes, we use wikis in our teaching, in two ways. First, some of the students naturally set up wikis to work on collaborative projects or similar without us telling them to – we leave that up to them! They also use other technologies, such as Ning and similar networking sites/services and, of course, simpler forms of communication and collaboration. Wikis perhaps are suited only to some kinds of people for this task?

Second, we run a unit of study in which students are required to author their first assignment in a wiki – but not collaboratively (they look at others, but don’t edit). Then, their second main assignment – a group report – must be online and while we provided an alternative publishing space ( they didn’t like it and so all, I think, ended up using a wiki. This year (semester 2) we will require them to use a wiki.

So, in short, you can and in some cases should use wikis in teaching. I think the most important affordances of wikis are as follows.

  • The fact that the process of creating and editing wiki pages is relatively simple, and yet produces a shared resource, makes this software a very powerful tool for managing knowledge work within a group whose abilities and knowledge of the content of the site varies as much as their technical skill.
  • Wikis permit (and even promote) collaborative individualism. Traditional cooperative publishing activities tend to require a lot of discussion of what to change and how to do it, before you actually make changes, create content etc. Wikis allow individuals to jump in and work relatively safely and the collaboration – the forming of the group happens in the process of editing and developing the content.
  • Plus, at a very simple level, a wiki rapidly allows us to get material online, shared, reading and writing and thinking about audiences – whether all the other students or (preferably) a real audience of web users

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