Wikis in Education

Over at Cole Camplese’s blog he has started an interesting conversation concerning the use of Wiki’s in the educational setting. I am curious, especially about many of the uses for Wiki that Alan mentions in the comment section there.
As you perhaps have realized, I am not averse to technology–far from it! But I am unclear on how a personalized, course specific Wiki can be helpful.

Let me explain. I see the Wiki as traditionally viewed, that is many contribute their bits of knowledge, allowing for the aggregation of knowledge (and the self-correction as required), with a limited impact on any individual as that knowledge is created. I contribute that which I feel most comfortable contributing, and hopefully take the time to provide correction when I believe something has been less than helpful, or downright incorrect. BOTTOM LINE: Big gains in accessibility to knowledge, with limited impact on any one person’s time to develop.

If we were to view this as the ideal for a course, developing a base of knowledge for a course of instruction, then I suspect we have actually just provided the faculty member with another way of putting their content forward, but not necessarily made it any simpler for the faculty member, and perhaps in fact have increased their workload if only by adding another learning curve. This is not to say that students couldn’t be used to help develop the content, but their inputs will be widely varied in content and quality, depending on their previous knowledge of the materials, their experience base, and the like. In upper level graduate courses, where students are drawing on a wealth of past educational and work experiences, then perhaps they have much to contribute and share, but can we expect that level of contribution from undergrads?

I have looked at a few of the examples of PB Wiki, and the camping trip, and I find them to be interesting ways of accomplishing what we have had other tools to do before, namely, allow for an online space for the aggregation of information. As an open forum, allowing for the development of information, perhaps this makes sense, but what if your school already has a course management system, such as Blackboard, WebCT, or Angel? Do Wikis provide a new capability, or a duplication of existing capabilities with minor tweaks and changes?

So, my question about the use of Wiki in this way (and my perspective as one faculty member) is: how does it a) make the educational content better, b) make the educator’s life easier freeing us up to focus on content rather than process, or c) enable students to grasp the information in a better/faster/cheaper way?



One thought on “Wikis in Education

  1. Wikis don’t just allow for aggregation of information, but synthesis of it.

    I am using the term wiki more broadly here to simply mean a tool to enable collaborative editing of a document or groups of documents. A wiki could be a feature of a course management system along with the usual discussion boards and quiz tools.

    I am thinking of the camping trip example. If a threaded discussion was used to try to determine what was needed for the trip and who was bringing what, the information would be locked in dozens (or more) messages. If you wanted to know what you should bring, you would have to read all the messages. You would have to compare all the notes stating what is needed to all the notes stating what others are bringing.

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