Week 6: The Collaborative Power of Wikis

It is very timely for me that the topic this week is wikis.  In the tools we have discussed, we have moved from sharing of content to working on that content in a collaborative way.  I just had a conversation with a fellow professor in my department on his recent experience using Goggle Docs (not a wiki, but I’ll discuss that later).  The course that he was using the tool for involved assigning a unique species to each student for a project, but they were allowed to choose the one that they preferred.  In Goggle Docs, students could go and claim a particular species and then no other student could chose that species for their own project.  He couldn’t believe how much easier this was to the old method of receiving multiple emails to sort through or having the students post within an ANGEL discussion board.   I then proposed that he continue to use Goggle Docs for student posting of their projects as that would allow the students to encourage each other in their learning.  This is a summer course, so it should be interesting to watch how it evolves.  Coming from a scientific research background, I can imagine how this tool could be used in writing and editing journal articles.  When I was writing journal articles in the late 1990s, we would email with the multiple authors of the article to work on editing.  This was an excruciating slow process and made it difficult to track changes.

I began to wonder in our readings this week, how Goggle Docs compares with wikis.  I found a youtube video from a presentation by Chris Penna that helped to compare and contrast wikis and Goggle Docs.  I have virtually no experience with wikis beyond reading them (although I see I will soon use wikis in this class!), so this video explained the greater ability for collaboration with wikis and Goggle Docs, but which tool to chose would depend on the nature of the lesson plan.  Is a final product webpage with links desired (wikis) or a document (Goggle Docs)?

A few points stood out to me in the readings for the week.  In the piece by Vicki Davis, a major advantage of using a wiki over a synchronous tool such as a chat was that you could work on something together, even if members of the community were in different time zones.  An additional point that seemed crucial to the nature of a wiki was that you shouldn’t use the pronoun “I” in a wiki since a wiki is for “we” because it is a collaborative work.  In the Schweder and Wissick reading, I explored many of the wikis described in the article.  I hadn’t considered the ability of wikis to organize websites in the way that was described, almost as a collaborative bookmarking tool.   I immediately thought of an application for this in my own college committee work, as we recently updated a college webpage on Professional Development opportunities for fellow faculty.  A wiki would work so much better for this, as any member of the committee or the campus community can update the offerings without the training or permissions necessary to update a college webpage.  Those opportunities that are off campus can also include the appropriate links.  I’m so excited about this possibility that I just sent off an email about it!

In smaller communities using wikis, maintaining proper use seems easier.  In the McCrea reading, Valerie Burton described how it became easier to monitor the wiki with time and experience.  As with other tools we have learned about, a good recommendation would be start small and gain experience with using wikis before rolling out a huge project.  Figuring out how many students works best for each wiki or part of the wiki will probably depend on the task and student age and skill level.  In the larger communities, it was easy to see in the article What Wikipedia Is Not that many of the guidelines for use were determined with time and experience.  Some issue that was not anticipated caused the creation of a new guideline.

I look forward to learning more about using wikis as we move through the course.

6 thoughts on “Week 6: The Collaborative Power of Wikis

  1. Hannah Inzko

    I really liked the video you posted on the difference between Google Docs and Wiki’s. Over the last couple of years I’ve been an avid Google Docs user, but not so much with Wiki’s. There are several platforms that I use professionally that incorporate Wiki-like qualities. Yammer notes is a good example of this, and from experience I’ve learned does a much better job with multiple people editing than a traditional Wiki.
    I do like the idea of using Wiki’s for organizing professional development activities, I hadn’t thought of that as being a collaborative activity until now. I may have to give that a shot.

  2. Justin Montgomery

    As others have stated, great find on the video, @mre109. I liked the start – very logical background of why we use collaborative documents versus emailing back and forth when three or more people are involved. How the speaker in the video referred to the wiki as a webpage and seems like a completed project really stands out as a distinction between a wiki and a Google Doc. The latter can be published, which is very useful, but I think a wiki takes the cake on this kind of advantage. One thing that I really like about Google Docs, however, is that they show who’s viewing a document and where they’re editing in virtually real time. This feature really helps prevent editing the same part at the same time.

  3. jaf378

    Cheryl – Haha, well while Phil certainly gave me a lot of great information to think about with wikis vs. Google docs, you and your daughter certainly gave me the easiest way to remember how I should think about the two!

    Melissa – you bring up some excellent points in your post this week. The “we instead of me” tenet when using wikis is a crucial one. If students can understand that principle, then they will understand the basic nature of wikis. Google docs are incredibly useful, but I tend to think of them for more personal collaborative and organizational work than for public consumption. For example, I’ve used Google docs for class projects where group members all contribute ideas to a topic or paper. But the finished product is always taken offline (as Phil suggested, through Microsoft Word and then handed in). Wikis seem more timeless. Always changing, always growing…a living, breathing document for the world to see and learn from. It’s an interesting distinction but I think your writing and the video you found shows some good differences between using the two in the classroom.

  4. Cheryl Burris

    I too was interested about the difference between GoogleDocs and Wikis too. Thank you Phil and Melissa for adding depth to this topic for me. Phil’s remark that Cunningham thinks of wikis as a discussion medium was a blinding flash of the obvious that made the a nice distinguishing mark for me in my thinking. Phil’s additional remark that it adds layers of communication also was helpful for me. In discussing wikis and G-Docs with my 13-year old daughter, she said for me to think of G-Dogs as a sheet of paper that people edit but a Wiki as a newspaper/magazine of pages that can be edited. (As an aside, she was humored that he had to put it in “old people” talk for me). I guess in this case, it is taking a village to raise this ol’girl in the technological age.

  5. Melissa Glenn Post author

    Thanks Phil for elaborating on this for me. I’ll have to consider the differences carefully when deciding on tools to use for my classes.

  6. Phil

    @Melissa – good find on the video. I like his way of clarifying the difference in that Google Docs has more of a word-processing interface and format and therefore, conveys more of a finished, quasi-permanent appearance, whereas with a wiki, it is explicitly designed to be iterative and not really designed to be permanently finished. For example, one of the most common uses of a wiki is for documentation and policies and procedures manuals because they are regularly updated. I haven’t seen Gdocs used in these sorts of circumstances.
    A couple of other thoughts … wikis actually preceded Gdocs. A guy named Ward Cunninghman came up with the concept and he explains that one way to look at it is as a discussion medium. For me, this emphasizes its constantly evolving nature, which is quite unlike most of the Gdocs I’ve come across, participated in or read about. Similarly, if you look at the interface of Gdocs vs a Wiki, the Wiki conveys the feeling of having more layers of communication. With a Wiki, you almost feel like you’re working within a collaborative system, whereas with Gdocs, it feels like a MS word doc that has been ported online. On a practical note, I’d also add that wikis are generally more scalable than Gdocs as most wiki platforms can accommodate hundreds if not thousands of users, whereas Gdocs I think caps at around 40 or so. Wikis also typically accommodate more extensions or tools. For example, if you navigate to our wiki and edit any page, you’ll see an option to add numerous types of widgets (e.g., calendar, poll, chat transcript, etc.)
    So, bottom-line, this is a great question to pose, and one that hopefully I’ve shed some light on.

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