Collaborative and Creative Learning on Wikis

I’ve been looking forward to this week’s coverage of wikis because I’ve enjoyed the collaborative projects that I’ve completed for other classes, and I wanted to understand the technology a little better.  Especially after the interview assignment last week, I feel like wikis could be an interesting way to creatively engage with emerging web technologies with learners and other educators.  The examples given in Schweder and Wissick’s column as well as the Wikipedia Projects and User Page examples opened by eyes to the many ways that educators can use this popular web technology.  Additionally, Vicki Davis’s two wikis this week were very helpful, and I thought her step by step instructions on how to create and edit in a wiki were brilliant and to the point.  People are often stymied by the idea of editing content, especially things that other user’s have added, and so such clear directions would be very helpful to get the process moving forward with clear expectations.  Her Flat Classroom project with Julie Lindsay seems like an interesting opportunity to expand learning beyond the classroom, and I think using a wiki to collaborate with students on the other side of the world is a clever way to promote global citizenship as well as critical thinking about new technologies.  McCrea’s article introducing Davis’s ideas and projects in her school captures the way that technology can be contagious, and wikis are a great example of that trend.  Valerie Burton, the other featured teacher, made a convincing argument for using wikis as an assessment method for students’ individual and collaborative assignments.  I am a big proponent of “not reinventing the wheel” when it comes to lesson planning and generating new practice activities, and so using wikis to store and organize materials makes a lot of sense to me.  Students and teachers alike could easily access any information literacy materials I created, freeing up my time for more individualized reference needs.

One of the biggest issues about wikis in education is the validity and reliability of the user-generated information, but I think Wikipedia’s “What Wikipedia Is Not” page goes a long way to address some of the concerns leveled against their site.  The page clearly shows that the foundation behind the site as well as the site’s user editors take their information sharing seriously and that they have policies in place to protect the level of scholarship available through their services.  The site is set up to be basically self-policing except in extreme cases where the foundation’s actual employees have to intervene.  People who are regular Wikipedia contributors tend to be very twitchy about the reputation of the site, and I think that helps to ensure that problem users are identified (and sometimes Internet shamed) fairly quickly.  When discussing Wikipedia with students, I always used the example of “What if you wrote in your biography assignment that someone was dead but he actually wasn’t?”, so reading the policies on Biographies of Living Persons, speculation, and scandal mongering were especially interesting to me.  I might just start sharing the Wikipedia policy pages with students in the future; they need to understand the process better and not just take the information presented on faith alone.  Wikipedia is so large and well-known that it is usually what comes to mind when someone mentions wikis, but smaller classroom wikis are becoming more popular.  In these cases, the educator often acts as more of a moderator, but students are still held responsible for the information.  I think it can be a valuable way to teach personal accountability as well as responsibility to the learning community.  I am looking forward to using wikis in my library service model in the future, and I think that my student and faculty patrons will benefit from having to think a little more critically about user-generated information sources.

4 thoughts on “Collaborative and Creative Learning on Wikis

  1. Karen Yarbrough Post author

    I don’t know if commenting would improve editing comfort… In other classes, I always feel like I have to be *really* justified in any changes that I make, like I’m afraid of being the grammar/citation Nazi, you know? I feel like people will think I’m a know-it-all control freak (perhaps… because I can be?) I don’t know if discussing potential changes would really alter my perception. I always would tell people when I made changes anyway, usually in an e-mail.

  2. Phil

    @Karen – I think you’ve raised a valuable point with regard to students’ reluctance to contribute to the wiki. I wonder to what degree this is influenced by a student’s perception that editing content is disrespectful to the author, rather than seeing it as part of a collaborative process (ie., give-and-take)? Similarly, I wonder if students should be reminded more often about the revision history page feature that allows them to roll back a page to a pre-existing version? Wikipedia has “Talk Page” which allow contributors to discuss edits, etc. And we’ve got a similar feature with our course wiki with the comment-thread tool that appears near the bottom of the page. Would there be more collaborative revision on the wiki pages if students were first encouraged to talk about potential changes in the comment thread? This question isn’t just for Karen but for anyone who wants to respond 🙂

  3. Karen Yarbrough Post author

    So much web technology can be used to forge relationships with people around the globe, and I think it’s time education made some inroads into using wikis and other collaborative projects because it reflects how people really use the Internet.

  4. cnb135

    I thought the same thing about the “Flat Project.”
    With my sociology class, I am always trying to find ways to have the students interact with cultures around the world. I’ve set up skype sessions and done pen-pal letters but never found anything that would work as well as a wiki!
    I’ll be interested to see what we can get set up that works similar to the “Flat Project!” I’ll keep you all posted! It would be much easier than sending emails from person to person across the globe and then having to forward the emails to me or print them out.

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