What is a Wiki?
A wiki (originally wiki wiki, from the Hawaiian word wiki, meaning 'quick') is a specialised Website that allows users (people reading and writing at the site) to work together easily and more or less simultaneously.
Wikis use a special, simplified form of computer code, (special characters typed along with words and phrases), to enable users to make text look a certain way on a page, and also, to create internal Links to other subjects. Readers can click on these links, which are easily found because they show up in a different colour, to browse through many topics on the wiki.
Wikis are particularly useful when people want to work in collaboration on a special project, such as a community project, an Internet project organised for a specific purpose, or in a corporation with an Intranet (an internally linked computer system).
Advantages to using wikis
- Allows many users at a time
- Note, however, that multiple users cannot all edit the same document at exactly the same time. If one attempts to 'save' edits changes to a file at the exact same time someone else does, the edits that the first person in makes will be saved; the second person gets a notice that there has been an 'edit conflict'; their changes have not been made and must be manually merged in to the new version. This can be frustrating.
- No need to circulate drafts; readily available to all
- The language and its syntax are relative simple
- Users can start with very little training; it is easy to create pages and place text and images on them.
Disadvantage to using wikis
- Very easy to vandalise.
- No inherent quality control
- Wiki markup is not uniform, that is, different wiki software uses different syntax, so users have to learn each one. Novice users can easily become frustrated.
- Although any number can participate; one must have a good number of participants to take full advantage of the system. Users get discourage if there are not perceived to be a lot of people participating and cooperating.
The best known Internet wiki is probably Wikipedia. Other websites set up as wikis include
How can a wiki be used to educate?
Wikis are powerful tools for teaching because they do not require any physical presence in order to educate:
- One can work online, i.e. directly on the wiki
- One can work offline, and upload the work to the wiki, either bit by bit, or all at once.
- excellent for long distance learning
- both students and instructors can work on or off of the wiki
- vandalism can be minimized by restricting access to parts of the wiki or to certain functions. It can be virtually eliminated by ‘closing’ the wiki, that is, requiring registration and/or proof of identity for registration.
- only need to verify users once; then user can sign in using a password to confirm identity.
- images, scans and video can be uploaded to the wiki
- students can work cooperatively or alone
The teacher can
- teaching materials easily uploaded
- assess students' skills easily; there is no more danger of cheating than in traditional assignments, i.e. term/research papers; take-home examinations.
The student can
- Work at her or his own pace
- Use a combination of methods to work:
- hand write and then type notes and/or
- type directly onto a shared or personal computer; save work on disks or drives to upload later, and/or
- upload completed work to the wiki; cleanup if necessary, and/or
- type directly onto the wiki, formatting as s/he types
A wiki is a powerful tool that can be used to great advantage in education. Wikis will be particularly useful in long distance learning because they are easy to use and provide accessibility and flexibility for both teacher and student.
The advantages of using wikis far outweigh the disadvantages, and with a little preparation, potential damages such as vandalism can be minimised or virtually eliminated.