Advantages and Disadvantages

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In the old days you had to edit quite complex HTML syntax to create web pages.

Advantages

  • anyone can edit
  • easy to use and learn
  • Wikis are instantaneous so there is no need to wait for a publisher to create a new edition or update information
  • people located in different parts of the world can work on the same document
  • the wiki software keeps track of every edit made and it's a simple process to revert back to a previous version of an article
  • widens access to the power of web publishing to non-technical users
  • the wiki has no predetermined structure - consequently it is a flexible tool which can be used for a wide range of applications
  • there are a wide range of open source software wiki's to choose from so licensing costs shouldn't be a barrier to installing an institutional wiki


Disadvantages

Advantages in one context, may be disadvantages in another.

  • Anyone can edit so this may be too open for some applications, for example confidential documentation. However it is possible to regulate user access.
  • Open to SPAM and Vandalism if not managed properly. There are easy ways to restore a page however, and on WikiEducator you must be logged in to edit pages so this reduces vandalism by automated spam bots.
  • Requires Internet connectivity to collaborate, but technologies to produce print versions of articles are improving
  • The flexibility of a wiki's structure can mean that information becomes disorganised. As a wiki grows, the community plans and administers the structure collaboratively.
  • The usual guidelines for healthy computer use apply

What about quality?

Before proceeding with the discussion activity for this tutorial, you should read the following short article.



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Reading

There is divided opinion and a healthy debate among educators concerning the quality of content developed in a wiki environment. In your opinion, do you expect to find significant differences in the quality of content when comparing open and closed authoring approaches? Given the recentness of the wiki phenomenon, research on this question is limited. Can both open and closed authoring models produce high quality material? To find out more, consider the Wikipedia article on the reliability[1] of articles.



The Wall Street Journal Online has an interesting debate between Jimbo Wales of Wikipedia and Dale Hoiberg, editor in chief of Encyclopaedia Britannica, and you may find this to be an interesting read[2] as well.

When comparing closed versus open authoring approaches, it is worth looking at the history of Wikipedia, which has succeeded in creating the largest encyclopedia in history. Wikipedia was preceded by the Nupedia[3] project, which also aimed to build a free content encyclopedia. Nupedia was not an open wiki like Wikipedia and adopted an extensive process of peer review before final publication of an article. After 3.5 years, Nupedia had only completed 24 Articles, with 74 more articles as work in progress. Clearly this authoring model was not scalable, and was a strong motivation for Jimmy Wales, the founder of Nupedia to open up the authoring model by starting the Wikipedia project.



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Discussion

This activity is designed for participants using these tutorials in a face-to-face workshop, or alternatively in an eLearning format with a group of learners. Consider the following questions, which can be discussed in small groups or using an online discussion forum:
  • Do you have any concerns about the quality of educational resources developed using an open authoring approach? If so, what are your concerns? If not, how does an open authoring approach contribute to high quality learning materials?
  • In your opinion, should course development for education use closed or open authoring approaches? Give reasons for your view?
  • What mechanisms can be adopted to assure quality of educational content developed in Wiki environments?


Concluding thoughts



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Reflection

Am I still concerned about the openness of wiki editing?
  • What is to prevent such a website from anarchy?
  • How does a wiki protect my authorship?
  • What if someone deletes my work?


Matt Barton, provides a candid yet light hearted response to your concerns in a posting[4] on a list, which is repeated here for convenience of access. Matt says:

"They [wikis] will not help a writer develop a personal voice. They will, however, enable collaboration and teach us all something very important about what a true democracy is all about.

So, if wikis elide all claims to authorship, offer no protection of material, and allow any 5-year old child or racist bigot to edit a page, what good are they? Well, let us explore why so many wikis are able to flourish in the well-fertilized fields in which they are sown.
For one thing, wikis are not really as vulnerable as you may think. They are at least as well-protected as your home. Now, I beg you to consider: Is your home really invulnerable? Couldn't a small group of hoodlums take it into their minds to vandalize your home? How is that you are able to drive a car at all, since anyone with a fifty-cent pocketknife could slash your tires wherever you park it?
You may say that the police are there to prevent such things. However, I'm looking out my apartment window now at my tiny little Mazda Miata. There are no uniformed people about. However, there are some neighbors. Hopefully they would notice if someone was deflating one of my tires and do something about it.
Wikis work under the same model. In wikipedia, authors can choose to "subscribe" to a wiki page, which means they are notified via email when anyone tries to change a page. They are free, of course, to re-visit the page and investigate. If someone has written something disagreeable, it's a small effort to change it back. You see, wikis do not only save one version of a page, but every version. Each time a user saves a new version, the old version is stored in a database where it can be accessed by examining the "History" of the page.
Thus, while wikis by default display the top layer of each page, one can easily dig down into the underlying layers and examine the sediment there. What one finds is that highly controversial topics (like abortion) are often loaded with hundreds of layers, whereas boring topics like "comma usage" are typically left alone after three or four changes.
In short, wikis are protected not by code, or by law, but rather by the participation of an active wiki community. If you are proud of your entry, you will feel compelled to see what's up if you receive a notification that the entry has been changed, and "roll it back" if it's obvious the page was vandalized or rendered less intelligent."


URL links in this section

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reliability_of_Wikipedia
  2. http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB115756239753455284-A4hdSU1xZOC9Y9PFhJZV16jFlLM_20070911.html?mod=blogs
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nupedia
  4. http://www.mattbarton.net/tikiwiki/tiki-read_article.php?articleId=4