Models and Theories in Human-Computer Interaction/A Meta Analysis on WikiBooks and CSCW in Context

As I read through the latest chapters on distributed cognition and computer supported cooperation in Carroll’s HCI Models, Theories, and Frameworks: Toward a Multidisciplinary Science, I started viewing my journey in this class in a different lens. Although many of us are studying in different states, at different times, and in different parts of our lives, we are sharing in the experience of HCI as mediated through various technology channels including this very wiki.

In general, a wiki acts as an artifact of human knowledge external to the human mind; the wiki is a unit of storage to capture a particular idea, or thought. I would conjecture that the purpose is not to transfer information, but to act as a repository of information as greater effort is expended in the maintenance and accuracy of the information rather than the interpretation and usability of the transfer experience. Nevertheless, the wiki page is a social nexus formed on the basis of shared knowledge. Although there are many users of a wiki, several groups of individuals interact differently within this ecosystem. The wiki contributors are active players and can manipulate the contents of the page; whereas wiki viewers digest the information presented. An individual can move between these roles based on their knowledge of the page’s subject and their motivation to contribute.

For WikiBooks, I believe each individual page has a reduced role as an artifact of shared knowledge compared to generalized wikis. Each page is essentially an essay written from an authors perspective on a topic. These pages are not subjected to the same scrutiny found in a traditional wiki. Instead, the articles act as a snapshot of the author’s understanding of a topic defined in the section. Seen as a whole, the articles summarize the group’s understanding on a topic. Because the nature of this group is largely homogenous (people gaining knowledge of each topic from a common source), we can analyze the sections for signs of group think, misconceptions, or biases.

In that sense, each article acts as a contributor to the section as a whole. Unlike a general wiki, the articles in our WikiBook are not editable by other contributors; the instructor acts as the gatekeeper and moderator for that level of collaboration. This method keeps the ideas and contributions of each article pure, so ownership is maintained.

As in other computer supported cooperative work, the sum of the combined articles is greater than each individual part. This collaboration has resulted in the recording of this semester’s collective knowledge on the subjects as presented by the instructor. The students and the instructor both guided the development of the WikiBook sections as codependent actors within the social environment bounded by the class. When viewed as a collection, this WikiBook acts as an artifact not only for storing the knowledge and opinions of each contributor, but also tells the story of the class’s progression - a feat no single author could accomplish.

Kamel Boulos, M. N. and Wheeler, S. (2007), The emerging Web 2.0 social software: an enabling suite of sociable technologies in health and health care education. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 24: 2–23. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2007.00701.x