Wisdom in wiki production/Different uses of wikis/Wikis in education

In addition to the principles of simplicity and community, it is important to understand the most essential pedagogical potential of wikis: wikis are equally suited to be used as teachers' tools and as learning tools in situations in which easy joint production is desired. For example, students or pupils can easily use a wiki to do their groupwork, and in principle, their teacher might not even know. Our experience shows, however, that wikis bring the most benefits when teachers assume active roles as enablers and facilitators of wiki work but allow students to participate in the planning of the courses and the respective working methods. Due to their simplicity, wikis are well-suited to many types of educational uses. Even though they can be used e.g. to replace traditional web learning platforms or learning materials publication platforms, wikis are the most useful when ideas are implemented with them that were not as easy or perhaps not even possible to implement with earlier tools.

How can wikis support learning? edit

Wikis can be made use of when searching for information and, in particular, when modifying and processing information, which highlights the active roles of the students themselves. In addition, when students collaborate to edit information in a community-based manner, they also must be able to explain their actions to the others, in which case the use of wikis supports the interaction among all participants.

The educational benefits from the use of wikis include the following:

  • The structuring and classifying of information in a wiki makes it easier to see the complete whole and the relations among the parts.
  • It is easy to bring up many different views through wiki work, which teaches students to assume a judicious attitude towards information, to provide grounds for their own views and also to negotiate.
  • Information in wikis often reflects a wide view in an unbiased manner.
  • Open wikis can extend learning environments and learning networks outside one's classroom, institution and even country.

Starting points of wikis in education edit

Largely the same rules apply to wikis and blogs in education that apply to traditional web-based education. At first, the objectives of the learning processes should be considered:

  • What are the objectives of these studies and through which means will the objectives be reached?
  • Which skills do we want to develop?
  • What learning paths do we want to establish to the objectives?
  • What skills and information should be acquired (in the case that objectives are formal and will be assessed)?
  • How do we structure the learning process and how will each learner and each group be supported during the process?

We must select the teaching and learning methods and tools appropriate for the objectives. New tools as such may interest many people, but we should consider whether there is a real need for them and what their role would be considering the whole in which they would be used. The peer production of wikis requires guidance, facilitation and moderation. Students should receive detailed instructions regarding the wiki: how and for which purposes they are expected to use it[1]. It is a good idea to arrange the possibility for students to become familiarized with the new tools, and to draft instructions for their use. The tools as such will not make learning more effective but the way they are used will do so. Therefore, enough time should be reserved for planning the teaching.

Learning tools should be used in accordance with their nature. It suits the nature of wikis well to draft wiki users' guidelines in a wiki that can be edited by learners. Learning support materials, in particular, offer a natural chance for cooperation among course creators and across institutional boundaries.

It is important to agree on the roles involved in the work. Working on a wiki will not kick off if learners expect to provide correct answers to questions presented to them. A good starting point for wiki work is general exploration in which the teacher's role is that of an enabler and supporter, if needed.

There are pitfalls involved in wiki work that should be noted. Unfinished trains of thought become visible in wikis, and the same is true for the fact that the subject matter is likely to be structured differently, perhaps even incorrectly, in the participants' minds. Managing wiki work requires that matters and structures are made clear. We should consider case by case how we make everything clear without setting up too many limits and restrictions.

There are no traditions relating to wiki work, and parents do not tell stories to their children about how wikis were used in learning in their time. The working culture has no depth yet. Therefore, encouragement and cheering students on are essential. We have seen that students need to be given enough freedom before they can assume the ownership of a tool and start producing contents[1]. An outline or checklist will still help them get started.

Use of wikis in teaching edit

We have collected ideas and practical examples in this section to show how wikis can be used in teaching.

Ideas edit

Below, there are tips for ways to use wikis in teaching[2] [3] [4] [5] [6]:

  • Wikis can be used to replace study books during courses, but unlike traditional study books, wikis can be constantly edited. (Note, however, that wikis are not web rooms designed for social interaction; you should construct your discussion forum elsewhere, perhaps on e.g. the platforms of either Elgg or Ning).
  • One learning task during a course may be creating contents for Wikipedia. Please see e.g. Wikipedian teachers guide.
  • Wikipedia contents can be used for teaching media literacy and criticism. The article Wikipedia: Good articles and the respective talk and history pages form a good sample case of how information can be presented, how it can be discussed and how different views can come together and form some sort of an output. Bad articles show how this process fails. (These two tasks should be done together.)
  • Wikis can be used for traditional group work; the group can collect and structure information (illustrations, text, videos and other materials) about a given subject and use internal and external links and navigation on their pages.
  • Wikis can be used for personal and group-specific course diaries and learning diaries.
  • Study wikis can be personal study environments for students to use during various courses instead of note paper; they can collect their assignments in these wikis the same way they would in a folder. Study wikis should be available for students even if they change schools.
  • Wikis can contain Questions and Answers sections where students can flexibly provide answers peer-to-peer and teachers do not have to carry the full load of answering.
  • Wikis can be made use of when creating one's own website (example Virpin kurssit).
  • Wikis can be used as web learning platforms that are easily updated by people other than the teachers (see e.g. AvoHäme-wiki). Such platforms can be used for collaborated course design before the study modules/training start so that students may themselves have impact on the contents of their training.
  • Task-specific instructions can be given in wikis - there is no need for handouts (compare: Moodle).
  • Several teachers can produce shared learning materials in a wiki and all of them can edit them easily.
  • For example, lecture notes can be written directly in a wiki where they can easily be edited further.
  • Wikis can be used for documenting the progress of study projects.
  • Wikis can be used for producing bibliographies and other jointly produced lists.
  • Wikis can be used as presentation platforms to publish course lab reports.
  • Wikipedia users' guide contains more exercises.
  • Add your own tips for wiki users here.

LeMill edit

Lemill is a wiki-like web community for finding, authoring and sharing learning resources. The LeMill concept consists of wiki-like work for creating learning resources. Even though LeMill does not much resemble wikis in its appearance, all people registered as users are able to freely edit the contents - just like wikis. The wiki-like editing process leads to the situation in which certain learning resources do not have obvious authors or owners, and making use of someone else's work in teaching is more natural, more permitted and highly recommended.

LeMill contains learning resources, i.e. assignments, introductory texts and other short items suitable for use as teaching material. At this moment, the Finnish-language resources are rather few. In addition to learning resources, LeMill contains methods and tools, and there are dozens of these available in Finnish. Methods are teaching ideas for lessons somewhat similar to our list of wiki uses in teaching. Please write more of these! Tools contain descriptions of items that can be used in teaching, such as e.g. programs suitable for the web environment as well as ways to make use of them in teaching.

Different from standard wikis, LeMill allows users to compile public portfolios of their contributions. Even though there is no wish to point out who finally put together a certain learning resource, there is the wish to call attention to LeMill users who contribute greatly into many useful resources. Personal portfolios allow teachers to compile their own sets of resources. Such sets might focus on e.g. certain courses in which they wish to use subsets of LeMill resources.

LeMill is free of charge, based on open source code, and the contents are published under the same Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 licence as are Wikimedia contents; this allows the liberal use of any materials found in LeMill.

The use of Wikipedia in teaching edit

Wikipedia and other Wikimedian Foundation projects (Wikibooks, Wikiversity) should be considered for use in teaching as they provide many benefits. The wide scale and the global, established environment of Wikipedia offer many collaboration opportunities as well as a properly maintained environment for various types of projects. When they produce Wikipedia contents, school children and students participate in real work in a live environment instead of producing something only for school. This may be challenging and starting may be difficult. Wikipedia provides a list of articles for creation (tiny articles, stubs), which is a good place to start. In addition, there are portals in Wikipedia in which information is collected on certain subjects, perhaps even school subjects, according to the phenomena-based teaching model (e.g. the Space portal). When Wikipedia is used in teaching, the opportunity can be taken to teach the using of various types of sources of information at the same time (primary and secondary sources, their differences, etc.)[4].

Examples of wikis used in education edit

CASE: Wiki work during a geography course in a general upper secondary school edit

Several advanced geography courses in Kuopio upper secondary school have been implemented in the Wikispaces environment. The working model entails an introduction into the subject by the teacher, who also gives the guidelines for the work; after receiving their guidelines, students work in pairs or groups and produce the outputs defined for them on the given subject. Groups most often have different assignments concerning the same subject area. The teacher usually creates the wiki pages in advance for the students to edit during lessons. The wiki provides the required source materials, maps and technical instructions and tools. During the lessons, students make use of various web tools and sources (e.g. Google Earth, Panoramio, YouTube), the linking and embedding of which in wiki pages is easy.

The course assessment is weighted like this: wiki pages created 45%, course exam 55%. In addition, students receive bonus for any news items that they report on the subject matter of the course.

Benefits: Collaboration works in a manner very unlike the more teacher-oriented regular lessons: group members discuss the subject, wonder about it together and ask for help on e.g. technical matters. With the exception of a few individuals, students have enjoyed being allowed to attend their courses in this form. Students have been enthusiastic to learn new ICT skills at the same time.

New tools, new uses edit

When new tools are introduced into use, we should consider at first whether the tools only should replace the old ones or whether we also wish them to enable new forms of activity. Tools will not stay aloof as tools only when we understand what we can gain from them that was difficult or impossible to gain earlier.

Even though we can use wikis in a very traditional manner (such as creating our own websites, discussed elsewhere in this wiki), wikis also make completely new forms of activity possible. Wikis make it easier for us, for example, to reach outside our educational institutions. A school might decide to produce a joint wiki site with a school that is located on the other side of the globe, if there are student groups studying similar issues. In such cases, international and cultural aspects are brought up in a new way and receive the attention their due.

Phenomena-based education may have been challenging with traditional methods, because it requires common planning time from the teachers of the different subjects involved. Wiki platforms may help as they allow teachers to choose the time that best suits them to add their contents into the joint phenomenon-based wiki, providing the view of their subject regarding the phenomenon. Other teachers can then view these contents when it suits them best. When the course starts, students embark on the production of new contents together with and supported by their teachers. They elaborate on the views of different school subjects, weaving them into new, more comprehensive wholes.

Wikis and Wikipedia as source material, their reliability edit

When wikis are used as teaching materials, it is good to note some typical aspects of them that can be used to support the learning of not only the subject matter but also of information literacy. If Wikipedia is used as a source of information, its character should be kept in mind: Wikipedia is an encyclopedia. Having students check original sources is a good way to teach them how to assess their source materials.

When wiki texts are produced, attention should be paid to the depth of the material that is being produced. Wiki production assignments should be planned so that there are no answers available directly through quoting other texts (at worst, tempting students to copy-paste).

Wikipedia and references edit

References are much used in scientific writing in particular. References are needed when arguments are presented in texts and they need confirmation from reliable, published sources in support. References are placed in connection with the arguments so that readers understand them to contain justifications for the arguments. Plagiarism, i.e. presenting the thoughts of others as your own, is not acceptable.

At times, we see that students' theses use Wikipedia as reference. We must remember that Wikipedia is a wiki that forms an encyclopedia. Wikipedia even provides a functionality for inserting properly formed references to desired pages. Regardless, references to Wikipedia articles are not recommended. The reason is simple: encyclopedias such as Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica or any Finnish encyclopedia only contain information that already is in the public domain. The newest research results are not found in encyclopedias; such results find their way into encyclopedias only after they have been tested and retested and communicated in popular publications. Encyclopedias are what we call third hand or tertiary sources.

References are not needed in theses when discussing information in the public domain. For example, if you want to state in your thesis that there are 5 million inhabitants in Finland, you do not need to include a reference to a Wikipedia article about Finland. On the other hand, if you give the population at the accuracy of one inhabitant and the number is important for your argument (you may be, for example, comparing the number of inhabitants as it varies from one year to another), then you should include a reference. However, you should not refer to Wikipedia; you should select a more precise reference, in your case the Statistics Finland publication in which your numbers are issued.

The fact that we work in an electronic wiki environment does not mean that the wiki contents would not require references. Actually, the case is the opposite: when most of the materials in the web only form general static, it is extremely important to teach students appropriate source criticism and referencing while teaching them the production of wiki materials. The referencing instructions of this guide for working in the Mediawiki environment are as follows:

The recommended method for indicating sources is the ref-tags (<ref></ref> and {{references}} or <references />). The idea of these <ref></ref> tags is that they show the texts within the tags as footnotes at the desired place, which is marked by the stub {{references}} or <references />. If the stub is left out, the footnotes will not appear.


  According to scientists, the sun is a large orb.<ref>Miller, E:
  "The Sun.", page 23. Academic Press, 2005</ref>
  The moon, on the other hand, is much smaller.<ref>Smith, R: "Size of the
  Moon", Scientific American, 46(78):46</ref>  
  {{references}} or <references />

Assessment of wiki content reliability in education edit

The discussion about the reliability of wiki contents is related to the quality of wiki materials, which forms a specific topic Good wiki material in this wiki. The same reliability-related issues apply when wikis are produced as course outputs. The larger the producer group, the more likely is the production of high wiki quality. On the other hand, the teacher's role is important as teachers will verify students' data when possible, spotting possible mistakes[5]. The use of wiki materials as information sources forms an excellent opportunity to teach source criticism, as all students understand through their own wiki production experiences how these information sources are created[4].

Assessment edit

When we use wikis in education, we must consider some aspects relating to the assessment of learning. How should we assess wiki work since we cannot easily identify any particular student's materials in the joint production? In the case of some wikis, we can obtain data about students' productiveness when we read the history page, but that does not necessarily give us a very clear view of who produced what in which volumes. How about the times when we use existing wikis in our teaching and the assignment consists of contributing to them? One option is to give the same grade and feedback to all participants regardless of their individual input. Another option is not to assess wiki work at all; however, this may cause wiki work to become the work method only for active, self-directed students. The third option, the one we recommend, is to assess only wiki work and not the output. In this way, assessments and feedback can be given, for example, on the basis of personal reflection diaries, and each student's activity can be checked from the wiki's page history.

To consider regarding wikis in education edit

Even though wikis benefit teaching and learning in many ways that were not available before, there are also issues that should receive some consideration. Advance planning is the key factor when we want to influence these issues.

  • Contents. Often it is precisely the contents that interest people and entice them to contribute. But what if you are forced to contribute - what happens to your motivation?
  • Openness. Should all contents be public, open and freely modifiable? In most cases, this is more beneficial than detrimental, but we should also give some thought to the situations in which more restricted solutions would be better.
  • Information safety and safe web behavior. If your wiki does not run on an internal server, you do not need to worry about updating the service. Web identities can be safeguarded by e.g. asking students to use nicknames.
  • Formation of the wiki. Wiki writing is not hierarchical or linear. This may cause difficulties for monitoring the work and the changes in the text directly.
  • Ways of working. Changing the tool is not enough; the ways of working also need to be checked. Otherwise, the new tool will not bring anything new, and using it may become an extra nuisance.
  • Fear of criticism. If the people collaborating in content production do not know one another sufficiently, some of them may be prevented from fully participating by their fear of the others' reactions and attitudes.
  • Cooperation. The different students may have very different motivations to participate in the common effort, and that may cause problems. Also their skill levels may differ, and the group might not necessarily help everyone to develop. The lack of skills may be a matter of embarrassment for some students and keep them from participating. Students may not have sufficient self-assessment skills.
  • Joint planning is difficult in wikis. Talk pages must be separately monitored; if there are many pages to work on, there also are several talk pages to monitor. Some wiki services enable the merging of talk pages.
  • Assessment. In connection with wikis, also work processes in addition to outputs can be assessed in a meaningful way, if such assessment is expedient at some point.
  • Wiki platform. Educational wiki applications should allow users to indicate the stage of completeness of the pages, control the appearance of the pages, see page histories easily, and store or print the wiki contents as one file[7].

References edit

  1. a b Fountain, Renée. 2005. Wiki Pedagogy. Dossiers technopédagogiques. PROFeTIC. http://www.profetic.org/dossiers/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=110
  2. Augar, N., Raitman, R. & Zhou, W. 2004. Teaching and learning online with wikis. Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference, 5.-8.12.2004, Perth, Western Australia. http://ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/augar.html
  3. Ferris, S.P. & Wilder, H. 2006. Uses and potentials of Wikis in the Classroom. Innovate 2(5). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=258
  4. a b c Konieczny, P. 2007. Wikis and Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning 4(1). http://www.itdl.org/Journal/Jan_07/article02.htm
  5. a b Notari, M. 2006. How to Use a Wiki in Education: 'Wiki based Effective Constructive Learning'. Proceedings of the WikiSym'06, 21.–23.8.2006, Odense, Denmark. http://www.wikisym.org/ws2006/proceedings/p131.pdf
  6. Parker, K.R. & Chao, J.T. 2007. Wiki as a Teaching Tool. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects 3, 57-72
  7. Mäkelä, L. 2010. Verkkokurssi opetuksen ja oppimisen kompleksisena toimintatilana. Tampere: Tampere University Press. http://acta.uta.fi/pdf/978-951-44-7947-2.pdf
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