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                                Emerging Technologies: Wikis
                                     By: Erica M. Dean

         Whenever I feel that I want a little more information on a topic that I cannot find
anywhere else, I turn to the Wikipedia website. There, I find an outline of my topic, complete
with a history, current findings, and even trivia if applicable. What makes this site so popular?
Couldn‟t I just use Microsoft Encarta instead or visit my local library of traditional research
using a printed encyclopedia? Yes, I could do both of those things, however, the Wikipedia is
just…quicker.
         The wiki (meaning quick in the Hawaiian language) is part of the social software
movement. According to Waters (2007), “Wikipedia defines this as software that enables people
to rendezvous, connect, or collaborate through computer-mediated communication. E-mail,
instant messaging, and podcasts are typically included in the category”. When establishing a wiki
site, the basics are a) edits can be made by any visitor, b) HTML language use, c) no spaces
between wiki titles, and d) the content can go on for an infinite length of time, constantly
changing and evolving. Its design lends itself well to brainstorming sessions and even
contributions to a meeting‟s agenda for individuals to add their own concerns, later being used to
capture notes and finally redistribute them to all those involved. Others are using wikis to gather
content and suggestions for group work, organize links and information reflecting the needs or
thoughts of various interest groups, and even assistance in finishing novels, scripts, and even
songs from the Internet community at-large. An article by Engstrom and Jewett (2005) further
supports this by referring to wikis as “collaborative environments by design…commonly used as
personal information managers (PIMs), knowledge bases or knowledge systems”.
         Because there are so many wiki software programs available, the following is a checklist
of sorts when attempting to select a wiki for the classroom (Schwartz, Clark, Cossarin, &
Rudolph, 2004):
                     1. Cost
                     2. Complexity
                     3. Control
                     4. Clarity
                     5. Common Technical Framework
                     6. Features

       Having selected a wiki, how would one use a wiki in the K12 classroom setting?
Beldarrain (2006) suggests the following:
              “Teaching models that integrate technologies such as blogs orwikis
              may afford more learner control, and thus may be more effective at
              delivering instructional strategies that support knowledge
              construction. Today‟s learners demand more control of the
              learning experience when they need it; how they need it. This puts
              added pressure on distance educators to change outdated practice
              that no longer serve the needs of highly mobile
              students…proactive implementation of emerging
              technologies is dependent on comfort level, monetary resources,
              and visionary leadership.”
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        Like with the business world, wikis can be used with students for writing and research
projects. Stahmer (2006) gives the following example of K12 wiki use:
               “With a simple wiki, students from one class, multiple classes, or
               even multiple schools can post their writing samples for comment.
               The wiki structure makes it possible for several students to work
               on an assignment concurrently. Most wiki software packages track
               changes to a page so students and their teachers can see when and
               by whom the writing was edited”.

         For teachers, a wiki can serve as a professional development tool that reduces the
standard “big binder” that is distributed during workshops and meetings. Waters (2007) states
that “use of the wiki add-on has made collecting and utilizing input from teachers not merely
more convenient, but more inclusive…the more teachers feel that they have some say in what the
final product will be, the more likely they are to use them”.
         Wiki usage seems to be a win-win situation for all those involved, but are there
drawbacks? In terms of editing content on a wiki, a report by Schwartz,Clark,Cossarin,&
Rudolph (2004) states that “unlike threaded discussions where the writer is identified, it is
usually impossible to identify the contributions to a wiki. This makes apportioning credit
difficult and the authority of the content hard to establish.” Lamb‟s article (2004) had support
for this claim, mentioning that the “standard objection to wikis is nearly universal: if anybody
can edit my text, then anybody can ruin my text.” Another issue of wikis in the K-12 classroom
deals with the problems that can arise during instructional use. Engstrom and Jewett‟s (2005)
collaborative project that incorporated wikis reflected on teachers and their feelings towards
wikis, such as the “concern that students in other classrooms weren‟t responding to their
students‟ edits (postings)”. Furthermore:
                “Moving instruction into the chaotic wiki medium presents
                challenges on a number of fronts. Tracking work created in wiki
                spaces can become a logistical nightmare, and course management
                can spin out of control quickly if pages are allowed to spawn
                without some set of protocols to regulate or index them” (Lamb
                2004).

        While the above are would-be concerns for persons considering, many wiki supporters
will say that the positives far outweigh the negatives. For instance, there is a type of regulation,
or checks and balances system in place when it comes to the editing of wiki content:
                “Think of an open wiki space as a home that leaves its front door
                unlocked but doesn‟t get robbed because the neighbors are all out
                on their front steps gossiping, keeping a friendly eye on the street,
                and never missing a thing. This ethic is at the heart of “Soft
                Security”, which relies on the community, rather than technology,
                to enforce order” (Lamb, 2004).

         Additionally, Engstrom and Jewett (2006) mention that most wikis are embedded with
edit trails “referred to as a version control system that creates a complete log of every change
made to every wiki page…if a student inadvertently deletes the content on a wiki page, that
content is saved as an edited version along with a user identifier, date and time stamp. Within
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this same article, teachers were concerned about fair wiki interaction between students in other
classrooms. Teachers decided that modeling wiki protocol before use was the key, due to the
fact that „kids are used to instant messaging and want quick responses…in the future, we need to
respond to the groups so more gets shared, not just posted”.
        So many times a person can interact with a concept, unaware of what is taking place
behind the scenes. Such was the case with the wiki before I decided to investigate further. As I
read the various articles, I could feel the gears shifting in my mind, trying to determine if I could
somehow present the wiki concept to my colleagues, first at the school were I teach, and then
perhaps to the entire Detroit Public School system. The article written by Waters (2007) even
inspired me to consider a wiki project for the 2007-2008 school year where teachers could
interact and help each other with best practices:

               “On one level, this is all about facilitating deeper collaboration on
               curriculum issues…but it‟s also about efficiencies. No one wants
               to pull teachers our of the classrooms for development meetings.
               Now we‟re getting much more input from teachers, because they
               can offer it anywhere, anytime. And we are getting better buy-in,
               because everyone is on the same page”.

        Aside from actual wiki use by the students, I am imagining all of the teachers at my
school collaborating and working together for the never-ending cause of student achievement.
So many times, there may be two or three teachers who are truly going above and beyond the
norm: excellent classroom management, consistently positive test scores, super bulletin boards,
and more. However, for whatever reasons, such teachers may or may not be willing to share the
secrets of their success with others. Perhaps teachers would be willing to share if provided a
non-threatening environment where best practices can be discussed-much like a wiki site that
was truly moderated:

               “It‟s undeniably true that determined vandals can make real pests
               of themselves. But an open environment also encourages
               participation and a strong sense of common purpose, so the
               proportion of fixers to breakers tends to be high and a wiki will
               generally have little difficulty remaining stable-assuming that
               people see value in its existence and have a genuine interest in
               keeping things tidy” (Lamb, 2004).

         As an example of an emerging technology, the wiki is a great study in web-based
interaction. With our thirst for quick knowledge, thoughts, and opinions that differ from our
own, it would appear that the wiki will continue to evolve into something bigger and better than
it is now. Will video wikis become the next emerging technology? Only time will tell, as I
quietly wonder what wikis, blogs, and other forms of social software will look like as we
approach the year 2010.
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                                          References

Beldarrain, Y. (2006) Distance education trends: Integrating new technologies to foster student
        interaction and collaboration. Distance Education, 27(2), 139-153.
Engstrom,M.E. & Jewett, D. (2005). Collaborative Learning the wiki way. Tech Trends
        49(6),12-16.
Lamb, B. (2004). Wide open spaces: Wikis ready or not. EDUCAUSE Review, 39(5), 36-48.
Schwartz,L., Clark,S.,Cossarin,M. and Rudolph,J. (2004) Educational Wikis: Features and
        Selection criteria. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning,
        5(1) [Online] Available: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/163/692
Stahmer, T. (2006). Think outside the blog. Technology and Learning,26(6),1-2.
Waters,J. (2007). Online collaboration: Curriculum unbound! T.H.E. Journal, 34(3),40-48.

				
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