Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wiki Wiki World

A wiki is a "website in which the content can be created and edited by a community of users" (Courtney, p. 25). The most popular wiki on the Web is Wikipedia. There is a lot of controversy involving Wikipedia and using it as a source of information in an academic context. Will Richardson discusses the importance of teaching students how to use Wikipedia appropriately for this reason (p. 57).

Although there is some controversy in using Wikipedia in an academic setting, there are many ways that libraries and schools can use wikis. In libraries, wikis can be used for internal communication (Courtney, p. 26-27), to encourage collaboration within the community (Courtney, p. 27-28), or as a research guide (Courtney, p.28). Educause Learning Initiative states that "Educators and students, as well as amateurs and professionals (artists, writers, collectors), have found wikis useful in expanding community involvement and interest in their subjects and activities."

There are so many wiki websites out there, it is difficult to know where to start. I came across a website (WikiMatrix) where you can actually select certain wiki sites and compare them. It reveals information on data storage, text files, and security.

I set up a wiki at Zoho. The actual signing up process was simple. The actual creation of the wiki, however, was not as easy. I tried to navigate through the various menu items on the wiki after I had written some text on my wiki's home page, but the screen often froze and would not follow through to where it should have ended up. Then I attempted to edit my post, but it would not allow me to access my previous posts. I added a widget that I found that I didn't like, but once I had added it, I could not figure out how to remove it. It seems strange that I couldn't get rid of it. The best part of this wiki site was the choices for backgrounds and interfaces. As for the functionality of it, I would prefer to not use it. It is not very intuitive and I don't think that many people would spend the time reading through the "how-tos" of posting on the site. There are more user-friendly wikis out there, such as PBWorks (formerly known as PBWiki). I used it for another course two years ago (but my account has now been deleted).

I know that people, especially those in university, have used wikis to complete group projects. It allows group members to actively work on the project without having to meet up all at once, or have certain people assigned to particular aspects of the project. This is especially beneficial for those who live out of town, have kids, and /or have jobs.

In fact, in LIS 506, we actually had to create a wiki on a specific technology used in libraries. We had to create main pages, stubs, links, and also link to other groups' wikis in the project. We were able to make use of the discussion feature as well, which is a large part of "wiki-ing" because it lets others kow what is going on and ensures that two people aren't trying to work on the same thing (to save time). It was also helpful to discuss what remained to be done and what needed to be edited or fixed. I know that my group really enjoyed the flexibility of getting the project done. We only met once or twice and that was just to make sure that we were all on the same page. Other than that, we completed the entire project online.

It would be interesting to have students collaborate with students from other schools on a wiki to discuss various curricular topics. In libraries, wikis can be used for the staff, the patrons, and for both parties. Wikis could be used to set up topics of discussion for the staff, to coordinate events, volunteer schedules, and more. Wikis can also be used to address questions and concerns and announce upcoming events.

In order for more people to make use of the wiki, there needs to be more of an awareness of just what is out there. Many people would not be able to name a wiki other than Wikipedia. Although it is great that people have a general idea of what a wiki is, it is unfortunate that they immediately turn to it when there are so many other wiki sites out there. My advice would be to give students,patrons, and staff the chance to explore various wiki sites and see what they like best.

Courtney, Nancy, ed. 2007. Library 2.0 and Beyond: Innovative Technologies and Tomorrow's User. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Educause Learning Initiative. "7 Things You Should Know About Wikis." July 2005. 21 July 2009

Richardson, Will. 2009. Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.


  1. It sounds like you have had many positive experiences using wikis. I wish I would have known about wikis when I was in the college of education. We had so many group projects and a wiki sure would have made collaboration a lot easier.
    I think that your advice to "give students,patrons, and staff the chance to explore various wiki sites and see what they like best," is ultimately the best way to learn a new technology. However, based solely on my experience this past year, teachers are often so busy that if someone suggests they take a couple hours to explore different kinds of wikis, they usually shut out that possibility or put it at the bottom of the priority list. Perhaps familiarizing teachers with a common site like wordpress or PBworks during work hours (either right after school or during pd days and learning circles)might warm them up to the idea. And once they are comfortable, they can either stick with the intro site OR decide if it is worth their time to explore other possibilities. The end goal, in my opinion, is to encourage teachers to open up to the possibility of using new web 2.0 tools. Time remains a barrier to this happening, so any way that we can reduce time as a barrier, it is to our advantage:)... and theirs:)

  2. Wikimatrix is great. I came across that site too. There are so many wikis to choose from. I love that it is so easy to compare them all. The only problem is that I had no idea what the icons in front of the names of the wikis meant. Were you able to figure that out?

  3. After a little bit of searching, in the forum section of the site, I found someone asking the same kind of question. The disc icon menas you can download it and host it yourself, the hand means the wiki is hosted by someone else, and the disc with a star means that the wiki is one of the 25 most popular wikis (which the lead developer of Wikimatrix admits may be slightly biased).

  4. I agree, Natasha. It is definitely best to give teachers one or two tools to try at a time. I totally understand that teachers don't have a whole lot of extra time (I have a B.Ed.). I simply meant that one person should not try to decide which wiki tool is best for other people. Thanks for letting me clarify!