WikiSkills Handbook/Wiki culture and application to learning contexts
What is a wiki ?
A wiki is a tool enabling online-group collaboration and asynchronous communication.
It is a website whose users can add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser using a simplified markup language or a rich-text editor. It supports hyperlinks and has simple text syntax for creating new pages and cross-links between internal pages, allowing the emergence of a non-linear, evolving, complex, and networked environment.
A wiki will typically afford a series of meta-features, such as the history of a page (including comparison of versions and roll-back to earlier versions), notification of revisions, and discussion spaces assigned to particular pages. In this way, producing content and structure in the wiki can be accompanied by comments, discussion, and annotations. This is where the interdependent and collective orientation of the wiki emerges. What separates the wiki from other online, distributed environments is its open architecture. The design implies that structure is not imposed or predetermined (as in an LMS) but emerges as a result of participation. It allows users to edit the overall organization of contributions as the content itself.
Wikis are typically powered by wiki software and are often created collaboratively by multiple users. The essence of the wiki concept may be described as follows:
- A wiki invites all users to edit any page or to create new pages within the wiki website, using only a web browser.
- A wiki promotes meaningful topic associations between different pages, by making page link creation intuitive and showing whether an intended target page exists or not.
- A wiki is not a carefully crafted site for casual visitors. Instead, it seeks to involve the visitor in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the website landscape.
Wikis may serve many different purposes. Examples include community websites, corporate intranets, knowledge management systems, and note-taking. Below are some examples of uses:
- Collecting historical data and building encyclopaedic content: purpose heavily inspired from Wikipedia, it is frequently used within companies.
- Drafting and reviewing material: co-design of public documents, reports, books, grant requests, documentation, annotated bibliography, meeting minutes, writing assignments, etc.
- Keeping directories updated: keep personal or collective information up to date through easy administration. Famous examples are Diplopedia, the wiki of the US Diplomatic Department and GCpedia an internal wiki used by the Government_of_Canada, for collaboration and knowledge sharing.
- Project knowledge management: collaborative activities such as brainstorming, sharing of ideas, coordination of activities, etc.
- Diffusing temporary events: as a public website, a wiki may host information about a conference program, speakers, list of talks, etc. Information can be easily updated by editors.
The Wiki Way
A defining characteristic of wiki technology is the ease with which pages can be created and updated. Generally, there is no review before modifications are accepted. Many wikis are also largely open to the public and an explicit effort has been made to lower the barrier to participation as much as possible both at the technical level and at the social level.
According to The Wiki Way, Open editing has some profound and subtle effects on the wiki’s usage. Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site [...] encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by non-technical users. Trust people and the process is a major element in the wiki way. It has been observed that in most cases, when editors are given the freedom to stir the direction of a project in a direction or another and have developed a sense of ownership, they tend to self-organize to support the development of the project in a meaningful and positive way rather than let it all fall into chaos.
Another parameter related to the wiki way is the elevation of transparency to a central principle of leadership. Every single action made by an editor is recorded and is visible to all other editors. This transparency makes it possible for every editor to know what is going on, at the global level and at the fine-grain level, a situation that fosters a sense of ownership and trust.
Traditional learning environments are often characterized by one-way knowledge transmission processes in which the teacher, as the only source of knowledge, assigns a learning activity that is carried out autonomously by the student. Such processes strip the learning process of its social dimension. Collaborative learning strategies can strengthen this dimension by creating the conditions for learning, or individual cognitive development, as a result of group interaction.
Definition and advantages
Collaboration is the process of interaction amongst people who share the same goal. It requires individuals to be jointly engaged and coordinate their efforts in order to solve a problem or produce a product together. Thus, collaborative learning is a social activity. It involves individual learning processes, but is not reducible to it. Collaborative learning is defined as an instructional method in which students at various performance levels work together in small groups toward a common goal. The expected outcome of collaborative learning is shared construction of knowledge among students, or the creation of an artifact or product of their learning. Collaborative learning activities include collaborative writing, group projects, joint problem solving, debates, study teams, and other activities.
Collaborative learning implies a change in the roles of the instructor and students. Indeed, collaborative instruction is student-centered, and knowledge is viewed as a social construct which is enhanced by both the instructor and the peers. Thus, learning shifts from instructor-oriented instruction to student-oriented collaboration, and students build a community as they are learning with and for others. Students learn by expressing their questions, pursuing lines of inquiry together, teaching each other and seeing how others are learning. As a result, collaborative learning processes put learners not only as responsible for their own learning, but also for constructing new knowledge with other learners.
Collaborative learning processes can offer numerous benefits, such as increasing student involvement with the subject matter, enhancing critical thinking skills, promoting problem-solving skills, and encouraging student learning and achievement.
Cooperative learning versus collaborative learning
Cooperative learning defines a teacher-structured experience where students work together with pre-assigned roles to accomplish a group task. Student success depends on each of the members of the group accomplishing their part of the work. Cooperative learning is a teacher-centric activity where the teacher determines the outcomes, assigns students’ roles, and often develops the procedures to be followed by each group.
In contrast, collaborative learning defines student-centred experiences where learners examine an assigned task to determine how the team will approach the assignment. Roles are determined by the group, providing flexible autonomy for the collaborative team. In many cases, learners self-monitor the contributions of each team to ensure quality. The instructor is brought into the process as facilitator as needed.
The following theories are associated to collaborative learning environments.
Constructivism argues that humans generate knowledge and meaning from an interaction between their experiences and their ideas. Thus, learners actively construct knowledge by interpreting new knowledge based on their prior knowledge. Constructivist teaching approaches provide students with opportunities to participate in authentic activities requiring them to interact with their environment and create their own understanding. Constructivist teaching moves students beyond the accumulation of knowledge, as it involves them in critically thinking, reﬂecting, and using knowledge.
In such socio-constructivism contexts, students are offered the opportunity to learn through social, collaborative activities that occur in a meaningful context and allow them to make connections between their prior experiences and their new experiences. In these learner-centered educational contexts, teachers act as facilitators who guide students who explore their environment and construct their own knowledge.
Connectivism is a contemporary theory, portrayed as a learning theory for the digital age, which provides a premise and a framework that are useful for understanding collaborative learning in an online environment. Through connectivism, learning in the digital age is no longer dependent on individual knowledge acquisition, storage, and retrieval; rather, it occurs when individuals connect with each other and with technology, through interaction with various sources of knowledge (including the Internet and learning management systems), and participation in communities of common interest, social networks, and group tasks. Thus, learning consists of retrieving information from self, others, and machines.
From this perspective, effective learners are those who can cope with complexity, contradictions, and large quantities of information, who seek out various sources of knowledge, and who can create and sustain learning communities and networks.
Simply put, connectivism defines a networked learning model that takes into account the massive technological and societal changes that characterize the late twentieth and early twenty first century. On an internal level, individuals learn by the connections that are formed in their brains (neural networks), while on an external level, they learn by creating networks with other individuals and repositories of knowledge.
Virtual Communities of Practice (VCoP)
Traditionally, communities of practice (CoPs) have been defined by Wenger as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. Wenger points out three characteristics of the relation throughout which practice becomes the source of coherence of a community:
- The domain – the subject of interest that brings members together;
- The community – members build relationships of mutual engagement that enable them to learn from each other;
- The practice – the shared repertoire of resources, such as experiences, stories, tools, and ways of addressing recurring problems.In many cases, the creation and evolution of the CoP can be scattered over a broad geographical area. In such contexts, collaboration needs to be supported by Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), thus forming Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP).
Computer Supported Collaborative Learning
Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) has emerged with the increased use of technologies in educational settings. CSCL takes advantages of Internet resources (online communication tools such as discussion boards, e-mail, video conferencing and chat rooms) to facilitate communication and collaboration among students. Thus, students can review their thinking, present new forms of knowledge, and are exposed to multiple views from groups.
A wide range of empirical studies have provided evidence that a CSCL environment can enhance the learning process and outcomes. Such discussions focus on how technology infrastructure affects the social nature of learning. Online collaborative learning processes can fit into different categories, according to a time-space matrix: whether the collaboration is collocated or not, and whether it is synchronous or asynchronous.
More specifically, web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS feeds, have the potential to complement, enhance, and add new collaborative dimensions to learning. Web 2.0 technologies are perceived as being especially connected, allowing users to develop Web content collaboratively. In particular:
- the communication between groups (to review each others’ actions and to allow those actions to benefit each other member of a community);
- the communication between many people (to publish for a large audience);
- gathering and sharing resources (gathering and making material available);
- collaborative collecting and indexing of information (new ways of organizing and finding knowledge objects);
- new tools for knowledge aggregation and creation of new knowledge.
Wikis represent a powerful 2.0 technology which tend to lend themselves particularly well to collaborative learning processes.
Taxonomy of collaboration
The word collaboration encompasses several meanings.
The taxonomy of collaboration facilitate the understanding of each of them, from an individual participation to a synergistic collaboration.
Each step in the collaboration process requires a higher amount of trust amongst participants. This illustration may be adapted to every domain, including education.
At the lowest level, collaboration essentially results in a dialogue, sharing of facts and opinions on a specific topic between the teacher and the students. Teachers may set up peer-review processes among students (for example, each student reviews and grades the work done by another student).
Another type of collaboration may consist of the production of a collective project commonly agreed upon, but in which each student is in charge of a specific task (e.g. co-writing a story book, with each story being written by an individual student). The parallel collaboration does not really require any review or coordination, but a general agreement to publish together.
Sequential collaboration requires a more coherent set of work with a coordination system among participants: in such context, each student has a specific task, but this task has a prerequisite and/or an impact on the other students work.
The true synergistic collaboration occurs when the group self-organize and co-edit the work. Ultimately, it is no more possible to say which student has written what as participation is mixed and merged.
Teaching environments frequently feature dialogue between participants (teachers and students). However, peer-review between students is far less frequently implemented though very rich in experience for all. Co-editing is quite frequent as well, in particular when 2 or 3 students are asked to work together to submit a report on a specific topic. However, when left to self-organize, most students will tend to agree on a report structure and on a list of tasks and will attribute the tasks, more frequently resulting in a parallel collaboration, than sequential or synergistic. Part of the reasons for division of tasks is that chapters are written separately on a desktop document by each student before being reunited before submission.
Wikis may facilitate synergistic collaboration by providing a central and unique writing environment.
Pedagogical applications of wikis
Wiki software is relatively flexible, and can be adapted to a wide range of learning environments and to various educational levels. There may be four different forms of educational wikis:
- Single-user wikis enable collecting and editing thoughts using a web-based environment.
- Small wikis enable students keeping notes online and allow peer reviewing and edition by fellow students.
- Collaborative writing wikis can be used by a team for joint writing.
- Knowledge base wikis provide a knowledge repository for a group.
The four main uses of wikis may be listed as such
- Co-authoring (writing technical documentation, writing Q&A, grant requests, creative writing, annotated bibliography)
- Meetings (defining the agenda, recording participant names, writing reports, archiving reports, collaboratively drafting decisions on the go, online voting)
- Brainstorming and community of practice (Gathering and publishing of good practices, discussions, summaries of thoughts)
- Project management (Collaboratively listing tasks, resources, prerequisites, deadlines, completion status)
A few very specific examples are listed below :
Wikis can be used for class project with an encyclopedic format (instructions, user manuals, glossaries, etc.) or a bibliographic format (that requires students to locate websites related to a topic). They can also support the creation of handbooks (e.g. students can build a guide to correct punctuation, which could be compiled and evaluated as a class, giving every student a stake in the project and benefiting each from the authoring process). Another option may be to implement collaborative creative writing, in which students collaboratively write a story through a wiki.
Wikis represent a powerful tool for project planning and documentation. When used for collaborative class projects, they allow students to meet virtually at their convenience and work on projects together. Wikis can be useful in project knowledge management, including brainstorming and exchange of ideas, coordination of activities, coordination and records of meetings, etc.
Online / distance education
Wikis are useful tools for facilitating online learning groups. Indeed, they can support the dissemination of information, thus enhancing the exchange of ideas and facilitating group interaction. Further, wikis can be used to create a set of documents that reflect the shared knowledge of the learning group.