Wikis are interactive websites that can either be available to a specified user group, or open to the general public. Users can both post their own content for use by others, or access information that other wiki members have added. They are a great way to collaborate and interact online. There is no limit to how many pages you can add to your wiki, so information can stay organized in an easy to browse fashion.
Wikis are taking the education world by a storm because they make it easy for almost anyone to write content for the web. Wikis are simple to set up and to navigate. They promote group collaboration and are also highly democratic because they allow a voice for all. As an added bonus, wikis can easily be used by people with low level technical skills and are generally available for free.
Wikis allow users to switch between a website and an editable page. With a simple click of the edit button on a wiki, content can be added, edited or deleted by any user. This means that all wiki users are working with the same up-to-date document – as opposed to a flurry of e-mails with varying versions of a document attached. Wikis allow you to set up a living document that can be edited in a highly collaborative manner. The content of a wiki is constantly evolving and changing.
You can set the access to your wiki and decide who can view and edit documents. In other words, you can determine whether your wiki is accessible to the world or to just the people you invite to join your wiki. Passwords are not required to visit wikis that are publicly accessible, but they are required for private wikis.
The word “wiki” stands for “fast” in Hawaiian and indeed wikis are a wonderful tool that will save you valuable time! Non-techies can easily set up or use a wiki because knowledge of programming and HTML is not required. Because wikis are web-based, they can be accessed from any location: at work, at home and around the globe.
Examples of items you can upload to wikis are: pdf documents, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, photos, quizzes, polls and games. As well, RSS feeds, podcasts, audio/video clips, and links can all be embedded in the wiki content.
This example may help you to better understand the power of a wiki. Picture a group of literacy practitioners writing a research report on tutor training in their province. Rather than forwarding around endless versions of a Word document by e-mail, they set up a wiki. This wiki allows them to all work with the same continually updated version of the document. This is a great way to save time and reduce stress!
Once again, CommonCraft has prepared a wonderful audio-visual presentation on the basics of wikis called “Wikis in Plain English”. To better understand wikis, this presentation is definitely worth checking out at: www.commoncraft.com/video-wikis-plain-english.
Wikis record the history of the edits made which means that you can easily track changes over time. As well, they have a restore feature in case content is inappropriately changed or deleted. Many wikis have user guidelines and codes of conduct to ensure appropriate usage. Some have an overall editor or administrator who reviews the changes, deletions and additions for appropriateness and edits as necessary.
If you want to set up your very own wiki, first decide the purpose of your wiki, then decide whether access would be public or restricted to a smaller group. Next decide upon the features you want for your wiki, then check out various wiki hosting sites and select the one that best works for you.
Wetpaint (a wiki hosting service) has an excellent online video right on its main website (www.wetpaint.com/) called “See How Wetpaint Works”. Just click on the arrow in top right corner of this website to see a helpful and user-friendly overview of the process of setting up a wiki.
As well, you could click on this link to access PowerPoint slides on “How to Set Up a Wiki Site” with Wikispaces (another wiki hosting service): www.slideshare.net/sharpjacqui/how-to-set-up-a-wiki-site.
Here are just a few of the many wiki hosting sites. Each of these sites requires user registration and prices vary from free to low cost. All of these sites (and others like them) will allow you to easily set up a wiki in a few easy steps.
Wetpaint (slogan: create a free website about anything you love). Wetpaint is free. Website: www.wetpaint.com/.
Wikispaces (slogan: wikis for everyone). With Wikispaces, “Basic” wiki hosting is free; “Plus” starts at $5 per month; and “Super” starts at $20 per month. Website: www.wikispaces.com/.
PBwiki (slogan: simple, secure collaboration). PBwiki has a free version for individuals and educators, but there are optional upgrades for a fee; business users must pay an annual fee for use. Website: http://pbwiki.com/.
Technology in Action
The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, a free massive online encyclopedia where content can be added, edited and deleted by any user. According to Wikipedia's own website statistics, there are currently 75,000 contributors working on more than 10 million articles in 250 languages and these articles are viewed by hundreds of thousands of people each day. Because content can be edited by anyone, Wikipedia faces problems with accuracy, quality and bias. It is important to check the sources that are used for the Wikipedia entry. However, for some, Wikipedia has become a common source of online information. To access Wikipedia, click on: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page.
Wiki Literacy Tent (or to use its full name: the Adult Literacy Education Wiki: Research and Practice) is essentially a clearinghouse of information and online discussions with people around the world on a variety of literacy issues. Wiki Literacy Tent is publicly accessible and covers an extremely wide variety of topics (from A to Z in fact!). A small sampling of topics includes issues such as action research, learning disabilities, reading, family literacy, assessment, and women and literacy. Check it out at: http://wiki.literacytent.org/index.php/Main_Page.
There are wikis on virtually any topic of interest and the sky is the limit! To whet your appetite, here is a sampling of diverse wikis:
Green Wiki (for learning about the environment and various green initiatives). See: http://green.wikia.com/wiki/Wikia_Green.
Literature Wiki (for sharing information about literature – novels, poems and short stories). See: http://literature.wikia.com/wiki/Literawiki.
Knit Wiki (for “all things knitting”!). See: http://knitting.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page.
Recipes Wiki (for novice and experienced cooks). See: http://recipes.wikia.com/wiki/Recipes_Wiki.
On a more serious note, Community Literacy of Ontario, one of the Getting Online project partners, has set up a wiki for CLO staff. CLO staff work on a variety of projects and live in different parts of Ontario. This wiki allows CLO staff to work collaboratively and to share and edit project reports, newsletters, meeting minutes, agendas and other important information. Given that CLO is a provincial organization, this ability to easily share and edit documents will be extremely valuable and save the organization time and money.
Additional Resources about Wikis
The Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in North Carolina has prepared a very helpful and practical podcast called “So What's in a Wiki?” This podcast is part of their fabulous Learning 2.0 Initiative and is available here: http://plcmclearning.blogspot.com/2006/09/16-so-whats-in-wiki.html.
Educause Learning Initiative has created an informative overview of wikis called: “Seven Things You Should Know About Wikis”: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7004.pdf. Topics covered include: what is a wiki?; who's doing it?; how does it work?; and why is it significant?
Meredith Gorran Farkas has prepared a useful text-based slide show called “Wikis: A Beginner's Look: Harnessing the Collective Intelligence”: http://meredith.wolfwater.com/cil06/.