What Is Wiki

Wiki is in Ward's original description:
The simplest online database that could possibly work.
Wiki is a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. Wiki supports hyperlinks and has a simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly.
Wiki is unusual among group communication mechanisms in that it allows the organization of contributions to be edited in addition to the content itself.
Like many simple concepts, "open editing" has some profound and subtle effects on Wiki usage. Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by nontechnical users.
Historical Note. The first ever wiki site was created for the Portland Pattern Repository in 1995. That site now hosts tens of thousands of pages.
Courtesy of wiki.org

Characteristics of a Wiki

Ward Cunningham and co-author Bo Leuf, in their book The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web, described the essence of the Wiki concept as follows:
  • A wiki invites all users to edit any page or to create new pages within the wiki Web site, using only a plain-vanilla Web browser without any extra add-ons.
  • Wiki promotes meaningful topic associations between different pages by making page link creation almost intuitively easy 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 Web site landscape.
A wiki enables communities to write documents collaboratively, using a simple markup language and a web browser. A single page in a wiki website is referred to as a "wiki page", while the entire collection of pages, which are usually well interconnected by hyperlinks, is "the wiki". A wiki is essentially a database for creating, browsing, and searching through information. A wiki allows for non-linear, evolving, complex and networked text, argument and interaction.
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 open to alteration by the general public without requiring them to register user accounts. Sometimes logging in for a session is recommended, to create a "wiki-signature" cookie for signing edits automatically. Many edits, however, can be made in real-time and appear almost instantly online. This can facilitate abuse of the system. Private wiki servers require user authentication to edit pages, and sometimes even to read them.
Boulous et al. write that it is the "openness of wikis that gives rise to the concept of 'Darwikinism', which is a concept that describes the 'socially Darwinian process' that wiki pages are subject to. Basically, because of the openness and rapidity that wiki pages can be edited, the pages undergo a natural selection process like that which nature subjects to living organisms. 'Unfit' sentences and sections are ruthlessly culled, edited and replaced if they are not considered 'fit', which hopefully results in the evolution of a higher quality and more relevant page. Whilst such openness may invite 'vandalism' and the posting of untrue information, this same openness also makes it possible to rapidly correct or restore a 'quality' wiki page."

What's so Good About Wikis?

Wikis Simplify Editing Your Website:
Each page on a wiki has an Edit link. If you want to change something on the page, click the link, and the wiki will display a simple editing screen. When you finish making changes, submit them by clicking a button, and, Voila! Your changes show up on the Website.

Wikis Use Simple Markup:
Even for geeky types like me, thinking about HTML and formatting gets in the way of good, clear writing. Wikis solve this problem by writing the HTML for you -- you only need to learn a few simple markup rules. These rules are designed to make wiki markup easy to write and read by real people.

Wikis Record Document Histories:
If you make a mistake, don't worry. A good wiki will save plenty of old copies of your pages and will let you revert to an older version of a page. In fact, many Wikis will display a comparison, called a diffˆ, which shows you the exact changes you have made to your page over time.

Creating Links Is Simple With Wikis:
Wikis store your entire Website's content in an internal hypertext database. The wiki knows about every page you have and about every link you make. If you use a wiki, you don't have to worry about the location of files or the format of your tags. Simply name the page, and the wiki will automatically create a link for you.

Creating New Pages Is Simple With Wikis:
Wikis let you link to pages that don't yet exist. Click on a link that points to a nonexistent page, and the wiki will ask you for initial content to put in the page. If you submit some initial content, the wiki will create the page. All links to that page (not just the one you clicked) will now point to the newly-created page.

Wikis Simplify Site Organization:
As wikis work like hypertext databases, you can organize your page however you want. Many content management systems require you to plan classifications for your content before you actually create it. This can be helpful, but only if what you want to convey fits a rigid mould. With a wiki, you can organize your page into categories if you want, but you can also try other things. Instead of designing the site structure, many wiki site creators just let the structure grow with the content and the links inside their content. But you don't have to have it either way. I do all three on my own site. Visitors can navigate the site by following a storyline, drilling down through a hierarchy, or they can just browse with the natural flow of the internal links. Without the wiki, such complexity would be a nightmare. Now that I use a wiki, I also find my site structure easier to manage than when I used a template system and a set of categories.

Wikis Keep Track of All Your Stuff:
Because a wiki stores everything in an internal hypertext database, it knows about all your links and all your pages. So it's easy for the wiki to show back links, a list of all the pages that linking to the current page. Since the wiki stores your document history, it can also list recent changes. Advanced wikis like the Wikipedia can even show a list of recent changes to pages that link to the current page.

Many Wikis are Collaborative Communities:
The original wiki allows anyone to click the Edit button and change the Website. While this may seem odd, many wikis are able to do this successfully without major issues in terms of vandalism. Remember, the wiki stores the history of each page. For each vandal, there are probably ten people who actually need the information that was there before, and who will take the time to click the button and reset the page to its former contents. Many of the wikis handle this challenge differently. Some are completely open, some restrict access, and one even has a democratic error/vandalism reporting system. How you deal with this challenge depends on what you plan to use the Wiki for, as we'll see.

Wikis Encourage Good Hypertext:
…[W]ikis are the purest form of hypertext available on the Web today. Many wikis sport features that make hypertext geeks drool, but the features aren't the real reason wikis make great hypertext tools. They succeed because they make writing hypertext elegantly and easy. Effective Wiki writers don't have to be geeks. They just need to be able to type.
Thanks to Nathan Matias - http://articles.sitepoint.com/article/what-is-a-wiki

Who Uses Wikis?

Wikis are used in the “real world” (outside of K-12 schools) by people collaborating on projects or trying to share things online, such as family information and photos, technical information from users of a product, data from a research and development project, wine expertise, travel journals from abroad, club or specialty information, or projects like collaborative cookbooks.
Sometimes they are used for free expression, such as a youth group online graffiti space. College and university courses seem to be using wikis far more than the K-12 community right now. In K-12 education, wikis are being used by educators to conduct or follow-up after professional development workshops or as a communication tool with parents. The greatest potential, however, lies in student participation in the ongoing creation and evolution of the wiki.

What is the difference between a wiki and a blog?

A blog, or web log, shares writing and multimedia content in the form of “posts” (starting point entries) and “comments” (responses to the posts). While commenting, and even posting, are open to the members of the blog or the general public, no one is able to change a comment or post made by another. The usual format is post-comment-comment-comment, and so on. For this reason, blogs are often the vehicle of choice to express individual opinions.
A wiki has a far more open structure and allows others to change what one person has written. This openness may trump individual opinion with group consensus.

Are there sound instructional reasons to use a class wiki?

Wiki Weasons
  • Build greater connections between new and old knowledge by allowing student-created structure for the information and ideas.
  • Build on the best of Bloom: Students use synthesis and evaluation constantly and consistently when they work on a wiki.
  • Build creativity skills, especially elaboration and fluency. Build creative flexibility in accepting others’ edits!
  • Encourage “hitch-hiking” on ideas (a type of creative elaboration and analytical thinking: If X is true, then what about Y?).
  • Introduce and reinforce the idea that a creative piece as never “done.”
  • Increase engagement of all students.
  • In lieu of being passive “consumers” of their peers’ presentations (where they doze, doze and ignore), wiki makers respond, respond, change, and improve.
  • Culminating projects no longer have to end!!
  • Develop interpersonal and communication skills, especially consensus-building and compromise, in an environment where the product motivates interpersonal problem-solving.
  • Develop true teamwork skills
  • Improve the most challenging phase of writing process: revision, revision, revision!
  • Increase flexibility to consider other ways of saying things.
  • Build an awareness of a wider, more authentic audience.
  • Stimulate discussion and metacognition (where developmentally ready).
  • Help students articulate issues about ownership, finding, different conceptualizations of the same content. These can be sophisticated challenges, even for the best students.

Before you start your wiki with your class(es), make some basic decisions:
How do you envision using the wiki? ( How will you explain it to parents and administration? Feel free to use the examples here to help.)
Who will be able to see the wiki? (the public? members only?)
Who will be able to edit the wiki? (the public? members only? vary by section?)
Who will be able to join the wiki? (students only? parents? invited guests? the public?)
What parts of the wiki will you “protect” (lock from changes)?
Who will moderate the wiki for appropriateness, etc?
Who will have the ability to reset changes?
Will you, as the teacher, be notified of all changes?
Will the wiki have Individual or global memberships? (by individual students if you want an individual record of who made changes, or with one log-in per group or class?)

Twiki Issues

Parental/Safety Concerns
The best ways to get parents excited about your wiki are to inform them and to include them.
Prior to giving students access to the wiki, send home a letter and permission slip with all students (and give points for a signed permission slip). The letter should tell parents what the wiki is for and how well their student will be protected by the safety features you have in place.
Involve parents in understanding the wiki by providing a parent page or area where they can comment or share experiences. Of course, you will need to provide them with log-in information and/or membership to be able to edit/add content. You need not continue this portion indefinitely.

Student Wiki Warranty

As active "makers" of the wiki, your students must warranty its contents the way a company warranties its products. Make and sign a Wiki Warranty, complete with stated consequences, for your wiki, even if students have already signed an Acceptable Use Policy for the school.
One very effective way to make them pay attention to the warranty contents is to include it on the wiki site. You may want to post a warranty of your own, perhaps this sample wiki warranty, then allow students to reopen it and add to it by consensus as new situations arise. Be sure that you lock the warranty page contents unless the whole class is aware that edits are being made. You do not want students secretly changing it without notice.

Vandalism or Editing?

Students will be students, and at least one is bound to "vandalize" another student's work on your class wiki. Make sure that your wiki warranty specifically discusses this issue and spells out the consequences of maliciously damaging another student's work. Since the wiki will often involve changing work done by others, it is especially important that you have an open discussion about the difference between "vandalizing" and making changes to improve the content. A change intended for the good will always include some written "discussion" of the reasoning behind the change. Be sure that all students know who is responsible for various sections of the wiki to avoid any "accidental" changes to another student or group's work.
As the wiki owner, you have the ability to rewind history and take the wiki back to a prior state, as well.

Wiki tools do not, as of yet, have automatic spell checkers built in. This can be good, if you are using the wiki to improve writing and editing skills. It can be frustrating or embarrassing to learning support students or very young students. If you really want to have spell check available, consider using a word processing program to draft entries and then copy/pasting them into the wiki.
There are also free "plug ins" to do spell checking on web forms, but these would require the ability to install software. IE Spell is one such plug in.

Wikis can include writing, images, and sound or video files. Most wikis fall under a special copyright agreement called Creative Commons. This essentially means that any content users place on the wiki can be used by others under a "share and share alike" arrangement. All Creative Commons uses must be properly cited.
You and your students do not own materials you find on the web, such as music, video, or images. You must make sure that anything you do use from other sources is also under a Creative Commons license. Most photos on Flickr are available this way, for example. See further information about copyright and Creative Commons licensing.

Important note: Unless your wiki is completely password-protected and seen only by registered students of your course, you and your students may NOT use copyrighted materials under "Fair Use." Fair Use does not permit you to place the items on the web.

Closing Tips

Start Small
  • Keep your opening wiki activity very simple, whether you have seniors or second graders. Have them access the wiki in class, using a generic student log-in and password that you have created under Manage Space > Member and Permissions.
  • Make sure each student can log in, edit a page, explain the changes under the Discussion tab or Edit note (some tools), and SAVE. Have them log out.
  • Make sure each student can find the wiki again and log in, unassisted.
  • The next time, have them use their individual, group, or class log-ins. Keep a record of all usernames and passwords handy in your classroom!
  • Consider allowing parents, where appropriate, to participate in the wiki warm-up, too.

Getting to Know You... (gr 3-8)

If you are starting your wiki at the beginning of the school year or are using pseudonyms, you can establish mutual trust and verify wiki skills. Each student, using initials or a pseudonym..
  • Writes something positive or interesting about himself/herself and positive things that two classmates are good at or noted for.
  • Returns to the wiki for homework or in a later class and adds/edits the positive comments, possibly guessing the identity of the pseudonym holder, only IF the wiki is private!

Class Kudos (any age)

As a wiki warm-up, have your students (any age) write something about an accomplishment they have made, no matter how small, as "Someone...."
Examples might be:
  • Someone learned to do a flip-turn.
  • Someone hiked 20 miles with his grandpa.
  • Someone finally passed a driving test.
Have them go back in a few days and edit to include the initials or pseudonym in place of “someone.” Keep the Kudos page open long term for classes who need a positive place to brag.

FAQ Page
Start an FAQ page as a tool to get students started on the wiki. They can ask anything they want to know (within acceptable limits) Examples:
  • What are we going to use this wiki for?
  • Will we be graded on this?
  • Why do we have to read Shakespeare?
  • Will I ever use algebra for ANYTHING?
  • Will Mr. Jones really notice if I say something mean or inappropriate?
Then ask for positive responses to others’ questions. Keep an FAQ page available for students struggling with material or as the guide to each unit.

Wiki the Warranty
Wiki your class Wiki Warranty by posting it (locked) on the actual wiki. As new issues regarding wiki use arise, unlock the page for students to propose changes. If a student does something not previously "prohibited" but definitely not in the interest of learning, the class can write the warranty amendment and consequences, editing at will until they reach consensus.