Posts tagged ‘wikis in education’

Learning the Web 2.0 way (2/2)

Technology is not always a student’s best friend. It’s more like a moody, unreliable and can’t-be-trusted ex with whom you have a love/hate relationship. Everyone’s got a few tragic tales about lost essays, blue screens of death, and MS Word suddenly shutting down on them before they could save their work.

But thanks to Ward Cunningham‘s invention of the wonder that is Wiki, there is one less problem we have stress about. Gone are the days of e-mailing a document/project/essay back and forth between group members, bickering over who has edited or deleted crucial information, and freaking out when the most updated version can’t be found in anyone’s e-mail account.

A wiki is a combination of a website and a Word document that allows multiple users to access and edit the document collaboratively from a single location. (Hence, no need for feverish e-mailing). More importantly, it keeps track of all the changes made to the document, stores older versions of the document and allows users to compare the older and new version.

Wikis in education

Wikis have great educational value and are being used widely by universities and some schools. Students can use it to work on a group report, compile results or analyse data (Google Spreadsheets), and teachers can use it to collaboratively structure their courses and interact with their students. Because a wiki is a “wide open space” in which everyone has equal power and access, it allows students to “own [their] education experience”. See Wiki evangelist, Stuart Mader’s post on ways to use wikis in education.

Mader has argued in his book that “today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”. Students have grown up surrounded by technology and are comfortable with it; and it’s up to teachers to revise their teaching methods to incorporate tools and resources that could help them build a better, more engaging rapport with their learners.

Teachers at a middle school in the States are doing just that: they are using this wiki to teach their French classes, and provide notes, videos and assignments to their students. Brown University has also set up a course advisor wiki that allows students to edit and review the courses that their professors teach. A lecturer at Bowdoin College has been quite successful in using a more scholarly wiki to engage with students in his Romantic Literature Course. There are also countless number of wikis set up by students to facilitate their own learning, like this one.

Wikis seem to be most commonly used to teach students writing skills. Not only do they encourage engaging writing, close reading and careful editing, they also teach students “network literacy”. According to Jill Walker, a prominent blogger and web 2.0 theorist, this involves preparing students to write collaboratively and for public consumption. It means, “jolting students out of the conventional individualistic, closed writing of essays only ever seen by [their] professor”.


When used in the context of educational instruction, wikis have encountered various criticisms. Because it allows anyone to chop and change content, it’s difficult to keep track of who has edited what. Linked to this is the issue of security and how much of “control” should be given to students to edit course content or review papers, etc.

Brian Lamb importantly notes that control is only an issue if teachers/lecturers try to impose it on the medium. The aim of a wiki is ultimately to facilitate learning among students, and with their teachers, in a setting that doesn’t mimic that of a classroom. A teacher’s role on a wiki should be to engage students, not pull rank on them. Lamb argues that teachers must relinquish some of their authority in order for students to engage meaningfully on a wiki. Otherwise, wikis will have no real use or effectiveness for students, and we may as well just be content with PowerPoint.

Wikis present a huge departure from the conventional teacher-student relationship, so it’s understandable why those who are still devoted to the chalk-on-blackboard method of teaching frown upon it. The value that students and teachers accrue from wikis will depend on the extent to which both parties are able to handle the power issue – teachers have to give up some of theirs, and students need to use theirs responsibly.


Brian Lamb. “Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not“.

Stuart Mader. “Using Wiki in Education“.


29 April, 2008 at 9:38 am 1 comment

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