Why Wikis?

Wikis are versatile.

I like wikis because they are versatile, they offer a fairly quick start-up and they are simple to navigate.

For Example…

Want a public/private space for an ongoing community calendar that allows members to comment and edit and records changes? A wiki can do that. Other resources can do it too.

Want a public/private space for community development of a mission statement that allows member editing and discussion and records a revision history? A wiki can do that. Other resources can do it too.

Want a public/private space for the ongoing creation of a collective resource that allows member editing and records a revision history? A wiki can do that better than most similar tools that serve as collaborative publishing environments.

I have seen a professor use wikis in his I/O Psychology class. Every semester, a new class adds on to and revises existing content in the wiki. Each semester the resource gets a little more comprehensive and the content becomes more concise with a deeper level of analysis.

Who are the Wiki Police?

When ascertaining quality in a wiki, one probably ought to consider the age of the resource as well as the size of the developer community, since (theoretically) the quality should improve as additional contributors continue to evolve the resource content over time. In the practical application of a wiki, however, any community member has the ability (and right?) to come along and highlight something that they don’t like or don’t agree with and hit the delete button. Wikis depend on the knowledge, abilities, motivation, and integrity of every community member; so, the capabilities of open contribution and immediate updating can become either advantages or drawbacks.

Wikis in the Classroom –

In the case of wikis in formal education where students are unlikely to have a level of expertise on the subject matter, quality as defined by accuracy of content and the use of an academic writing style with appropriate formatting and citations will require policing by an instructor.

Public Wikis –

In the case of public wikis, quality is policed by the users. Expert users may be tasked with oversight as site moderators. Users may be asked to report content that falls outside the acceptable range as established in a community administrative document. Still, some might refer to wikis as crowdsourcing knowledge, but I agree with Marcio Saito in that it is important to remember the 1% Rule here. (Jakob Nielsen calls this Participation Inequality.) The 1% Rule suggests that 1% of the community will create the content, 9% will edit and modify that content, and 90% will view the content without making a contribution.

Additional Reading:

Wiki as a Teaching Tool by K.R. Parker & J.T. Chao

7 responses to “Why Wikis?

  1. John, I am a true fan of wikis because I believe that they are a community responsibility and what we get out of them depends on what we put into them. I think that makes each and every one of us the wiki police. ;-)

    All information on the Internet ought to be approached with a critical eye. When it comes to wikis, that meeting represents the intersection of social processes (wikis) and cognitive processes (users) where Cress and Kimmerle’s proposed theory of collaborative knowledge building plays out.

    Cress, U., & Kimmerle, J. (2008). A systematic and cognitive view on collaborative knowledge building with wikis. Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 3, 105-122.

  2. Before this week I considered Wikipedia as just a source of information. Collaboration, community calendars, and “space for the ongoing creation of a collective resource “are a few of its’ features that I became aware of this week.
    The “Wiki police” are a pleasing and cautious warning to the traps of Wikipedia. I have accepted the blemish of Wiki which pertains to the accuracy. I consider the future hits on Wikipedia as the younger generations discover this site, and improve upon its’ quality and accuracy. Yet, I feel that I will be unfortunate one to lay claim to inaccurate information. Call it the anti-lottery, one in a trillion loser.
    The one percent rule is added to my internal dictionary. 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute to weblogs. According to Jacob Nielson there are 1.1 billion people who go online. Only 1.6 million of those people post per day. I’m not sure how these numbers play into my life at the moment, but I am finding these numbers fascinating and will be reflecting on them for a while.

  3. Yes, I do think this feature definitely helps build the credibility of a wiki article. It’s also helpful as a way to lead those interested in learning more about the topic to other online resources they may like and creating a “web” of information, similar to what we talked about with blogs last week. Yay for easy to create and easy to follow hyperlinks! :)

  4. Hi Beth, I agree. Do you think that the use of linking to outside resources assists with accountability and the substantiating of edits?

  5. Deb,
    A statement from your post that really caught my attention was when you said, “In the practical application of a wiki, however, any community member has the ability (and right?) to come along and highlight something that they don’t like or don’t agree with and hit the delete button.” I think that the time when wikis often go downhill as valid resources is when users think they have the right to delete anything they don’t like or don’t agree with. This is different from deleting or changing things they can show to be untrue, using valid resources. Hopefully wikis or wiki articles which cover topics that can be controversial are closely monitored to ensure that the content is properly referenced and doesn’t just reflect one person or group’s opinions. The “What Wikipedia is not,” policy that we read this week definitely discussed this issue and the fact that Wikipedia is not to be used as a battleground for personal beliefs, which shows that this is a very real problem for this and other wiki sites. It would be interesting to check the revision history of a variety of controversial topics to see how often people do make opinionated changes and how long these changes last.

  6. Hi Kim and thanks for your comment :)

    Yes, after taking much criticism about content quality and consistency, Wikipedia does have a monitoring process/system in place. However, I am under the impression that this process relies heavily on expert users as well as user flagging of potentially inappropriate content. Perhaps I am mistaken. Either way, (1) the system is far from perfect and (2) Wikipedia is the largest public wiki and, therefore, not everything translates equally to every public wiki out there.

    As part of formal course curriculum, I am sure that the monitoring component can vary according to context and not alter the effectiveness of the learning or artifact to any large degree. To me, the important thing is that the monitoring and guidance be offered by someone other than, or in addition to, a student directly involved in the wiki production. It would depend on the resources available to the instructor whether a more advanced student could serve this purpose, but I do believe that guidance and input is essential. As far as formality of writing style and referencing, that would also depend on the context and learning objectives involved.

    I know a professor who uses a wiki in his I/O Psychology class. According to him, the project requires a great deal of his time and input, but the learning experience that results is well worth the effort. He requires the use of APA formatting which addresses writing style, bias, citations, etc., but this is by no means a necessity. It just fits with his particular set of learning objectives.

    Additionally, any wiki is only as good as the built-in web of reference links that it includes; therefore, I am a staunch advocate of linking out to additional resources and references whenever possible. These links should be properly reviewed, cited, and referenced at the bottom of each wiki entry. Otherwise, how could the user trace the validity and judge the quality of the content?

  7. Debra,
    I like you how structured your post with examples and other main issues associated with wikis – makes it very easy to read and comment on!
    Wiki Police: Wikipedia has a built-in wiki police system it seems though I’m sure there are things that go unnoticed for some time in the lesser used entries. When using this in a classroom as a collective knowledge building tool, it might be a good idea for the teacher to assign a student to monitor the wiki. If the class is working on general knowledge, it might be enough to allow a student from the class to police the wiki to make sure the content is appropriate and unbiased. This person could change every couple weeks so that each student would have his/her turn. It might also be useful to assign an expert student to monitor another class’s wiki. For example, I might have a wiki for my Spanish 1 classes. I could choose an advanced Spanish student from another of my classes to police the Spanish 1 wiki. Not only does it help the more novice students, but it gives the advanced student opportunities for growth as well.
    Wikis in the classroom: I understand the need for someone to facilitate writing style and citations (most likely the teacher), but I disagree that the writing needs to be academic. I think one of the best features of Wikipedia is that the language used is everyday usage – it is not written for only the “academics” among us. There should be limits as to slang/colloquialisms and internet lingo (IDK, LOL, etc), but I think classroom wikis will be more beneficial if the students can write in a less formal way with appropriate credit given where due. It becomes more of a structured writing project if the teacher imposes the idea of strict guidelines rather than collective knowledge building.