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The Wiki Way - Social Software for Collaborative Content Management in E-learning

Excerpt of presentation delivered at Onlinde Educa Berlin 2004

SOCIAL SOFTWARE. Summarizing different authors’ views on what social software actually is: social software supports conversational interaction between individuals or groups, social feedback and social networks. The usage patterns of a social software tends to form bottom-up, democratically, not top-down, hierarchically [11]. These basic principles seem to work quite well in human learning processes.

WIKI. A wiki is a website that gives users the ability to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows that content to be edited by other users. (Wiki wiki comes from the Hawaiian term for “quick” or “super-fast”.) A wiki enables documents to be written collectively in a simple markup language using a web browser. Wikis are a true hypertext medium, with non-linear navigational structures. Most public wikis shun mandatory registration procedures, while providing sophisticated version control mechanisms (eg. make it very easy to construct and not worth to destruct content). Wiki software originated in the design pattern community as a way of writing and discussing pattern languages. The Portland Pattern Repository was the first wiki, established by Ward Cunningham in 1995. The biggest open wiki currently is the open content online encyclopedia, Wikipedia that since its founding in January 2001 grew to 600,000 articles in 50 languages of which approximately half is in English (March, 2004) with 6000 active contributors [2, 10].

WHY WIKI WORKS? A common knowledge management metaphor is while making the vicious workflow circle, somewhere you have to “pay” heavily for knowledge – tipically at codifying or at retrieveing. All knowledge managers know that in all KM systems transaction costs matter. If it takes too much energy to use a system, no one will use it, even given high rewards [4]. It’s easy to see this if we consider the success of the Wikipedia written by “amateurs” versus the more formal Nupedia that relied on a classical peer-review editorial process of academically trusted contributors. It is very important to realize that a working solution is not about restrictions, there is more to laws than police enforcement. A constitution, a clear vision of the achievements, a code of conduct (as in the case of Wikipedia is the NPOV) is quite useful for operating such a community of contributors [1]. Regarding any doubts of quality in the instance of Wikipedia see Lih [9].

PERSONAL WIKI. Wikis even do make sense on the personal level. I personally struggled through the years with almost every kind of PIMs, both offline and online, a Palm, a lot of sticky notes and still a hypertextualized notepad such as Duquette’s Notebook seems to be the cure for personal knowledge management – but honestly, if your camera-equipped mobile could have an in-built VoodooPad, that would the best.

GROUP WIKI. Group wikis that do not serve the whole connected community are more widely used than we could imagine. TWiki (an open-source wiki engine) has numerous success stories with British Telecom, Disney, Motorola or SAP. There are even for-profit companies such as SocialText using the KWiki engine to implement a wiki for Ziff Davis. Typical usage patterns include:

The range of uses is wide – the main difference is the the wide-open ethic of wikis contrasts the traditional, rigid, access restriction and role-based approaches of groupware.

Our own practice widens more the possibilities: we use wikis for implementing a nationwide educational game for teenagers, an extranet for policy making of educational professionals, supporting a cooking community with an online cookbook, and we used a wiki companywide for internal purposes also.

LEARNING WIKI. As Wikipedia could serve as the biggest digital portfolio for every student on the Internet there are a lot of specialized knowledge sharing communities from geographic information systems through dictionaries to cookbooks – or why don’t you start your own in your specific discipline? Furthermore we know everyday cases of using wiki technology in education, mainly in the higher education, some examples:

A common pedagogical application of wikis in education is to support writing instruction. At TeachingWiki Joe Moxley, a professor of English at University of South Florida, enlists why should you use wikis for teaching writing skills:

However it takes a culture to make them work. Heather James describes her own „brilliant failure” trying to use wiki in a traditional classroom setting, ultimately she regrets that she „changed the tool, but did not change the practice” and lost the potential immediately. [6]

HOW TO START YOUR OWN WIKI? It is not a Holy Grail – do not forget Heather James. Learn from others. Formulate prototype usage patterns. Choose an engine – check the approach of James Farmer, look for function, not technology [5]. Think about and embed in culture. Start the tech. Let them experiment.

Don’t forget Clay Shirky: „A wiki in the hands of a healthy community works. A wiki in the hands of an indifferent community fails. The software makes no attempt to add ’process’ in order to keep people from doing things.” [12]

MAIN REFERENCES: [1] Aigrain, Philippe: The Individual and the Collective in Open Information Communities, 16th Bled Electronic Commerce Conference, 2003 [2] Aronsson, Lars: Operation of a Large Scale General Purpose Wiki Website, ELPUB, 2002 [3] Coates, Tom: The Ugly Wiki (Part Two), Plasticbag, 2003 [4] Davenport, Thomas H. and Prusak, Laurence: Working Knowledge, HBSP, 1998 [5] Farmer, James: The Wide World of Wiki: Choosing a wiki for an element of a fully online undergraduate course, incorporated subversion, 2004 [6] James, Heather: My Brilliant Failure: Wikis In Classrooms, Kairosnews, 2004 [7] Kim, Eugene Eric: Wikis and Face-To-Face Events, 2004 [8] Lamb, Brian: Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not, Educause Review, Vol. 39., No. 5. (September/October 2004) [9] Lih, Andrew: Wikipedia as Participatory Journalism: Reliable Sources? Metrics for evaluating collaborative media as a news resource, 5th International Symposium on Online Journalism, 2004 [10] Matias, Nathan: What is a Wiki?, Sitepoint, 2003 [11] Shirky, Clay: Social Software and the Politics of Groups, 2003 [12] Shirky, Clay: Wikis, Grafitti, and Process, Corante, 2003