Wikis In The Academy

I write so much better!

Some writers express a sense of greater ease in writing or claim to deliver a better quality of writing since participating in a wiki or posting to a blog. Perhaps it is because it is more fun, or because the ease of editing alleviates fear, or perhaps it is the effect of gaining more writing experience. Either way, a blog and wiki seem to evoke a deeper awareness of the relationship between author, reader and the text. Because of this emphasis on the rhetorical elements, wikis are naturally being implemented as an academic tool. In WideOpenSpaces, Brian Lamb writes, "Users [of wikis] do not have to adapt their practice to the dictates of a system but can allow their practice to define the structure" (40).

Learning 2.0 follows Web 2.0.

Traditional academic writing is completed through individual papers, on some topic, with little opportunity to share with other students in the class. Yet, collaborative writing is what many students will engage in at their job. Jill Walker’s emphasis, then, on “network literacy” is just as essential as basic writing concepts. While traditional writing classes might focus on group work via peer workshops or a group paper, having multiple authors creating content in a networked environment more closely resembles the kind of work skills now required of graduates.

It is not surprising that tools such as weblogs and wikis are increasingly being used in the academic world. Wikis are also a logical tool for teachers who create active-learning and student-centered classes. Now it is not so surprising to hear students talking about how they need to finish an essay on a wiki for a class, or how they need to make a blog post for an assignment. Fewer students are responding with furrowed brows at the mention of such words as blog and wiki.

Particular Uses of WikisInTheAcademy

The uses of wikis are still being explored. They are most useful when the learning from (or the experience of) the wiki is more important than the tool itself. Lamb lists numerous specific uses: supporting meeting plans, collaborating on research, experimenting with knowledge-building, collecting and sharing information (38-45). He also points out the obvious value of the wiki in composition courses.

In composition, in particular, students can utilize wikis to document all stages of the writing process. Others can add threaded comments at all stages to give the writer feedback and suggestions. Both student and instructor can monitor the student's progress over time using the track changes feature. Students can also use the wiki as a self-evaluation too and keep track of what they did in the essay that worked, and record their thoughts as to what should be address next time.

A wiki is also an ideal tool for a reader-response based literature class. Initial posts to record reactions and initial interpretations can be revised as the students and class move towards analysis. A wiki in a literature course involves active reading and writing.

"As wikis enter the academy; students may not be the only ones jolted out of conventional practices" (Lamb 45). Iinstructors can post lesson plans/lecture notes to a wiki. After class, the plan can be annotated to indicate what worked well and what needs to be revised. Students could also be invited to post their evaluations of course material in a more meaningful, specific manner than end-of-term surveys.

Roadblocks to Wiki Success in Academics

"Newcomers to the medium may find it easiest to start with simple tasks" (Lamb 38). Traditional academics may have EgoManiaMakesDifficultToWiki concerns about the control of wikis.

If the WikiWay is not embraced, or if the tools are used in untrained hands, it may seem that we are simply using new tools for activities that are just as easily completed in a traditional manner, which could have the effect, as Lamb describes, of "diluting the special qualities that make wikis worth using in the first place."

Contributors: SharonSimpson, AspenEasterling, SueCutler, LoniSwenson, & JennBeyer
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