I recently created a brief presentation on wiki’s.  I have been reading, creating and changing wikis for a while now.  However, when I created this presentation, I was amazed at how much information and uses there were out there on Internet for wikis.  So, where did the word come from?  The word itself, “Wiki”, is derived from the Hawaiian word “wiki wiki”, which is used to describe something “quick” or “fast”.   Ok, so what is a wiki?  Well, a wiki is basically a website where users are able to add, remove, and edit every web page, within a web browser such as Internet Explorer and Firefox.  Unlike a typical webpage, as we know them, a wiki allows for easy access to internet publishing.  You don’t need to have intimate knowledge of HTML, PERL, XML or any other coding language, to get started.  All you really need is to be able to connect to the internet and then write.    OK, so wiki means quick and fast, sounds right up the Internet,  and our fast paced, immediate gratification, world’s alley.  But you might ask, “what can it really offer me?”  I would suggest there are several key elements that it offers. One being, collaborative knowledge building and storage.  Sounds spacious right, well it is!  It can give users the ability to organize;  knowledge, ideas, information, projects, create discussions and much more.  As powerful as that sounds, it also offers something that one might not really think is that great, but can be supremely helpful.  Wiki’s track document changes or basically, it keeps a running history.   Well, no big deal you might think, ohh but it is!  It gives you the ability  to compare side by side changes in the documentation and can allow you to revert to older version or put back removed content.  This can be extremely handy as you will be able get your stuff back!  Lastly, it is available to anyone, anywhere at anytime.

So a bit of history.  Ward Cunningham, in 1994 created Wiki software that he coined the WikiWikiWeb.  Cunningham named from the Wiki-Wiki Shuttle, which serves the Honolulu airport. His purpose was to create a tool for his office that would provide a quick and easy way to edit webpages.  Then around 2000 a fairly typical encyclopedia web based site called Nupedia was setup and only lasted about 3 years.  It’s articles were written by experts which would certainly be consider very important.  However, this limited it’s content enhancing ability and support.  Around a year later,  the same group who had started Nupedia, started Wikipedia.  As most of us know already, Wikipedia is considered the mother of all wiki’s and houses over 41 million entries contained in 264 “wikipedias” which are basically individual wikipedia’s that are in different languages.  This information can be found here http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wikipedias .  The largest “wikipedia, being English, hosts over 2 million “official articles” which are considered “encyclopedic” information and over 12 million non-articles which are considered user pages, images, talk pages, “project” pages, categories and templates for a total of more then 15 million and as mentioned, that is just English language entries.   As you can see the use of Wikis and specifically, Wikipedia, has made a significant internet informational impact.

So then where is the wiki?  Well if you have been on the internet, chances are it’s already in your browser bookmarks, your online reading, research, or schools.  As I mentioned the largest and most prosperous wiki, Wikipedia, offers a plethora of information.   Although wiki’s are usable in almost any application for information collaboration , one of there most thriving focuses is within education.    Education offers the most prolific use of wiki’s.   We can see there use in every discipline and grade level.   For example, the ACM wiki at UIUC (https://www-s.acm.uiuc.edu/wiki/space/home) which provides an information and collaboration site , English 15 Rhetoric and Composition at Penn State University, offering their students class info, readings and assignments in one neat package (http://epochewiki.pbwiki.com/RhetoricAndComposition),  and last but not least my workplace wiki, ACCC’s Micro Repair wiki where we collaborate and keep a store house of documentation (https://tigger.uic.edu/htbin/perlwrap-auth/csoadmin/wiki/view/Main/MicroRepair).   These are just the tip of the wikiberg and you can easily find tons of examples, just do a search.  I had 39,000,000 hits in google when I typed in “wiki and education”.

There are tons of freely available wiki websites out there where anyone can start their own wiki page anytime.  Such as WikidotPbwiki and Wetpaint, to name a few.   These sites offer easy and free sign up, setup and support.   Most offer step by step instructions on how to use their site as well as training videos.  Along with that most have good and active forums where you can obtain valuable support.  Even if you don’t have an idea in mind, start a page and see where it leads you…
So… we found out what a wiki is, who made it and a brief history about it, also we looked into where wiki’s are and some of those using them.   However, even with all that information there is still that, “why” should I/we join all those others that are jumping off that bridge?   Why should I, it has its dangers…

Well, what are the common issues?  There is the fact that Wiki’s are “open” documents, anyone can edit it, change it and not always for the good.  Yes, this is true and there is going to be a bit of trust involved with a wiki, but the beauty is the ability to change it.  Information out of date?  Change it.   Information incorrect?  Change it.  Wiki page completely messed up?  Use the history and upload an earlier revision.  It is a simple matter to fix the problems.   Ok, well if wiki’s are open and I want to use one in my k-12 school/classroom how do I protect my students information?   Indeed there is a sizable need to protect under aged students information and it is best to seek out your school districts policies.  However, it is still worth the effort to use a wiki, even if it must remain restricted within the classroom/school.   Your school can learn the ins and outs and then the benefits of wikiing and may in turn re-evaluate restrictions based on good computing and security practices created from its use.  There is also a concern for copyright infringement.  This can certainly be very difficult to ascertain and track.  There are several ways to combat this,  primarily, teaching good source documentation practices.   Why reinvent the wheel, if the information is already out there, point to it, quote it, and then source it.  This is a great use for wiki’s, a store house for all of your great class links.  Get familiar with copyright laws and “fair use”, there are a ton of good sites that can give it to you in layman’s terms.  One really good one is the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s FAQ on “Fair Use”.

Maybe your fears are not completely settled but here is a short list of what you may be missing out on…
A space for writing exercises and practice
A space for group project collaboration
A space for book discussions
A space for planning
A space of development
A space for leaning

Have you seen your wiki today?

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:HNL_Wiki_Wiki_Bus.jpg – PPT slide background image
http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/List_of_Wikipedias – wiki stats
http://www.uwm.edu/Libraries/courses/wiki/1.html – background information about wiki’s
http://www.classroom20.com/forum/topics/649749:Topic:34241  – Effective  use of wiki’s discussion
http://www.techlearning.com/story/showArticle.php?articleID=196604182 – Wiki word definition
http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/network/2006/07/07/what-is-a-wiki.html – General information about wiki’s

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