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Mathemapedia - Welcome to Wiki World!

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 09 April 2007 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 07 May 2009 by ncetm_administrator

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, please fasten your seatbelts… we are about to enter WikiWorld …”

Wiki. The very word is reminiscent of a Disney attraction; gentle water ride that passes palm-lined beaches of pristine white sand, cocktails, lei’s and lu’au. And, indeed, ‘wiki-wiki’ is Hawaiian for ‘quick’.  But don’t expect to be bored on this tour, you will gasp in amazement, shriek in horror and get wet…

Our ride begins with a meander through time to the establishment of WikiWorld. In Internese a millennia ago, or 1995 to be precise, Ward Cunningham invented WikiWiki Web[1] (otherwise known as ‘WardsWiki’) so that software developers could share ideas.  “A wiki is the simplest online database that could possibly work,” explained Cunningham (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001).  The simplicity of the wiki caught on; the number of wikis and their volume has grown exponentially, as can be seen by Wikipedia[2] which has over 1,715,000 articles in English alone at the time of writing.

So, if a wiki is a simple database how does it work? I hear you ask.   As our boat slows down to take a look at the workings of WikiWorld one can sense a quiet insurrection; Cunningham described a wiki as “a freely expandable collection of interlinked web pages … where each page is easily edited by a user” (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001).  The thing that makes the wiki revolutionary is that every page can be edited by the person browsing it – in fact, editing of both content and structure is encouraged, not discouraged!  Wikis are based on RSS (Really Simple Syndication), there is no complicated computer language to learn, no html, just the structure of the wiki and, some basic coding in some wikis; it is estimated that the average person can learn how to edit within 10 minutes.

“Anarchy” I hear you scream. Yes, there were times in wiki history when chaos ruled; in June 2005 the LA Times opened up its editorial comments on Iraq to public amendment in a ‘Wikitorial’, everything was running smoothly while the editorial staff were at work, but overnight hardcore porn and (unrepeatable) comments about the USA appeared.  The feature was pulled after 48 hours.  The LA Times wiki was open to everyone to edit, completely public; other wikis require some form of registration; some can be limited to closed groups of pre-authorised users. The latter two types of wiki have facilities to record and track modifications – and reverse them if necessary and therefore, are ideal for a ‘closed’ environment like a classroom or collaborative working where privacy is an issue.  The type of wiki you choose depends on your needs, googling ‘free wiki’ gives a massive choice of wikis to choose from.

Others of you will be worrying about the accurateness of the wiki.  In LibrarianWorld the battle still rages to whether wikis should be considered a reference source, who constitutes an ‘expert’ and who is qualified to contribute to wikis.  Yet, this misses the whole point of WikiWorld; the successful wiki is a collaborative project, where everyone can add to the field of knowledge; a wiki is social collaboration at its best.  Entries and changes can be made by everyone who contributes, but because the content is controlled by the editors (and everyone is a potential editor), the only content that survives is the best – the content that everyone agrees on.  If you change a page, it may be accepted, altered, or even rejected by the wiki community. As new knowledge is found, the page is updated, giving the wiki an evolutionary feel, (sometimes referred to as “Darwikinism”) – ever growing and changing – where survival is not reliant on the source, but of accurate content. As Lamb,  (2004) puts it “content is ego-less, time-less, and never finished. Interestingly, research has shown that Wikipedia is only slightly less accurate then the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Giles, 2005). 

Up ahead are rapids - It’s time to get (our hands) wet! The only way to get to really appreciate the versatility of the wiki is to use one. Here are a couple of ideas to get you going:

Collaborate in a community

Use Mathemapedia to join the Maths community and increase your understanding and share your knowledge; read what others have to say on your pet subject and add your personal perceptions or edit what is already there, then sit back and watch the pages grow and develop overtime.  It doesn’t matter what your pet subject is – it may be or a pedagogical issue or a subject specialism; we all have knowledge that we can share.

According to Jonassen et al. (1999) wikis are powerful ‘mind tools’ that act as cognitive reflection and amplification tools, aiding the construction of meaning as they ‘actively involve learners in their own construction of knowledge’ (Bolous, 2006). Collating information on your pet topic requires research, synthesis and presentation skills, combined with a critical examination of different perspectives this provides a powerful learning activity.

Even if you don’t want to contribute initially, browsing through different topics in Mathemapedia will build on your existing knowledge and may help you to teach more effectively.

Collaborate with colleagues

Have you ever tried to arrange a meeting to discuss a piece of work with colleagues?  By the time you can all get together the deadline is drawing close, and the next couple of weeks are spent frantically passing around draft copies (sometimes old drafts) of your work? Try a wiki.

Wikis make an excellent collaborative tool.  Recently I began working on a project with colleagues. As there is potentially a lot of information to share, we discussed the viability of keeping in touch by e-mail, but this meant sending regular updates to each person as information changed.  In the end we decided to use a wiki.  I chose PB wiki[3], mainly because it had a WYSIWYG (‘What You See Is What You Get’) format, and if I’m honest, it’s logo “make a free wiki as easily as a peanut butter sandwich” appealed!  Within 10 minutes I had mastered the navigation and started to create my first page.  Within an hour we had a wiki that had 6 pages (one for each aspect of the project), a navigation side bar linking all the pages, hyperlinks to email addresses and websites and a calendar to record our goals.  But the most important thing is that we have a way of collaborating, 24-7.
Over the last few minutes we’ve taken a quick tour through WikiWorld; we’ve looked at different uses of wikis and discussed possible problems and finally, considered a couple of ways that wikis can help with continuing professional development.  The only thing left is for you to become immersed in WikiWorld – go on jump in!

Further Reading:

For a simple explanation of how wikis work visit HowStuffWorks – http://computer.howstuffworks.com/wiki.htmWikiHow

WikiHow -  A step-by-step guide to getting started - http://www.wikihow.com/start-a-wiki

‘WikiProducts: a comparison’ - A technical evaluation of wikis for education by Carl Challborn and Teresa Reimans.   www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/229/312 

‘Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other powerful Web Tools for Classrooms’ by Will Richardson makes an easy and informative read that explains how web tools can be used by teachers.  (2006, USA:  Cornwin Press)

For an in-depth discussion of wiki pedagogy check out Reneé Fountain’s article ‘Wiki Pedagogy’ at  http://www.profetic.org:16080/dossiers/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=110 

For more about constructivist learning, read ‘BELTS or Braces’ by Jackie Miers from the  Technology School of the Future, at  http://www.tsof.edu.au/research/Reports04/miers.asp


Boulos, M.,   Maramba, I., Wheeler, S.  (2006).  Wikis, blogs and Podcasts: a new generation of Web-based tools for virtual collaborative clinical practice and education.  In BMC Medical Eduction. 2006: 6:41

Giles, J. (2005). Internet encyclopaedias go head to head.  In Nature 2005:v438. On-line at http://www.aetherometry.com/antiwikipedia2/Appendix_1.html

Jonassen, D., Peck, K., Wilson, B. (1999).  Learning with Technology: a Constructivist Perspective.  USA: Merrill Prentice Hall.

Lamb, Brian. (2004).  Wikis, Ready or Not.  In EDUCAUSE review. September/October 2004.  On-line at https://www.educause.edu/pub/er/erm04/erm0452.asp

Leuf, B., Cunningham, W.  (2001).  The Wiki Way: quick collaboration on the web.  Boston: Addison Wesley.

Richardson, W. (2006).  Blogs, Wikis, Podcast and other powerful Web tools for classrooms.  USA: Cornwin Press.

Seitzinger, Joyce. (2006).  Be Constructive, Blogs, Podcasts, and Wikis as Constructivist Learning Tools.  In Learning Solutions e-Magazine.  31st July, 2006.    On-line at http://www3.griffith.edu.au/03/ltn/docs/Design_Strategies.pdf 

[1] http://c2.com/cgi/wiki
[2] www.wikipedia.org
[3] http://pbwiki.com  

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16 April 2007 15:51
Thank you for this excellent article on how wikis work. I hope that everyone gets a chance to read it and is then inspired to edit or make an entry in the Mathemapedia here at the NCETM. I'm going now to see how I can contribute. Thank you again, Heather
By HeatherNorth
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