Learning by Wiki

Are we Facing a Massive Shift in Education Techniques With Fast-Paced Modern Media Taking Over The Seminar Room?

News | Philipp Conrad, Paul Krauskopf | March 2008

The explosive growth and wide acceptance of the open-source encyclopedia Wikipedia have highlighted the enormous possibilities for the "wiki" interactive technology, and sent many educators and university administrators to work exploring the viability of countless applications.

Already in active use in business and the professions for documentation in rapidly changing fields, wikis are also finding their place with academics, who have discovered its usefulness as an information platform in teaching, joint research and project work.

But even as the on-line encyclopedia has planted the term "wiki" firmly in our minds, most of us know don’t know exactly what it means.

Created by Ward Cunningham in 1994 and first activated in March 1995, wikis are a simple way to setup informational web pages and interlink them. Inspired by Apple’s HyperCard System, wiki systems are now being installed by businesses to provide affordable and effective in-house pages for collecting and accessing information. Cunningham once called the wiki "the simplest online database that could possibly work."

At wiki.com, anybody can start a wiki, or search through the thousands already in existence.  Once you start one, you can let others add to it.  This collaborative functionality of posting pages has helped to bring the original dream of the Internet world – to be connected – to life and into everybody’s hands.  Creating a new page on a wiki is as easy as creating a link to it by adding TextLikeThis to a wiki page.  Once you save and reload the page, a new link appears opening a page called „Text Like This" when you click on it.  The page is empty and ready for you to pour out your thoughts.

Wiki has since become open-source software, installable on just about every web-server. And its ease of use made it instantly popular. Within a short time of its launching, the Wikipedia open-source encyclopedia project was born, which is revolutionizing our ideas about knowledge exchange.

The wiki system itself is already established as a common collaboration tool in business and is also often used to create documentation (usually technical), which needs to stay current to fast changing trends and research.  Being able to change someone else’s writing, view a history of changes and instantly publish pages have been key features along with easy to learn syntax.

Wikis aren’t meant to be graphically engaging sites, but to provide access to information. So many of them aren’t much to look at. But should visitors have something interesting or important to add, they can do so by just clicking edit.

For example, instructors at the University of the Arts in Berlin use a wiki web to distribute class syllabi to students.  Professor of Digital Media, Joachim Sauter, is a huge fan.

"It’s easy to make changes, and for students to access," he says, "and when I need them to sign up for stuff, they can just edit the wiki, and we can all see what and when their projects are."

The nature of a "wiki" makes it unpredictable as to which endless functions can lie behind it. Wikipedia is a great example of how a spark of thought can roll out into a vast open space, thanks to the Internet. There are surely millions of other uses for a global brainstorming platform like this one all it takes is for us to go there and find out.

The possibilities for universities are broad, supporting collaboration and inquiry, and the attitude of constructive skepticism necessary to scholarship.  An informal survey of students at Webster Vienna suggest strong interest in an easy collaboration tool for students, as well as a platform enabling access class-lectures, for instance via iTunes University.  Plans are already underway to make certain lectures available and other potential applications are understudy. Proposals are welcome and can be submitted by email to editor@viennareview.net, as well as on the paper’s website to be available this month at www.viennareview.net.

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