Wikis: You're going to hear a lot about them

That’s right . . . you will be hearing a lot about wikis in the next few weeks. The reasons for that are simple and selfish: I need to prepare for a couple of upcoming conferences, I have a hands-on wiki workshop I’m doing on March 14, and I’m involved in a web 2.0 grant involving blogs, podcasting, and yes, WIKIS! So, it will be a wacky wiki world for a while.

If you don’t know what a wiki is, you are not alone. Many people still don’t know what they are or what you can do with them. But no doubt you HAVE visited a wiki . . . how about wikipedia? That’s a wiki.

Perhaps it’s the word that turns some people off. After all, “wiki” sort of sounds frivolous and disposable. However, wikis are far from frivolous. Ward Cunningham, the inventor of the wiki software is responsible for the name. The story goes that he went to Honolulu and rode on one of the inter-terminal airport buses (wiki wiki) and thought the word would be a perfect name for his new database software since wiki means “quick” and his software was also quick. So much for market research! But even with a word as difficult to embrace as wiki, they are probably going to catch on. As one of our faculty members told me, “In five years, wikis will be as commonplace as PowerPoint.” Now, THAT’S a strong statement!

Why use a wiki and what can you do with them? Simply stated, a wiki is a collaborative website. Wiki can also refer to the software you use to create a wiki. Instead of me telling you, take a look at my top three most popular wiki web-based software programs:

You can set up a free, web-based wiki in a matter of seconds. From there, you can invite collaborators and start the process of building a website. Your website might be an ongoing resource for teachers, a personal collection of pictures, a place for students to respond to reading assignments, a writing wiki where students submit, invite and critique editing from fellow classmates, a course site, a project wiki for students to post final projects . . . there are oodles of uses for a wiki. As one English faculty member told me, “I love wikis because they are flexible, quick and easy to set up, and easy for students to learn.” Another faculty member I know is using a wiki as a study group tool. Whatever the purpose, collaboration is key to a wiki’s success, as they can be easily edited by the wiki members.

Here’s an example of a collaborative wiki I started for a Boise State initiative that has since taken off: This wiki is used to post the schedule for the meetings, agendas, and meeting minutes, as well as promote conversations via discussion threads. And if you are concerned about someone editing your work, you needn’t worry, because wikis always include a history of all pages, allowing you to revert to a previous version. You can decide how to set up a wiki . . . whether you want to invite the participants or if you want other people to join without your approval. Once people are allowed to log in to your wiki (with a username and password), they can edit, add pages, and contribute to the development of the wiki. Again, don’t let this scare you.

Take a look at one of the wikis listed above and try one out. You will be amazed at how simple it is to set up a wiki and the ideas you will come up with.

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