Sunday, June 10, 2007


What in the world is a Wiki?

This does sound a little strange, doesn't it? For an indepth description of Wikis, see the Wiki entry in Wikipedia (

The Wikipedia entry is a little verbose, however, so I'll give you the simple explanation here. A Wiki is basically a Web page (or site of connected pages) that anyone (or at least permitted users) can directly edit. Most are set up pretty much the same. There are a number of "tabs" on the page, one of which says "Edit". Clicking on this tab will open a text editor. This editor is pre-loaded with the text that currently exists on the page. You can edit this text and add more of your own. Then you click "Save" and the page then displays the entry with your changes.

I find that collaborating in this manner enables uses to create a page that represents consensus of the users. Adding, editing, and even deleting other users' works is difficult at first, but once you are used to and understand the process it is very effective. The finished product (not that it's really ever finished) is usually a piece that reflects not only the groups' understanding of a concept, but also can reflect the process that the group went through to get there (most Wikis also have a "history" tab that tracks all changes).

You will notice that I used Wikipedia quite a bit these days. While there is a great deal of debate as to the benefits and drawbacks of using this resource for research purposes, there it no better provider of information on current technologies and trends that Wikipedia. I often use Wikipedia and Google as jumping off points for any information gathering that I do.

How will we use Wikis in this course?

We will using two separate Wikis in this course: Moodle and Wikispaces.

Moodle has a build in Wiki that we will use for numerous purposes. I will use it to post course requirements and descriptions. You will notice that the assignment descriptions are in a Wiki. These can only be edited by the instructor, so it is probably not the best use of a Wiki, but it is an easy way to post and edit a Web page. The second use of Wikis in Moodle are ones that you will be editing. I keep these in Moodle because they contain personal information such as contact information, links to your student blogs (see the blog entry below), your MS Messenger account information, chat meeting times, group assignments, and so forth.

We will use Wikispaces (CALL Class Wiki) for more public works. This includes an assessment activity late in the semester as well as a list of CALL resources that we will keep as a class (an extension of the Website/Software Evaluation assignments). These assignments will give you the opportunity to work with and collaborate using a Wiki.

I chose to include an external Wiki (in addition to Moodle) because I wanted you to have experience using a Wiki service that you can use with your own classes. Wikispaces is a free service that can be accessed by anyone with an Internet connection. The same is not true of Moodle. Similarly to the student blogs that you will keep, this makes your work public. Publishing your work in this manner makes you an active participant in the field, which will hopefully ease your transition into the CALL community.


William Losch said...

It is refreshing to find someone who feels as strongly about Wikipedia as I do. I find it second to none when it comes to breadth of information. I grew up with the World Book Encyclopedia. Nothing was more disappointing than looking up a term and findind the phrase "See _____", meaning another trip to the bookshelf to fetch another volume. With wikipedia, one seldom engages in a fruitless search. If so, the worse case scenario having to point and click. Many of the terms are also linked to other entries. Whatever topic you are interested in, curiosity is satisfied nearly 100% of the time. I always walk away knowing more than I did before I conducted the search.

My absolute favorite feature is the mulilingual capability. After I read an interesting article, I might click on one of the buttons on the left side to see the article in another language. I can then read the article. The fact that I have already read it in English acts as a sort of scaffolding to guide me through the text. Also, proper nouns are not always in bilingual dictionaries. Perhaps you need to know the name of the Appalachain Mountains in French. Just type in the search term and click on French. Voila- "Appalaches"!

federico said...

I really love Wikipedia too and I use it often for developing teaching material (you can quickly find texts to utilize for quizzes and class activities).

I wonder if it is possible to create personal spaces in Wiki that are closed to participats. If we were to use them during classes, I wonder if students would feel safe to post their work on Wiki spaces.


Cynthia James said...

I also use Wikipedia for quick information. In research it is quite often my starting source, somewhat like a thesaurus. What I like most is that it is copiously hyperlinked. In other words Wikipedia does not pretend to be the final word. I don't like when students quote it as a source, though. The taboos about the reliability are there. Perhaps it is because it can be easily edited.

Dan said...

That's a great point William. It's kind of like those books that have the L1 on one side and the L2 on the other.

Have you found that the English language page and the other language page are translations or do they have different content. Either way that could be interesting.

Dan said...

Hi Federico,

It depends on which Wiki application that you use.

In Moodle, I can create Wiki spaces that only you can edit and only you and I (as instructor) can see. I can also create spaces that can only be edited and viewed by groups.

In Wikispaces (like the Class Wiki), you can designate editing and viewing options for the entire account (space). I could set it up so that only class members could view and/or edit the entries. As I have it now, only class members will be able to edit, but the world can see.

I wish that I could designate certain pages as private and others as public, but I haven't seen this option in Wikis that I have used.

The concern about publicly accessible website (Web pages, blogs, wikis, etc) is a major issue in most schools. There are a number of ways to work within these concerns. Most require that the schools themselves "host" an application on their "intranet". This means that only people on their internal network can view the pages.

We'll talk a little more about this and what's involved throughout the course. It will be an ongoing concern for most teachers.

Dan said...

I agree Cynthia. I probably wouldn't look too favorably if one of my students (or a journal article) cited Wikipedia in a research paper. This is probably just me being old-fashioned in that regard.

However, I have come across a good deal of unsupported opinions on Wikipedia that I largely ignore in the larger scope of my research. This supports my bias of Wikipedia as a completely reliable source (though what source is completely reliable :)

In the end, I prefer to promote a multifacet research approach that includes Wikipedia, Google, organizational/professional websites, online databases, online journals, and, of course, actual paper resources.

Erin Iorio said...

I am still reading all the comments and taking this all in. I have used Wikipedia, for research and class assignments usually.

Hui-Chun said...

I too usually use wikipedia for research purposes. Before taking this CALL course, I only know wikipedia is a website for free encyclopedia, nothing more. I'm learning... :)It's such a great thing!

Dan said...

Hi Hui-chun,

Yes, the concept that a wiki works on is a remarkable change in the way that websites and publishing in general have been viewed.

The wiki has been around for quite a while now, so it's not a new technology. It has just taken this long to convert a critical mass of believers. It seems that this time has finally come.

Truthfully, I think that all instruction utilizing wikis is still really trying to figure out the best way to use them. I use it for consensus, building activities (online collaboration) that leads to the development of an artifact. I think that this is the way to go, but I'm just experimenting like everyone else.

Another great way to use wikis are as applications that allow for the easy development of websites. Either for students or other groups of users.

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