Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wiki Blog

1. Reflections on the process of learning about the tool
When I did a course last winter called Learning and Teaching with Technology(EDPY597), one of the assignments required that we created a class wiki and updated it as we went through the process of using SecondLife as a teaching/learning tool. One of my classmates created a wiki via wikispaces and invited us to join – which most of us did; however, that wiki went no further than the first comment, as some of the students dropped the course while others opted to audit it, leaving just two of us signed up for the course. Our instructor then allowed both of us left in the course to choose a more appropriate tool and we opted for Google Docs. That was as close as I came to authoring/editing a wiki.

After I searched the Internet for some existing wikis and viewed some of the content. I decided that I would not create a wiki but instead join one of the wikis and author/edit content. I was too intimidated to even think about Wikipedia so I passed right on to Wiki Recipes at The site was pretty straight forward to use, I just created my username and password and went in. I copied some Jamaican recipes from the web, which I thought to add to the cuisines of the world/Jamaican category. However, I faced two roadblocks.

I think the first resulted in my eagerness to post a recipe, I spent about ten minutes posting the recipe information to the blog and hitting ‘save’ only to get a message which indicated that no content was uploaded. So after I started looking around the page I noticed the button that said “Add a Recipe” (what a dummy!). Well, I was able to add a recipe in a jiffy. But, before I saved it, I recognized the website’s policy on copyright –there appeared the second roadblock. The site stated that its users should “not submit copyrighted work without permission.” Since one of the recipes that I wanted to post was taken from a cookbook and I didn’t request any permission to use it, I decided against using it. Although, I don’t know if it would have been sufficient had I posted the recipe and referenced the cookbook. That forced me to go into my memory box and find a recipe that my mom used to make a real simple and quick one so I searched and found a Raisin Jam recipe and posted it.

As far as editing entries go, I did edit a page the night I created my account, simply correcting a spelling error. When I checked today, someone edited my entry, just placing the recipe in a category: something which I deliberately ignored. Good to see that persons are really on top of having their wikis organized and worthy of use.

2. Discussion of the tool in terms of my own personal learning
Of all the tools that we have been/will be introduced to in this course, I must say I am most familiar with wikis, as I am constantly researching and reading content on Wikipedia. Although I knew that wikis could be edited by just about anyone, I never created an account to add information to any wiki – I am always thinking that I do not know enough to add to a wiki. But then in doing this assignment and reading of the dos and donts of adding content to wikis, particularly Wikipedia, I recognized that anything that is added to the page needs to be validated and a source indicated. I followed Richardson’s tinyurl link to the discussion page on global warming and read to my heart’s content. I then started to search for various words (the good, bad and ugly) just to see the discussion that took place behind the scenes. Some were sombre, others interesting and some were hilarious to say the least. It really is a task to determine what stays and what goes.

As a student, I have no qualms about using Wikipedia; but lecturers and professors sure do. I have developed my “Wikipedia work around” though, by going to the reference list and finding the original source. This is the first class that I have taken that has allowed the use of Wikipedia as a reference, or any wiki for that matter. Wikipedia was a “no, no” when I did my post-graduate Diploma in Education and Training but it has been a “NO, NO,NO” since I have started my Masters. It felt very weird having it as a reference for this course and I still have to ensure that I do not accidentally/otherwise add it as a reference for any of my other graduate course assignments.

While the thought that others were able to critique or change the content that I had created, was at first a daunting one, it later felt more liberating and less threatening – (it sure seems like one potent character builder).

My high school classmates are planning a reunion for next year and while I think using a wiki would be more than worth the while, I honestly don’t see them giving up Facebook’s Discussion board for anything else.

On a side note, the one and question that I have with Wikipedia is: what makes an entry worthy of being an entry? The five pillars of Wikipedia stated that “Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate collection of information; merely being true or useful does not automatically make something suitable for inclusion in an encyclopedia.” Even though I read this statement I was puzzled by the fact that they chose to include the ‘Balloon boy’ that recently made news, as one of their entries. I think including things like these work to undermine their credibility instead of building it. In the discussion, this was undoubtedly an issue. In reference to the story one of the contributor’s mentioned “another example of how recentism is taking over Wikipedia. By this time next year this news incident will be largely forgotten and will seem very trivial to be included in an encyclopedia. Especially when compared with the countless of similar "bored America" gossip/sensationalist news stories from the past, from before Wikipedia was created, none of those will have articles. But anything that makes the news these days, no matter how trivial, will have a Wikipedia article. Although it can be a good thing that we're maintaining a record of popular culture.” (Wikipedia, 2009). I honestly don’t think that that’s a popular culture worth maintaining - but then, it goes to show that the consensus of the group determines what is shared and what is not.

3. Discussion of the tool in terms of teaching and learning
While there are many discussions flailing about with regards to wikis as a tool for teaching and learning, I will just focus on the issues that resonate with me.

Lamb (2004) discuss how the concept of how page authorship have been “radically altered” since “content cloning (sometimes referred to as plagiarism in other circles)is often acceptable across wikis. It will be a challenging task for educational institutions that are totally against plagiarism to openly accept wikis as an integral part of the pedagogical process as the nature of wikis cuts across the social fabric of these institutions.

I totally agree with Will’s description of Wikipedia being the “poster child for the collaborative construction of knowledge and truth that the new, interactive Web facilitates” (Richardson, 2009). It provides structure for a project based environment where different students are able to work together, dialogue and deliberate until a final product/research is created. The reality is most adult learners who are in classes are also workers and the idea of team work and collaboration is most times supported within a work environment. Why should it be that different within the classrooms? Isn’t a student centered classroom supposed to provide authentic tasks that learners can work on/learn about in a group setting? I presume it will continue to be more of an uphill battle for Wikipedia to gain full fledged support from academia than from other educational institutions. Maybe if more professors were educated on how wikis could be used by their students in doing group work, or if their professional development courses involved using wikis, there would be a buy-in of what wikis have to offer.

New Roles
I can’t remember the text that I read but I do remember a statement that spoke of “university lecturers being the gatekeepers of knowledge”. If wikis become the norm, the roles of teachers will have to be redefined. What will those new roles be? Only time will tell, one thing we know for sure is that the gates of knowledge will no longer be hinged on academic gate posts, but more universal/global posts. Not many within academia are open to relinquishing their stronghold on knowledge. Institutions like MIT who were trail blazers in providing Open Courseware were chided by other universities and colleges. Time, however, seems to eventually heal all things. Lamb (2004) states “they are popping up like mushrooms, as wikis will, at colleges and universities around the world, sometimes in impromptu ways and more often with thoughtful intent.”Augar, Raitman, Zhou (2004) describe how an icebreaker used in a traditional classroom setting in Deakin Univeristy, was adapted for use on a wiki to remedy the lack of interaction that was observed in previous online discussion groups. The use of the wiki proved to be successful as the student interaction was notably increased. The university also created some wiki commandments, one of which I found very cute, it read “Wiki unto others as you would unto you (When posting on the wiki, treat other online group members as you would like to be treated).” Deakin used wikis in a social setting, but its result has implications for its use in a classroom-evaluative setting.

Intellectual Property Rights
“Another policy issue that threatens to complicate the widespread adoption of wikis in higher education is the specification of intellectual property (IP) rights by contributors to a wiki page. IP issues can be dauntingly complex under any circumstance, but when contributors may be anonymous, or where the origins of texts are uncertain, copyright questions are significantly complicated” (Lamb, 2004). Lamb later referred to communitywikis which spoke of the three common schemes related to copyright issues - CommunityCopyright, PublicDomain, and CopyLeft. While all these had simple and straightforward definitions, problems arise when authors have conflicting views as to the copyright policy that should be enacted to the wiki that they have created; and since each author has an equal right to say how the data should be shared, the ‘majority rules’ principle cannot be applied to such situations. In my view, these niggling issues will soon be resolved to make way for the more ‘rights’ and less ‘lefts’, more collaboration and less competition, more sharing and less hoarding.

A CommunityCopyright policy allows individuals to assert rights over their work while allowing their contributions to be modified within the wiki. (Of course, the copyright owner can subsequently reverse those modifications.)

A PublicDomain policy dictates that any contributor to the wiki space surrenders all copyright. A modification of this approach is PrimarilyPublicDomain, which assumes a PublicDomain policy unless an individual specifies otherwise.

CopyLeft allows anyone to use the content of the wiki for any purpose and to make derivative works, under the condition that all copies and derivative works are released under the same license as the original. The contributor maintains copyright.

Augar, T., Raitman, R. & Zhou, W (2004). Teaching and learning online with wikis. School of Information Technology. Deakin University.

Lamb, B.(2004) “Wide open spaces: Wikis, ready or not”. Educause Review.

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms 2nd edition.Corwin Press.

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