Friday, February 13, 2009

Wikis - The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Wikis - you've probably heard of them, you may have even used one, but did you know that you can create your own?

Probably the most well-known wiki is Wikipedia. This is an online encyclopedia where anyone can create and edit entries. This brings us straight to the bad...and the ugly. Wikipedia in and of itself is a fantastic idea - it allows anyone to search for information on anything, and really it can be a very useful tool to get you started on learning about something new. Unfortunately, most undergraduate students don't understand that their next door neighbor Flo may have actually written the article on King Arthur based on her viewing of Monty Python's The Holy Grail, and the article was then edited by Joe in Idaho based on his memory of Disney's The Sword in the Stone. This is of course an invented example to make a point, the point being that most undergraduate students are in the process of learning how to evaluate a source, and Wikipedia looks official (and is easy to use) and thus is trusted. This is the bad - the ugly is when students copy an article in full and submit it as their own work.

So are wikis evil? Of course not, but they do require that we educate our students about how sites such as Wikipedia gather information and how this differs from the types of information they would find in peer-reviewed journal articles (for example). For an idea about where to get started, you may want to review Wikipedia's About Page (and have your students read it too). Another idea is to have students write a Wikipedia entry themselves - read about one such assignment here.

Wikipedia is only one example of a wiki. A wiki allows anyone (or just those you invite) to create, edit, or comment on a document, and tracks the changes for you. There are many sites that offer free wiki hosting, such as I've used wikis to schedule meeting times and agendas. I have colleagues who've successfully used wikis to conduct peer reviews of written work and allow for offsite group work. One of our TA Scholars, Rachel Eddington, is creating a wiki for the instructors in the Department of Sociology to post and share their teaching resources.

How have you used wikis in your teaching? Please share your success stories - and challenges you faced - in using wikis in your courses.

Did you know?

You can learn more about the TA Scholars program and read about the other exciting projects being developed on our website:

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