Wikis again: WikiSym and “Structure vs Freedom”

There is still a lot of interest in wikis around here. Ran a short presentation last month, “Now you’ve got your wiki, what now?” looking at ways to introduce their use to a group.

Odd how little connections can somehow open whole new doors.  John Fountain’s sister Renee spoke recently at a wiki conference in Canada, something I hadn’t discovered even with a bit of last minute Googling to prepare for the workshop.  Instead I discovered this through a quick note from John.

Wikisym LogoNo Ordinary Conference: WikiSym is the only international scientific conference dedicated to wikis. It brings together wiki researchers, practitioners, and users. The goal of the symposium is to explore and extend our growing community. It has a rigorously reviewed research paper track as well as plenty of space for practitioner reports, demonstrations, and open discussions. Anyone who is involved in using, researching, or developing wikis was invited to WikiSym 2007.

We recognize that the online world is always evolving, and therefore made a special effort to welcome people interested in other online media consistent with the wiki philosophy of being open, organic and participatory.

I Googled Renee some more to find she has written an e-book thingy on wikis.  A Little old now, but a fascinating background.

There are some nice papers in the WikiSym proceedings. One of these is Wiki-based Process Framework for Blended Learning – Marija Cubric – University of Hertfordshire, UK (a PDF) Here is her first comment on “Tips” for use . . .

Provide necessary “scaffolding”
Many reports on the use of wikis have concluded that less scaffolding” results in better quality of the created content [16]. However, we believe that some guidance on the content is essential, but the amount of scaffolding depends on various factors, such as: the study level (e.g. postgraduates or undergraduates), group composition (“digital natives” vs. “digital immigrants” [15], local vs. international students) etc.
Reference 16 is Will Richardson’s book: Richardson W. Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and other powerful web tools for the classroom. Corwin Press, 2006. Reference 15 is Mark Prentsky. (Who else?)

This is a good paper and is worth a read. [Another of Marija’s papers is here] When wikis and education is under discussion, this question of providing structure or not often emerges as a theme.

I tried to find a few of Will Richardson’s comments online, but was unsuccessful. I have a hunch Will may have brought a little extra to the classroom: he is an innovative and engaging teacher, and this presence may have provided the ‘scaffolding’ needed, and hence is view “less scaffolding is better” may be missing what was actually going on. I hear many presentations and stories where teacher presence is basically an unrepeatable variable. In my search, I discovered Ulises Mejías’s blog (out of Mexico). He posts on a “social literacy” the environment of the wiki.

A small quote:

Thus, social literacy (as I am using the term) is not a metaphorical extension of the concept and does not refer to the skills necessary to perform in society, but to the use of the resource of writing in social contexts. Social literacy amounts to the textual practices not (as has been true so far) of a single author, but of multiple and simultaneous authors. Wikis make social literacy apparent by allowing us to witness the evolution of text in time, and evolution that reflects the decisions not of a single individual, but of a community.

What is the purpose of a wiki? merely gathering links, data and ideas? (You can then get the mess described by Graham Wegner: (Will’s blog post, see the comments)

I used a wiki as a basis for a Problem Based Learning program with 4 middle school classes last term on a unit on Australian Identity. I’m not sure that it will make anyone go “Wow” but it certainly demonstrated Messy Learning in action. How I set it up isn’t the way it eventually unfolded and you might be appalled at the cut’n’paste slabs, the links that are dead etc. but this ended up as a worksite, an area for experimentation and the first attempts at digital collaboration for these kids. Like a lot of worksites, there’s a bit of litter and abandoned clutter about but the learning was amazing as the kids unpacked what being an Aussie meant in terms of our country’s culture, achievements and history. There is heaps in the aftermath for re-visiting that could cover the topics of fair use, publishing, plagiarism, what is actual research,citation and copyright (and has been covered, by the way.) This led to the students creating digital stories that celebrated aspects of Australian life and ultimately they would have been great to share online with a wider audience but the conflicting aspects of copyright images being used (fair use in a school setting but not publishable on the web) while the difficulties in accessing suitable and interesting public domain and CC images when sites like Flickr are blocked by our education system’s filters meant that we couldn’t produce anything shareable beyond the school community. But the wiki was an excellent tool for the housing of snippets of information, distilling of ideas and the planning of the solution to the posed problem, “What does it mean to be Australian?”

I’ll stop there.

The research on wikis is yet young.  To provide structure or not?  How to do it, for example by modelling, by setting up pages . .  ??  What’s it like for different ones of us in a genuinely collaborative wiki environment?  Identity – who are we in a wiki?  I’m just poised to delve into, but I really want to start the page with “Derek’s Project”.  I think tjhis breaks the paradigm.

If you live close and would let me eaves drop in a class of students with a wiki, eventually letting me chat to them to see a little bit in their minds – let me know. Ethics approval, formal stuff and all that.

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