Perhaps Wikipedia depicts best how wikis work as a collaborative platform to collect and share knowledge. Indeed they provide opportunities for groups of people to build many kinds of information sets. From my own experience, here’s how wikis can be used within a university’s VLE (virtual learning environment):
Collective research tool to source and share information
Wikis can be assigned to select students so they work in groups to research a subject and share their findings. Comments can also be added to wiki pages to provoke further activity or highlight certain aspects or provide collective feedback from the tutor.
Watch Wikipedia in action with Motorhead’s Umlaut
Wikis develop leadership, communication and negotiating skills
Students not only learn how to collectively work together on a research project, they also have the opportunity to fine-tune their leadership, communication and negotiating skills, all vital with regard to employability.
Watch how a wiki develops organisation skills
E-portfolio of students’ work
Within the creative disciplines, ownership of student work together with the flexibility of web 2.0 technologies, a wiki provide the perfect tool whereby students can place links to their digital portfolios and learn from each other. This practice allows learners a greater freedom to use the technologies they prefer, and the wiki provides a collective gallery of linked portfolios. This wiki then goes on to make a great archive for the university to showcase student work and cascade this model of learning to other academics.
Tutorial sign-up tool
Wikis are great tools to use for a quick tutorial sign-up list. Simply create a one-page wiki with a table of time-slots and ask students to put their name against their preferred time. This gives students greater flexibility in planning their time (around other responsibilities such as part-time work) as well as signing up remotely and saving a trip into college – just to sign-up.
Wiki Meeting Record: agendas, detail, actions and notes
We use a wiki to record the activity of the Learning and Teaching team meetings. Each meeting is given a new wiki page and the agenda is put up in advance where the team add items. During the meeting notes are put directly on the wiki alongside and key points and actions. The first agenda item on each page always links back to the previous meeting notes. Using a wiki instead of the traditional agenda and minutes (in document form) means everything is held in one place remotely.
Wikis combine a number of learning theories such as vicarious learning (also known as observational or social learning) which is learning that occurs through observing, retaining and replicating how others do things. It is closely associated psychologist Albert Bandura’s work, who carried out a number of seminal studies in Vicarious learning and initiated social learning theory. Kolb’s experiential learning theory is another that is highly regarded in collaborative learning. This four-stage learning cycle (or ‘training cycle’) represents a learning cycle or spiral where the learner ‘touches all the bases’, ie. a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting.
Finally perhaps the most influential learning theory associated with wikis and collaborative learning is Wenger’s communities of practice. Although the notion of working together is not new, the practice of working together in collaborative communities is and in particular Wenger speaks of the power it can brings with regards to developing strategic capabilities in organizations. For example communities of practice enable practitioners to take collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need. Wikis provide the ideal platform to deliver this premise. These communities are not limited by formal structures but moreover; they create connections among people across organizational and geographic boundaries.
The professional network LinkedIn has a similar function whereby the collective contributions of individuals grow to make up a network of professionals that each has some kind of connection. The difference here is that the individuals only manage their own profiles and it is the profiles and groups that create these communities or practice.
Personality Theories by Albert Bandura
David Kolb’s learning styles model and experiential learning theory (ELT)
Communities of practice by Etienne Wenger