Back in the day, working on a group project meant that students may have shared a Word document or Powerpoint and added their contributions and comments to the document as they worked. Maybe they emailed their comments back and forth among themselves, or talked to each other outside of class. When the project was finished, the comments were removed and the final document was sent to the instructor for a grade. In some ways, collaborating on a group project today shares many of the same conventions used back then, but in other ways, the workflow and the technology look much different. Let’s look at three recurring conventions of an online collaborative space:
- Collaborators must be able to communicate with each other (through chat or through an integrated discussion channel)
- Collaborators must have the ability to make contributions
- Collaborators must also have the ability to revise work
Wikis and wiki-like tools and applications (such as Google Sites) provide a readily available, relatively easy-to-use, low-bandwidth platform for collaborative writing and editing. Practically speaking, wikis are places where many people can collaborate on the same online document or develop a shared written resource online.
What is a Wiki?
According to Wikipedia (which of course is itself a wiki), the term wiki is used to “identify either a specific type of hypertext document collection or the collaborative software used to create it.” Being itself an example of a wiki in both senses of the word, Wikipedia is a good place to examine this kind of collaborative application (albeit a very large and very successful one) in the real world.
The essential characteristics of a wiki are that it provides an environment using only a web browser to create collectively authored and radically connected hypertext documents using a simple structured text markup language.
Anyone with access can author pages and link/create new pages, generally without review or intermediate approval. Wikis have discussion pages which accompany content pages. The discussion pages capture discussion around the content in an area separate from the content. Wiki software also tracks changes made to content, making it easy to revert changes back to a previous state. This record of revision history also makes it possible to see which contributors make which contributions.
Links between pages in a wiki are not only easily created, but there is an automatic mechanism to link documents and create new linked pages, emphasizing a true “web” of materials.
Structured text uses a simple and intuitive markup (compared to HTML/XHTML/XML and other complex languages) akin to that we naturally use when creating text for email and other applications. For instance, to create a list item with a bullet in HTML, you would write:
<ul><li>A List Item</li></ul>
In a typical wiki you would just put an asterisk before the item:
* A List Item
Ease of Use
The ease of creating, editing, and immediately publishing pages by anyone in the community or– more commonly– anyone with a browser by simply clicking the “Edit This Page” link on any page, is also a hallmark that distinguishes wikis from other web publishing technologies.
Incidentally, the word wiki is Hawaiian for “quick” and wiki users sometimes refer to a wiki collectively as a WikiWikiWeb (or WWW, cute eh?).
- Google Sites (Additional information)
- Additional information on wikis for learning
- Wikipedia Education Program: Considering having students edit Wikipedia pages in your classroom? This outreach program is a good place to start. Check out the Education portal as well. Educator, Tina Loo, has shared her experience with the WEP and her class in detail.
- Math Outcomes Wiki
- Murder, Madness, and Mayhem Wikipedia Project Page
- ED F329: Teaching With Technology
- Lying About the Past
Collaborative Document Editors
Collaborative document editors make it possible to multiple people to create, store, and share an online document in real or near-real time. This not only can save time, but can work as a solution for distributed groups who are not able to come together in the same physical space to work. Documents are stored online and can be access by contributors and copies documents can be downloaded to a contributor’s individual machine.
There are many options to choose from, depending on the desired features and functionality. Both Google Docs and Zoho features support communication, contribution, and revision.
Synchronization services make it possible to access various types of documents from multiple platforms (laptop, mobile, tablet, etc..), and share those documents with others.