Friday, April 19, 2013

The Contribution of Wikis to Open Education

 According to Wikipedia, "A wiki is a website which allows its users to add, modify, or delete its content via a web browser usually using a simplified markup language or a rich-text editor. Wikis are powered by wiki software. Most are created collaboratively." And they should know.

The first wiki was created prior to 2000 and utilized Perl software, writing files directly to a web server using the common gateway interface (CGI). Many later versions have been developed using various combinations of server-side software and database backends. One website ( lists 140 different versions. The majority of them are open-source software and many have been created in collaborative communities.

At first sight the fact that one wiki user can edit the contribution of another may seem to be a problem. The better wikis, however, get around this by versioning, that is maintaining a historical record of every version of a page, throughout all the edits that have taken place since the page was created. Thus any earlier version of a page can be examined as well as (usually) an indication of who supplied contributions or modifications, and when.

Wikis can be created and operated in many ways, but there are two characteristics that can make any wiki valuable for open learning:
  1. publically available on the world wide web
  2. configured to allow anyone to allow anyone to edit the pages
The result is a collaborative platform for writing and exchanging resources and resource links that is open to anyone. Clearly this type of platform is fundamental both to openness in education and to collectivist learning processes.

Many contemporary LMEs incorporate a wiki as a medium of learner exchange. And many open-source software development projects rely on wikis for collaborative compilation of user manuals as well as answering user queries. Perhaps the largest and most successful open-learning wiki is

The single weakness that most wikis have had in the past was the requirement for using a simple, but often unfamiliar, mark-up language. Learning how to use yet another kind of system to post material on the web has been a barrier for some. Fortunately, of late many wikis are starting to incorporate standard WYSIWYG editors of the type used by blogging software.

Wikipedia entry: (Accessed 19-April-2013)

[This posting is for Activity 22 (Week 6) of the OpenU course on Open Education H817open. The text is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. The cartoon is by Michel Kichka]