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Multimodal Learning

Using Wikis for Online Collaboration

Using Wikis for Online Collaboration: The Power of the Read-Write Web
West, James A. and West, Margaret L. Jossey-Bass. (2009).

Reviewed by Joseph Johnson
English, Faculty Fellow for Multimodal Learning

West and West present an overview of the general concepts and philosophies for implementing wikis into online courses. They explore the opportunities and complications that wikis offer, and they consider specific practical applications and guidelines. Overall, the text is a solid introduction to wikis for curious explorers, though the general scope—an attempt to represent numerous specific wiki technologies—may leave some readers searching for a more specific guide.

For instructors stifled by the apparent limitations of LMS tools and projects, this text will be valuable. West and West offer a range of assignments and perspectives that broaden the individualistic or discussion board-based assignments of many online classrooms. The authors make a case for the use of wikis and wiki-based assignments for greater creativity, depth, and collaboration in online learning. They explain that wikis are beneficial in the following ways:

  • Meaningful. Wikis invite active learning, social interaction, and the construction of knowledge.
  • Flexible. Wikis and wiki-based assignments are highly customizable and can fit any course or learning community.
  • Economical. Many wiki services are inexpensive, free, or already integrated into most LMS systems.
  • Objective-friendly. Wikis include reading, writing, and research options that can correspond to course, department, and college objectives.
  • Pedagogical. The authors frequently connect wikis back to Bloom’s Taxonomy and constructivist theory.

The text begins with a consumer-guide overview of wikis and their functions. This opening chapter introduces the features—ranging from privacy to design—that online instructors should consider when selecting a wiki. The second chapter introduces and responds to pedagogical questions. It also offers advice on integrating wikis with classroom objectives.

The remaining chapters present specific applications of wikis. The authors include case studies and categorize wiki-based assignments by how they correspond to knowledge construction, critical thinking, or contextual application.

Recommendations for the first time online educator
Because the authors are introducing the general concepts of wikis, they provide a range of wiki options that may seem overwhelming to first-time users. A perusal of the project chapters (3, 4, 5) offers an accessible and meaningful overview of the learning options wikis provide. If an instructor is inspired by these projects or desires to implement them into a classroom, then the next step is contacting a system administrator to see which wiki system is available. Working with the instructions for a specific wiki will be more meaningful than reading through a series of general and hypothetical wiki options (as presented in chapter one). However, once this process of inspiration, familiarization, and implementation is completed, a reading of the first two chapters may be beneficial for considering new wiki-based approaches. In brief:

  • Skim chapters 3, 4, and 5 for projects that may benefit a specific course
  • Contact the LMS administrator for the specific wiki options available
  • Review wiki literature specific to the available wiki
  • Design and implement a wiki-based project
  • Read chapters 1 and 2 for philosophical considerations for future wiki projects

Chapter Summary
Chapter One

  • Introduces a vocabulary for the text, for wikis, and for pedagogical approaches
  • Advocates the use of wikis in Online Learning
  • Suggests criteria for considering a specific wiki technology

Chapter Two

  • Addresses the pedagogical possibilities of wikis, including constructivist and other learning theories
  • Provides a series of questions for instructors to consider when choosing and implementing wikis in classroom instruction
  • Offers pedagogical suggestions for assessing and introducing wikis

Chapter Three

  • Introduces specific wiki-based assignments that correspond to knowledge skills and traditional in-class projects
  • Suggests philosophic and practical approaches for implementing specific wiki-based projects
  • Considers the ways that specific wiki-based projects can foster online collaboration

Chapter Four

  • Demonstrates ways that wikis can be used to address critical thinking projects
  • Connects wikis and their critical thinking applications to Bloom’s Taxonomy and other pedagogical concerns
  • Introduces specific wiki-based assignments aimed at collaborative critical thinking

Chapter Five

  • Introduces specific wiki-based assignments that foster “contextual application”: that “learning and meaning emerge from the relationship between content and context” (101)
  • Provides examples of wiki-based assignments applicable to multiple disciplines, including creative writing, communications, science, and computer science

Chapter Six

  • Offers a summation of the wiki as a boundless, collaborative, online tool
  • Suggests integration of wikis with other online technologies
  • Predicts a diverse and broad expansion of wikis—in classrooms and workplaces

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