Wikis in education

12 Apr 2012

Interactive web services at the turn of the 21st century spawned a number of new alluring ways to use online services writes Gerry White in DERN's latest research review.

Although the use of blogs and wikis can be traced back to the 1990s, their popularity in education began to surge in the early 2000s, so that today there are many choices of applications that can be used. However, wikis, or quick websites, became well known with the rise in popularity of Wikipedia, the world’s largest and most accessible compilation of encyclopaedic content. The uses and benefits of deploying wikis for learning have largely gone unnoticed except by some education technology enthusiasts and a small handful of web commentators.

A recent research article about the uses of wikis in K-12 education is a welcome addition to understanding wiki use. A report of the research titled The State of Wiki Usage in U. S. K012 Schools: Leveraging Web 2.0 Data Warehouse to Assess Quality and Equity in Online Learning Environments and published in Educational Researcher is freely accessible. The research on wikis in education is interesting from three perspectives. Firstly, the research examines the pattern of wiki use and then develops a very useful taxonomy. Secondly, the researchers developed and used an instrument called the Wiki Quality Instrument (WQI) for assessing the quality of educational wikis. The WQI had been developed over a two-year period prior to the research. Finally, the research was undertaken by examining the data logs of each of ‘255 wikis identifiably associated with a specific U.S. K-12 public school’ (p. 9) between 2005 and 2008 that were hosted by, ‘one of the three most visited sites that offer free wiki hosting’ (p.9). That is, the researchers were able to undertake the research about school education wiki usage from their offices by examining the data warehouse that contained the logs for each of the wikis.

The researchers found that in education there was a pattern of wiki use which could be understood as four types of wikis: ‘(a) failed wikis, trial wikis, and teacher resource sites; (b) teacher-centred content delivery devices; (c) individual student presentations and portfolios with limited collaboration; and (d) collaborative student presentations and workplaces’ (p. 11). This insightful taxonomy used in the research revealed that most wikis were experiments by teachers or teacher information sites. However, the individual student wikis and collaborative workspaces, although very much in the minority, did provide opportunities for students to develop 21st century skills such as collaboration and online publishing.

The researchers also examined the usage of wikis in designated disadvantaged schools and non-disadvantaged schools. Their conclusions are a concern. They found that ‘Wikis created in schools serving high-income families provide more opportunities for 21st-century skills development than those created in schools serving less advantaged students. Moreover, inequities within schools may be as serious as inequities between schools’ (p. 13). The estimated mean time for wikis in disadvantaged schools was 6.5 days whereas in other schools it was 32 days. This and related findings indicated that wikis were often project specific.

The State of Wiki Usage in U. S. K012 Schools: Leveraging Web 2.0 Data Warehouse to Assess Quality and Equity in Online Learning Environments is a clever and skilful research report about interactive web use in education which also provides a well-developed and researched instrument for assessing the quality of educational wiki use. The research also asks some thought provoking questions about the possibilities for researching student learning performance using online activity data stored in data warehouses. This research report is well worth reading and makes a significant contribution to further understanding online learning in education.



Gerry White is Principal Research Fellow: Teaching & Learning using Digital Technologies, Australian Council for Educational Research

This article was first published on the Digital Education Research Network (DERN)

Read the full article on DERN (free registration required)


Image: Flickr / LadyDragonFlyCC

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