Wikis are increasingly being used in education, especially in training and higher education, writes Gerry White in DERN.


Wikis can be ideal tools for teaching because wikis were designed originally as simple websites specifically for collaboration purposes. Wikipedia is the most popular and universally accessible encyclopaedia, and its use as an educational tool for teachers and lecturers is openly and freely available.

A very thorough and comprehensive article in a recent edition of the open journal First Monday describes how Wikipedia can be used as a teaching tool. The value of the article Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool: Five years later is the clear explanation on how to use Wikipedia for teaching and the detailed literature review that it includes.

Although Wikipedia is an openly accessible encyclopaedia, it can also be very successfully used to teach many aspects about writing academic articles including writing skills, research skills, editing, referencing, quoting, copyright, peer review, digital literacy, grammar and structure, and collaboration. Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool: Five years laterdescribes in detail how lecturers can access the Wikipedia teaching tools and how they can be used with students during courses.

Wikipedia can be used for group projects, class projects and for individual students to write articles [p. 11]. There are several features of Wikipedia that can be used easily by lecturers including automatic detection of plagiarism and copyright violation [p. 3], at which Wikipedia excels. In addition, the contributions made by students, time spent on tasks and reflections of quality can be tracked and assessed by the lecturer. In particular, Wikipedia is ‘an excellent tool for monitoring the individual activity in group assignments’ (p. 4).

Lecturers do need to be very familiar with how Wikipedia works and the teaching tools that are available, although learning about Wikipedia is not a time consuming task. Some preparation in the design of a course to include one or more Wikipedia assignments is useful, in order to avoid student last minute efforts that may be frustrating because of a lack of Wikipedia skills. This can also be avoided by spending some time instructing students early in a course about how to use Wikipedia and edit articles.

Researchers have ‘found that 73 percent of students considered wiki technology “easy to use” ’ (p. 20), especially after a segment of the course on how to use and edit Wikipedia. Graduate students, who may be more motivated than undergraduate students, would appear to produce higher quality articles and encyclopaedic contributions. Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool: Five years later concludes by stating that a Wikipedia ‘assignment easily fits into most syllabi by replacing the traditional (“write-grade-shred-forget”) writing assignment with a contribution to a popular public and non-profit project in the best tradition of the “service learning” paradigm’ (p. 21).

Wikis and Wikipedia as a teaching tool: Five years later provides an excellent demonstration and research review of how Wikipedia, a widely accepted encyclopaedia, can be used successfully in courses using a range of teaching tools.


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

Image: Flickr / stylianosm

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