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Collaborative technologies are generally web-based tools that involve two or more people working together in a virtual environment to create something greater than could be build independently.

Rather than simply viewing existing information, emphasis may be placed on authoring content. These environments may be predominately text-based or may incorporate audio, video, and animation.

checkWatch Wikis in Plain English by Common Craft from YouTube.

checkdo itRead An Information Skills Workout: Wikis and Collaborative Writing (PDF) by Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson in Teacher Librarian (June 2007).

checkdo itComplete the Wiki World by Annette Lamb titled online workshop.

checkCheck out the Wedding wiki for an example of a wiki that would make a great library program.

checkExplore the Reading Resources wiki and the Wikireadia website for examples of wikis into the library.

Web-based Collaboration

Although we'll be focusing primarily on wikis, there are many other collaborative tools such as shared documents, calendars, bookmarks, and spreadsheets.

There are also many shared text editors, website editors, and project collaboration tools. Here are a few examples of web-based tools that facilitate collaboration:

big horn sheepCollaboration involves cooperation, interdependence, and synergy. For example, individuals, classes, or clubs at different points along an earthquake fault might analyze the ground movement and share their findings on a wiki.

Or, they may share their animal tracking data regarding big horn sheep. It would be impossible for one person to collect all this data independently, but by working together they have more data for research and learning.

In another example, the local historical society would like to create a history of the town. They invite anyone who has lived in the area to share facts and figures, along with their insights and experiences. The resulting wiki contains multiple perspectives that would probably have been missed if the project had been created by an individual or small group.


Wikis Defined

Many tools can be used for collaborative creation and maintenance of websites. Wiki-based systems are popular because they are simple to install and contributors don't need special software.

A wiki is a type of website that uses "open editing" collaborative software technology to provide an easy way for multiple participants to enter, submit, manage, and update a single web workspace. Users make changes by selecting from options and filling in forms on a web page. Authorized users can add and delete links, pages, and content. In some cases, a moderator approves changes before they are posted. Some wikis also provide a way to track changes and view earlier versions of pages.

The word wiki (WikiWikiWeb) comes from the Hawaiian word for "quick" or "fast" meaning that a virtual collaborative team can quickly construct an interactive website. Although wikis have been around for a decade, they've gained popularity the past couple years because of the many new tools available.

Wikis are often used for library programs that require ongoing updates such as committee work. Check out the Brown University Library Wiki.

Some school libraries use the wiki format for their library website. Visit the Benson Library.

However people are probably most familiar with Wikipedia. Created in 2001, this free-content project is now a decade old. In a 2011 study by PewInternet titled Wikipedia, past and present, they found that 53% of adult Internet users use Wikipedia to look for information. This collaborative encyclopedia is most popular among Internet users who are young, well-educated, and earn at least $50,000 per year.

Blogs vs. Wikis. While blogs are highly structured with postings listed in chronological order, wikis are much more flexible stressing hyperlinks, categories, hierarchies, and varied organizational structures. In addition, blog postings can only be edited by the author, while wikis encourage collaboration and often allow any registered user to edit.

checkRead Wikis from Digital Pencil for a brief introduction and great examples for school librarians.

checkRead Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not by Brian Lamb in EDUCAUSE Review (Volume 39, Number 5, 36-48, September/October 2004).

Listen to EDUCAUSE Pocket Edition #5: Wikipedia for an informal introduction to wikipedia.


Wiki Characteristics

Although the wiki software can be used in many ways, most wikis share some basic characteristics that distinquish them from other social and collaborative technologies. The following list is adapted from Brian Lamb's (2004) Wiki Essences:

Unique. Why reinvent the wheel? With billions of pages on the web, wikis try to fill a nitch focusing on original content rather than rehashing information found elsewhere. When additional information beyond the scope of the project is needed, you don't need to copy it. Instead, a simple link is all that's needed.

Collaborative. It's lonely to create a wiki by yourself. They're designed to be free, open spaces for sharing. People don't worry about the author or owner of a wiki. Instead they concentrate on the synergy that comes from building a project as a virtual team.

Open Editing. Wikis are designed as collaborative environments where anyone can add or edit anything at any time. Although some wikis require contributors to register, most allow anyone to join in the fun.

Simple Coding. Rather than using complex software, wikis rely on simple web-based forms and basic HTML code and formatting tags. Spaces are removed from phrases to easily create new pages based on topics such as OrganicFood or InquiryBasedLearning.

Evolving. Although some wikis projects have a limited life, most are designed to be neverending. Someone plants the seed and the wiki grows in endless directions taking on a life of its own. Wikis are in a constant state of change. Wikis encourage people to start an idea and let someone else finish the thought or add polish.


Wiki Software Features

Although wikis share many of the same characteristics, some vary in terms of features. Below is a list of options to consider when selecting a wiki you might use in a collaborative project based on Wiki Choicetree.


Wiki Exploration

The power of social and collaborative technology is found in the synergy that’s created when individuals work together. Wikipedia is probably the best known example of what happens when thousands of people work together to build a collaborative, online encyclopedia using wiki software. Created as a free encyclopedia, anyone can register and become a contributor.

Besides the encyclopedia, other areas have emerged. Go to Wikimedia for an overview including a collection of free, open-content textbooks called Wikibooks including Cookbook and checkWikijunior. Also check out the Wiktionary.

Explore some examples of wikis (Go to Wikia for topic communities) :

Student Wiki Projects

Be sure to check out library and educational technology wikis:

questionExamine the wikis above. What's the focus of each wiki? How are they alike and different from each other? Register and expand the wiki. For help, read the first two pages of the Wikis in Teaching and Learning (PDF) handout by Annette Lamb.

For a large list of educational wikis go to Wikispaces Educationalwikis.


Wiki Use

Wikis long to be edited. You know you've found a wiki if you see an [Edit] note under a paragraph or at the bottom of a web page.

Most wikis contain similar tools for making additions and edits. New pages are added by entering a linked word or phrase as a WikiWord or typing text inside [[double brackets]]. Increasingly, wikis are using a visual interface making them much easier to edit.

A few websites (i.e., MediaWiki Sandbox, WikiSandbox) have set up practice areas where you can experiment with the tools.

Some wikis are more than simply places to share content. For instance, Galaxiki is a community where participants create a science fiction galaxy. The website conains a forum, blog, store, and other features in addition to the wiki. Consider a library club that embraces a particular wiki space.


Wikis in Learning

Wikis can be used in many ways in learning. The key to effective wiki use with all ages is understanding the collaborative nature of wikis. Young people in particular need to understand the fluid nature of wikis. They also need to be aware that since anyone can participate, not all information will be of equal quality.

checkdo itComplete the Reading, Writing, and Wikis: Nurturing a Sense of Wonder Across the Curriculum by Annette Lamb titled online workshop.

do itExplore the wiki projects on the CyberCircus: Collaborate page.

do itWatch a video (on right) featuring a teen discussing the use of wikispaces as part of a class project.

Fact-checking is a critical component of wiki development. Wiki developers should cite their work and provide supporting evidence for their statements. Wiki users should cross-reference their information using a variety of credible sources.

Listen to Wikipedia to Require Contributors to Register from NPR (December 6, 2005).

Some possibilities include:

Collaborative Problem Solving. Wikis provide an environment for groups to share their understandings and come to concensus. The wiki can be used to generate lists, narrow topics, outline options, debate issues, make suggestions, and even vote.

Collaborative Research. Whether working simultaneously on a project or over a multiple semesters, researchers can collate and share their data using a wiki.

Collaborative Writing. Wikis are often used for collaborative authorship. In other words, a group of people get together with a specific final product in mind such as writing an article or letter; editing a book, guide, manual, glossary; or creating a knowledge base.

Dynamic Journal or Notebook. Wiki software can be used to organize notes, ideas, and brainstorms. It's a great tool for a book club, study group, or club to organize information. Although generally thought of as a collaborative tool, single-user wikis are a way to collect, organize, and reflect on one person's ideas. The activity is focused on recording ideas and process rather than coming up with a final product.

Electronic Portfolio. Some wikis are used to for collecting and organizing resources for an electronic portfolio. A wiki is an effective tool for this activity because it allows a learner to constantly select and update materials.

Portal. A portal is designed to be "the" starting point for a particular topic or subject. In wikipedia, the refer to "main pages" on topics or area. Originally, portals led people to other resources, but they are increasingly being designed as wikis and contain original information. They are an opportunity for scholars and others to work collaboratively to help people see the "big picture" of a topic and how it connects to related to related fields such as arts, biography, geography, history, mathematics, science, society, and technology.

Resource Aggregator. Like a bibliography, mediagraphy, or pathfinder, a wiki can be used to organize links to websites, blogs, and other electronic materials.

Study Guide. A wiki is a great tools for creating a collaborative study guide.

Virtual Conference. Rather than meeting face-to-face, wikis can be used to share resources as part of a virtual conference activity. Because most wikis allow uploading of files, these conference wikis can hold documents, visuals, audio, and video materials.

Wikis are becoming a popular tool in learning because they involve high-level thinking and information skills.

Collaborative Learning. Wikis allow learners to participate in a project larger than themselves. Participants are able to learn from each other and expand their thinking about a topic by working as a team. In addition, it's easy to go back and track who, did what, when.

Inquiry. Wikis involve learners in asking increasingly sophisticated questions related to their topic. After the initial excitement about the topic and exploration of essential questions, learners begin to assimilate new information and draw inferences. This leads to reflection and additional questions. This recursive process leads to increasing complex questions, more indepth analysis, and deeper understandings. These abstract connections can be made more concrete for learners through the creation of wikis. Features such as hyperlinks allow contributors to share their mental linkages among pieces of information.

Information Organization. Wikis encourage learners to think about how information can be organized to maximize understanding. For example, wikis can use alphabetical, chronological, hierarchical, geographical, or thematic approaches. Some people use outlines or visual maps (i.e., cluster map, flowchart, mindmap) for organization. Others design around regional locations, events, characters, key words, genre, categories, or other ways of thinking about a topic. Another approach is to focus organization around essential questions or problems.

checkRead Uses and Potentials of Wikis in the Classroom (PDF) by S. Pixy Ferris and Hilary Wilder in Innovate: Journal of Online Education, Volume 2, Issue 5, June/July 2006. (You'll need to create a free login to access this article).

Listen to EDUCAUSE Pocket Edition #6: Uses of Wikis focusing on college level applications of wikis.


Successful Wikis

What makes a successful wiki?

Unique Content. Why recreate the Web? The key to a successful wiki is identifying and filling a niche need. What can you create or organize that isn't available elsewhere? For example, create a wiki based on one of the following topics:

Structure. Your project will quickly fizzle without good organization. An effective wiki makes good use of hyperlinks to connect information and ideas. Rather than one long page or a series of unrelated web pages, a quality wiki provides an intuitive way to explore information. One idea is linked to another so that people can see the forest and the trees.

Flexibility. A well-designed wiki has both structure and flexibility. Avoid starting a wiki with all the information in place. If it's complete, then why not just create web pages? One of the best things about wikis is their versatility. If you have incomplete information or the beginning of an idea, it's viewed by the wiki community as an opportunity for another participant to contribute rather than a defeat. Although structure is important, it must be balanced with the opportunity to expand and dig deeper into the content.

Synergy. When a group of people work together toward a joint goal, the result is often bigger and better than when people work independently. Although wikis work fine with just a few people, larger projects require more committment by individual group members or a larger writing pool. Consider expanding your contributors by inviting some of the following people to join projects:

Enthusiasm. Whether you're engaging teen learners in a class project or patrons in a community project, it's important that the project maintain a high energy level. Participants need to be passionate about the content or the project will quickly become a chore rather than a quest for knowledge. One way to maintain enthusiasm is through questioning. Consider some of the following questions as you worth through your wiki project:

Check out a few examples of wikis created during previous semesters. Would you consider these wikis successful? Why or why not?

Wiki Issues

Although wikis can be great tools for learning, they also face some serious issues related to use.

Wiki and Ads. When using wikis with young people, consider using a website without advertising. Ads can be distracting and sometimes link to inappropriate sites for young people.

Wikis and Spam. Like all open access environments, wikis are subject to abuse from marketers and vandals. A major hassle for wiki creators is spam. Wikispam is defined as external links placed in a wiki to raise Google rankings or for advertising purposes.

Read Are Wiki's Inherently Flawed? by Will Thalheimer.


Wiki Tools for Librarians and Educators

Many free and inexpensive wiki services, sometimes known as WikiFarms, can be found online. In many cases, the free services contain advertising. Some wikis are stand-alone wikis and others are built into other services such as blogs and course management systems. Use the WikiMatrix for comparisons of wikitools and wikisoftware. Some examples include:

try itAs an edublog user, you're eligible for a wiki at wikispaces. Go to the Wikispaces Teacher Page. This will ensure you get a wiki without ads. Following the last few pages of the Wikis in Teaching and Learning (PDF) handout by Annette Lamb for help.

Wiki Software

If you have control over your web server, you can install your own wiki-based system for constructing collaborative websites. Go to Wiki Engines or Top Ten Wiki Engines for a master list of software organized by programming language. Some options are listed below (GPL standards for software offered under the General Public License):


Other Collaborative and Social Technology Projects

Folksonomy involves collaboratively created labels or tags that categorize web content such as photos and web pages. It's used by many of the social bookmarking sites as well as another online communities that create user-generated content. Explore other services that use tag technology.

Bookmarking and Content Curators

Social and collaborative website bookmarking and content curators allows people to build a set of web addresses that can be shared with others.

Social bookmarks can be expanded and edited by peers. Features such as tagging allow easy searching and exploration of the bookmarks.

checkdo itWatch Social Bookmarking in Plain English from CommonCraft

Some of these options provide collaboration and social tools along with personal tools

Content Curators provide tools for organizing, storing, and accessing information. You can add to the work of others or create your own. Both librarians, students and teachers need to constantly locate, evaluate, select, organize, and share resources on topics of interest.

To learn more about curation, go to Joyce Valenza's Curation page.

If funding is available, consider a subscription to libguides. This service provides an easy-to-use interface for creating classroom materials and embedding Web 2.0-type materials.


Social and collaborative calendars can be accessed and edited from anywhere. Different levels of access allow some people to make changes and others to simply view the calendar.

Read reviews of social and collaborative calendars at School Library Journal.


Library Catalogs and Cataloging


Sticky Walls

Sometimes you need a place where you can organize ideas with others sharing text, photos, images, and other materials.

Basic stickywalls provide notes that can contain text, images, video, and links. These notes can be organized.

Complex stickywalls provide more complex tools and organization of stickynotes and online resources.

Learn More

If you're interested in more depth on the topic of Collaborative Technology and wikis, explore the following resources:

7 Things You Should Know About Wikis

Cunningham, Ward & Leuf, Bo (2005). The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web, Addison-Wesley. ISBN 020171499X

Fountain, Renee (2005). Wiki Pedagogy. Dossiers Technopedagogiques. Higdon, Jude (2006). Pedagogies of Wikis (PDF).

Goodwin-Jones, Bob (May 2003). Emerging Technologies: Blogs and Wikis: Environments for On-line Collaboration. Language Learning & Technology. Volume 7, Number 2, pp. 12-16.

Richardson, Will (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Corwin Press. ISBN 1412927676

Seeley, Rich (August 3, 2006). Campuses Make Way for the Worldwide Wiki. Campus Technology.

Tonkin, Emma (January 2005). Making the Case for a Wiki. Ariadne. Issue 42.

Wikis from Library Success

Links to the materials in this section can be found in the navigation bar on the left side of this page. Continue to the arrow means an internal linkLearning Spaces: Social Network & Virtual Worlds page.

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