Marketing for Libraries Logo

Collaborative Technology and Wikis

Learning Objectives
• Define collaborative technology and provide examples.
• Define, use, and create wikis (e.g., Wikispaces, PBWorks) for collaborative activities and knowledge building.
• Discuss the features of wikis.
• Discuss “best practices” related to wikis and libraries.
• Distinguish blogs from wikis.
• Discuss the use of collaborative calendar and task management tools (e.g., Google Calendar) in library environments.
• Define user-generated content and provide examples.

Creating a virtual "day trip" guide to family activities within 100 miles of our city.
Building a knowledge base for our new networking system.
Creating a database of books reviewed by library users.

All three of these activities would be difficult for an individual to create on their own, however the power of collaboration makes these projects simple.

Collaborative software allows multiple participants using tools such as blogs, wikis, and other creation tools to work together to build, expand, refine, edit, critique, and publish. Many people are able to work on a single project at the same time. This type of software can be used for collaborative writing, group decision-making, and other peer-based projects.

Collaborative Technology

collaborateLibrary and information science professionals can produce knowledge bases, electronic newsletters, book reviews, articles and other publications. These digital creations may include text, artwork, photographs, diagrams, charts, graphs, sounds, animation, and video. Users can also use collaborative environments for group problem solving, study groups, book clubs, and other shared activities.

Because collaborative software is available through networks, people from around the world can participate. Also known as groupware, collaborative tools can be used for focused projects such as editing a shared document or long-term projects involving thousands of people around the world.

Involve library users in collaborative projects. Although some of the systems are too sophisticated for children, many of the tools allow even young children to collaborate with others in remote locations.

Wikis Defined

wikiA 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 as Collaborative Technology

Wikis are popular collaborative applications allowing users to easily add, edit, and remove web content quickly and easily. They involve many people working on many pages at the same time. Users can even view the history of the edits that have been made. For example, children around the world may work together to create an insect wiki. Rather than working independently, they’re able to extend the work of others. For example, children in Japan, New Zealand and the United States may all contribute information to an ant page started by a Canadian student.

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.



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.

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.

The image below shows the Wikipedia editor. Anyone with a username and password can make basic edits.


Try It!
Explore the creating and editing options in Wikipedia.

Wiki Basics

Although the wiki software can be used in many ways, most wikis share some basic characteristics that distinguish them from other social and collaborative technologies. The following list is adapted from Brian Lamb's 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 wiki 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 Features

guyAlthough 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.

User Management. Does the wiki have options to set it to public, restricted, or open? Can permissions, privileges, and passwords be established? Can roles and groups be identified? Can it be moderated?

Content Organization and Access. Are tools available for data management and storage? Can files be attached? How are pages organized? Can categories or tags be added? Is there a search tool?

Content Formats. Does the tool have options for creating charts, graphs, spreadsheets, or presentations?

Editing. Does the site use Cascading Style Sheets? What are the options for editing? What type of markup tool is used? Is visual editing available? Is there a revision control feature? Can the history be traced?

Notifications. Does the wiki generate an RSS feed or have email notification options?

Successful Wikis

What does it take to create a successful wikis?

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?

The following are examples of wikis that might be created in a library setting:

Structure and Flexibility

A well-designed wiki has both structure and flexibility. Your project will quickly fizzle without good organization.

Structure. 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.

How will you help people see the "big picture" but also understand all the connected elements?
How can you tell your story or share your information in an appealing, organized way?
How can you develop a consistent structure through agreed upon guidelines?
How do maximize the number of people contributing to the wiki but still maintain a sense of shared voice?

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 and Enthusiasm

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 commitment by individual group members or a larger writing pool. Consider expanding your contributors by inviting some of the following people to join projects:

Whether you're engaging teen learners in a class project or library users 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:

Wiki Project Ideas

boyWikis can be an exciting part of library programs.

Collaborative Problem Solving. Wikis provide an environment for groups to share their understandings and come to consensus. 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.

Learning Activities. 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. Fact-checking is a critical component of wiki development. Wiki developers should cite their work, provide supporting evidence for their statements, and use credible cross-references.

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.

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.

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 in Learning and Libraries

studentWikis are 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 in-depth 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, mind-map) 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.

Wiki Issues

malAlthough 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. Discuss ways wikis can be used in libraries and learning.

Compare Blogs with 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 (although multiple authors can share an account), while wikis encourage collaboration and often allow any registered user to edit.

blog wiki

Collaborative Tools in the Library

In addition to 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.

calednarDesktop calendars are designed for individual use or shared between an individual’s devices. For instance, Apple Calendar can be updated from an individual’s laptop, iPhone, iPad, or other connected devices. It can also be shared in the cloud.

Web-based calendars allow users to develop collaborative calendars that can be accessed and edited from anywhere. Different levels of access allow some people to make changes and others to simply view the calendar. These types of calendars are particularly useful within departments. They are also useful to inform the public about upcoming events. Google Calendar and Yahoo Calendar are examples.

Canvas has a built-in calendar used by many students and instructors.

Many social networking tools have built-in calendars. For instance, Facebook allows individuals or groups such as a library to create events that others can join.

User Generated Content in the Library

User-generated content is information created by library clients including text, artwork, photographs or other intellectual property.

Users are often encouraged to post comments on library blogs. An effective blog entry provides information, then opportunities for users to add their ideas. Many libraries encourage users to contribute book, music, or movie reviews.

Program participants enjoy seeing themselves online. Encourage participants to share their photos on the library Facebook or Flickr page. Explore the Seattle Edible Book Festival Flickr page (shown below).


Wikis are an effective tool for user-generated content. For instance, many libraries are teaming with local history societies to digitize local documents and photographs.

It’s important to have a library policy regarding ownership of user-generated content as well as guidelines for appropriate postings.


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.

Wikis can be integrated into a wide range of library activities.

Many collaborative tools exist including collaborative calendars like Google Calendars.


| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Contact Us | 2014 Annette Lamb (Adapted from earlier s401 materials)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.