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Wikis in higher education
03 December 2010
As the issue of student fees remains high on the political agenda researchers continue to investigate ways in which teaching standards might be maintained or even improved in higher education. This is particularly apposite given the current economic climate and the employability of students leaving education.
Writing in the International Journal of Innovation in Education, a team at Glasgow Caledonian University, in Scotland, explains how wikis can assist in this regard. A wiki, from the Hawaiian word for hurry, "wiki-wiki", is a website that allows interlinked pages to be created and edited rapidly. In general, a wiki is editable by its readers or members, as is the case with the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. Wikis, however, can have limited access and users might be given only certain rights to edit or amend pages within the wiki. Wikis are considered to be part of the web 2.0 content of the world-wide web and are more akin to the vision of the web's inventor Tim Berners-Lee than the static, uneditable pages from which the majority of websites are composed.
Now, Anne Smith, Keith Halcro and Douglas Chalmers have presented the results of an experiment in using web 2.0 technology, and specifically a wiki, in a higher education entrepreneurship context. The researchers have found that because wikis can be created, shared and edited among multiple users, that they present an ideal opportunity for social learning in student groups. "Web 2.0 is evolving rapidly, and it is clear that these new technologies bring diverse groups together; connecting previously unconnected businesses with universities and students in social learning," the team says.
The team engaged students on an entrepreneurship course to contribute to wikis in different ways: individually and in groups of three to five students to produce formative and summative assessments. The researchers then monitored and assessed the creativity and techniques used by the students in building a valuable online resource. They also collected data on student experience through questionnaires and reflective reports. Their results suggest that web 2.0 tools such as wikis can be part of an inexpensive solution to teaching and assessment.
Despite the positive results, the team concedes that there are some issues of wiki management and student assessment that must be considered as the approach is developed for wider use in higher education. Fundamentally, however, wikis can connect students and can connect students with their tutors and mentors. This connectivity can be technological, through mobile and PC technology but equally there exists a social connectivity and an economic connectivity for students that is not always possible without such information technology tools.