A very interesting article came across my desk a couple of weeks ago. In it, the authors describe their investigation of wiki use in U.S. K-12 schools. As you may know, a ‘wiki’ is a website to which users can contribute knowledge and information. Wiki’s are edited in real-time through a web browser. Two popular wikis are Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia) and Wiktionary (an online dictionary). Wikis, in general, are hosted at specific websites and are often free. Anyone can start their own wiki on any topic or can contribute to others’ wikis.
Reich, Murnane & Willet were specifically interested in how wikis were being used in schools and whether or not wikis were being used to promote the development of students’ digital literacy. Reich et al. sampled 1% of the wikis from a site popular for hosting free, educational wikis and 255 of those sites could be linked to K-12 schools in the U.S. Each wiki was assessed to determine how the site was being used. Specifically, the assessment tool included the following questions, and each was answered “Yes” or “No”:
- Do students use the wiki to access classroom materials?
- Are students the primary contributors to the wiki?
- Do students credit the sources of their contributions to the wiki, such as a citation (for books or paper material) or a hyperlink for digital information?
- Do students use text formatting, such as bold or italicized text or bulleted lists?
- Do students respond to each other’s contributions to the wiki?
Each wiki was assessed on 24 unique characteristics and total scores were computed.
Although Reich et al. examined the general characteristics of the wikis, I found the most interesting section of the article to be an examination of wikis used in schools serving larger proportions of lower-income families (Title I-eligible schools) and other schools (non-Title I eligible). Reich et al. found substantial differences in wikis developed at Title I and non-Title I eligible schools:
- More wikis in Title I-eligible schools remained undeveloped (e.g., contained an auto-generated front page only) or were teacher-only sites (50% for Title I-eligible schools and 30% for non-Title I);
- There were also differences in the median time the wiki remained active for Title I and non-Title I eligible schools (6.5 days for Title I-eligible and 32 days for non-Title I eligible schools); and
- Fewer wikis at Title I-eligible schools promoted high levels of student digital literacy compared to non-Title I eligible schools (17% at Title I-eligible and 36% at non-Title I eligible schools).
In other words, although the “space” for educational wikis is free to all teachers and their students, not all students are afforded the opportunity to develop high-level skills in digital literacy that could be learned in a wiki environment. Fewer students in schools with larger proportions of lower-income families have the opportunity to improve their digital literacy through wikis while more students in other communities can develop their digital literacy skills. The authors concluded the article with a description of how students’ online contributions to wikis also have the potential for student assessment. As Reich et al. point out, online contributions to wikis by students represent long-term learning of how to solve nebulous, ill-structured problems and how to collaborate with others. In addition, using data from students’ online contributions to assess learning is incredibly efficient compared to traditional assessments because online contributions are integrated into the learning process. As a result, there is no loss of instructional time in order to assess what students have learned!
For more information, please see:
Reich, J., Murnane, R., & Willett, J. (2012). The state of Wiki usage in U.S. K-12 schools: Leveraging web 2.0 data warehouses to assess quality and equity in online learning environments. Educational Researcher, 41, 7-15. doi: 10.3102/0013189X11427083