Last week I attended ‘Exploiting the potential of wikis‘ hosted by Brian Keely, UKOLN and Steven Warburton, Kings College. It was an excellent day with a large number (70+?) of delegates from varied backgrounds within HE (IT Sevices, Learning Technology, Library and Teaching staff). Summaries of the discussion sessions can be found on the obligatory workshop wiki.

As is often the case the day threw up more question than answers but here are my reflections:

1. More examples needed
There seem to be limited examples around of wikis being used with students. The predominant model in use seems to be the “wikipedia model”. Students create a glossary, encyclopedia etc either alone or in groups. For example:

Other ideas for using wikis include collaborative report writing, online conferences and debating assigned readings but as I say few concrete examples at this stage. A lot of delegates were as interested in wiki use for more for administrative / project management / user support uses (in the same way we’ve been using mediawiki for recording VLE evaluation). Phil Wilson spoke about how they are rolling out wikis for all departments at Bath but use in teaching appears to be a secondary aim. After detailed evaluation Phil strongly recommends Confluence for enterprise use of this kind.

2. Are wikis really easy-to-use?
This was a question I asked after hearing that they were in a couple of the talks! It was agreed that technically it can vary depending on the particular wiki software. Some have good WYSIWIG editors others rely heavily on some kind of wikitext (markup). Will students need help with MediaWiki? I was partly getting at this but was more interested in what you might call the social or cultural aspect of using wikis and collaboration. How do you collaboratively author in wikis and are we comfortable doing so? For example for me it still feels strange to edit some one else’s work and I tend not to, particularly on an ‘external’ wiki. I think staff and students will need guidance.

3. Building Understanding
It also (re)occurred to me on Friday that introducing wikis for non-teaching uses is a great way to build understanding, confidence, and competence in these tools. Once staff are more familiar with the possibilities and limitations they will be more likely to incorporate them in their teaching (if appropriate). This is the same approach that we are taking with other social software by running the Social Software courses we have planned this term.