Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A text for a Short Course on Teaching and IT that finishes this week.

James ”jim” Barrett
UPC Lärande & IT ht2007

Why a Wiki?

A wiki is a versatile and adaptable web based authoring tool that has been used in education at all levels since the late 1990s. The word wiki is a shortened form of the Hawaiian word for fast (Wiki Wiki) and the first wiki went online on March 25, 1995 when Ward Cunningham (b. 1949) created

The software WikiWikiWeb in 1994 and installed it on the website of his software consultancy, Cunningham & Cunningham (commonly known by its domain name, c2.com), as an add-on to the Portland Pattern Repository. Wikipedia

Wikis today are used to build a sense of community in a class, to store and distribute information, to make students into authors and to create text materials for teaching. The famous American copyright activist and lawyer Lawrence Lessig wrote his latest book, Codev2 using a wiki and the entire text is available as a wiki online as well as a print book in shops (see: http://codev2.cc/). While every platform has its strengths and weaknesses, I believe a wiki can be a powerful and sufficiently flexible tool for teaching a course at first year university level. My model for a teaching wiki has been the Metamedia Wiki at Stanford University in the United States, which is used for teaching, archiving, advertising, forums, research, presentations and networking. The Metamedia Wiki looks good as well.
My wiki for the course Cultures of Commonwealth English (VT08) has been set up on what will soon be the Department of Language Studies server. By locating the wiki on the department server I am in effect giving the wiki to the department, to be used by subsequent teachers as a resource base for the subject. My intention is to use the wiki as the primary text for the course, which is part of a larger program course and is made up of seven two hour seminars and an exam. I will start by writing the course on the wiki; the time table, seminar topics, background material, set reading lists, film titles and audio files will all be added to the wiki or linked to under headings which correspond to the seminar topics. I can only examine the students on the material dealt with in the seminars, but the wiki will function as a sort of reference television station during the course where material will be constantly programmed for the students to immerse themselves in the topics covered. I will be using an email enabled RSS feed so I do not have to rely on them visiting the wiki to get information and primary source materials for the seminars.
For the students to use the wiki they must log in with accounts given out in the welcome email sent out the week before the course starts. Once the course is up and running certain portions of the wiki will be able to be edited by the students. They will be able to comment on material presented in seminars and even change content and add to it. It is possible to attach tracking capabilities to the wiki so anyone who does alter material will also be identified. Material that is added to the wiki by students will remain on the wiki and will be in turn added to by following students unless the students themselves request otherwise. I am not setting a main text book for the course and hope that the wiki will serve this purpose as a form of electronic compendium. While the course is still several months away I have already started collecting material on it and constructing a topic sequence for the seminars. The RSS is also functioning and I am thinking of making even the construction of the wiki public and this stage through my blog so as to invite comments and recommendations.
The first impressions I have of working with the wiki in constructing the course Cultures of Commonwealth English (VT08) is how easy it is. As well it is fun as it feels like I am authoring the course myself and this has an associated feeling of being in control of the project. The technology behind the wiki is very simple and no (or at the most very little) coding experience is needed. The wiki is completely automatic, with any changes just a matter of pressing two buttons (Edit and Save) with the tagged change in the middle. Adding links, uploading material (images, Video, audio, written texts) is very simple. As well I expect the students will come to share in the sense of control over the course with sections of the wiki being able to be edited by them. While this is very much an experiment, I expect it will be an interesting and worthwhile one.

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