Are Wikis Dying?

ISTE 2010 Conference here in Denver is starting off on a positive note for me. Today was the EduBloggerCon, and as usual we had some great discussions around the future of tools and learning.

I facilitated one of the first sessions of the day titled “Are Wikis Dying?” It’s a question I’ve been wrestling with every since Dennis Harter made me think about it earlier this year in a meeting.

What really made this session fantastic was not only the conversation around what a wiki is, where is its niche, but the fact that the creator of wikispaces one of the most popular wikis in education joined us.

So are wikis dying?

I’m not sure they are dying as much as their niche is becoming more defined. Before Google Wave, Google Docs, and other real time collaborative tools we tried to use wikis (usually without success) to be real time content builders. Now that we have a tool that fills that gap wikis don’t need to….or does it?

We discussed the place of a wiki and how some schools are just starting to embrace wikis and are hoping they are not dying anytime soon. They are an easy “beginner” tool to get teachers and other Web 2.0 Newbies into the tech world.

After the session my thoughts are changing a bit. I’m not sure wikis are dying the slow death I thought they were earlier. There is a place for them. Much like a tool belt, they are just another tool. What I think is happening is, they are becoming a very specific tool for a specific purpose. We need to continue to define what a wiki is. Is uploading some word documents to a wiki page actually a wiki?

I believe a wiki is and always has been about mass collaboration around content. A wiki with four attachments is just a web page with links. A wiki is about allowing people to collaborate and create content around a specific purpose or idea.

As other tools continue to mature it will be interesting to see how they merge or if they merge. Will Google Docs look more like a wiki in the future? Or will wikis start to look more like Google Docs? Only time will tell and it’s exciting to think where these tools will take us into the future.

What are your thoughts….are wikis dying?

24 Comments

  1. Jeff-
    My school district has embraced Google Apps- While this is wonderful and I loved using it with my students this past year… It doesn’t allow my students to work/collaborate globally right now because nothing can be sent out of or into the secured domain. I am thinking a wiki is an alternative to use with the focus being – global collaboration. So in my mind, the wiki is not dying- hopefully.
    :)

  2. I see wikis being great online textbooks. It seems many of the other functions teachers and students have used wikis for has been supplanted by other, better (for a specific purpose) tool.

  3. Jeff,
    I never fully grasped the power of a wiki until I started using with my 3rd graders last December. They embraced it as their own dynamic website. They wanted to contribute and looked forward to using the wiki for various individual and group projects. Their parents didn’t get it, the other teachers didn’t get it, but in a way it didn’t matter. The kids felt they owned some real estate on the www. I just finished a two week PD course that was fantastic but with no built in web tech. I created a wiki took pix and flip movies and created a space for our cohort. They were too shy to contribute their own media and only a few posted comments. The facilitator said it made her feel we were more of a cohesive group. It did, but it really isn’t a wiki if I’m the sole contributor, it’s just a rather awkward website. Somehow the students grasped the benefit to ownership although the adults chose to let me do it all alone. I’m teaching a tech camp for teachers in a week for my county. What’s the best way to get adults who are new to wikis buying in to the concept?

  4. I agree wikis are great for online textbooks, especially when created by students. Wikis are great for students to collaborate even when separated by several time zones.

    The main difference to me is that a wiki is meant to be a website that anyone can edit, whereas Google Docs is for specific types of documents. And while Google Sites has wiki-like features, it’s not quite as flexible. I am currently working on a workshop where we are comparing Google Sites to Wikispaces. I am a big fan of all things Google, but for newbies, wikispaces is a lot easier to learn. Also Google Sites is somewhat limited in what you can embed (easily) due to a conflict with java script.

    So, I guess I’m betting on wikis to survive.

  5. I find that many wikis are event-driven, meaning, used for a specific event (conference) or series of events (monthly workshop, etc.), especially when used with adults. However, I still have experiences with adults who are reluctant to contribute, and that goes for a wiki or other forms of shared space. The privacy aspect of wikis still has its benefits for the classroom, although there are other “tools” from which to choose if privacy is the goal. But, in the end, wikis still belong in the toolbox I would say.

  6. As an adjunct Professor at a university I use wikis just as wmchamberlain suggests. I have grad and undergrad educ students crate wikis as resources for their discipline –rather extensions of the textbooks. They have created some remarkable wikis for their students.

  7. I don’t think wikis are dying…yet. In 5 years from now, who knows what tools will be out there – maybe something that will replace wikis, but maybe not. I’m still trying to get a lot of teachers in my district to understand exactly what web 2.0 is and wikis are a great beginner tool! I agree that I believe their niche is only becoming more defined, which I see as a positive. Thanks so much for sharing so soon into ISTE for those that can’t be there – keep it coming!
    Have a great time, learn lots, and enjoy the connections.

  8. Jeff, I think you said it best with the statement:

    “I believe a wiki is and always has been about mass collaboration around content.”

    A wiki is an easy-to-build collaborative web site. The collaborators build the knowledge to share – the sum is greater than its parts. Wikipedia is of course the ultimate example. Scale that down to a classroom, and when the students collaborate and share their learning in a wiki, you (and whomever else has access) see their learning clearly and easily. A web site (wiki) can scale to a much larger degree than other tools you allude to. Long live the wiki :-)

  9. I too was in your “Are wikis dying sesssion?” However, I found that having the wikispaces guys there turned the conversation away from “education ideas” more towards “the tool” . While I believe that the guys at wikispaces need to talk to teachers about how to improve their product I do not think Edubloggercon is the venue.

    Edubloggercon is about open conversations between educators. I found there were a few too many people flogging a “product” at Edubloggercon. We DO NOT want Edubloggercon to become a venue for companies to flog things. That should be left for the exhibit hall.

    • Great point Terry! I’ll try and remember that the next time a facilitate a discussion.

    • James from Wikispaces here. You’re absolutely right. Our position has always been that if we’re a detriment to the conversation — at EduBloggerCon or any such event — we’ll get out of the way. Let us know if you’d like to follow up on the topic during ISTE, we’ll be here!

  10. Thanks for leading the session today, Jeff. I enjoyed the conversation. I shared my thoughts f2f and will share them again here – 10 years from now, will students look at a web page and NOT be able to edit it? If so, they’ll most likely look the other direction.

    Also, is there a distinct difference (in students’ minds….or at the very least in their minds in the future) between wikis and blogs with open comments? Sure, wikis allow for inline editing, but blogs also allow for mass contribution around content, too, but the contributions don’t come until the end of the authors’ original contributions. Will these two mediums eventually mold together? Who knows….

  11. I think wikis will become the backbone of all of these other tools. They offer a way to create an easily navigated structure that many people can easily maintain. I’m thinking more along the lines of a collaborative intranet for a school or class. As you mentioned they are not a synchronous tool but asynchronous. A quick add button to put in a google docs type of spreadsheet or wave that could then be worked on at the same time would be a winner. I can see google sites taking over from other wikis due to a better integration. I would ask if web pages are dying and wikis are the new web pages, especially in a class when with a wiki everything can be a collaborative process to create a final product.

  12. Great topic and post. Last year I initiated a grassroots effort to start a school wide wiki. Many teachers jumped on board. We quickly learned that there are some distinct challenges to using Wikis such as the inability for more than one person to edit a page at a time.

    I agree with Andy that Wikis provide a more static, structured, and well organized collection of pages that can act as placeholders for more dynamic information such as Waves, Tweets, and social bookmarking. The Wiki may become the place you go to access various other learning tools.

  13. Jeff, my elementary school has used a wiki to host our school website for the past 4 years: http://arborheights.com

    For the first 2 years our wikispaces wiki was wide open. Now the “protected”, members are staff, parents, and community members. The majority of recently added content is from our fantastic parents.

    When I established our school website in 1994, it was one of the very first school websites on the internet. It was a loooong, sloooow, loooonely process maintaining that website as solo webmaster.

    I hope those days will come to an end soon. Wikis are the best answer I see, by a long shot.

    I just got an email from my district that they are instituting a “content management system” to represent schools online. I bet it’s not Wikispaces :)

    I think wikis are far from dead. Maybe people jut need to look at using them in different ways – like school websites…

    BTW, Adam Frey from Wikispaces was instrumental in helping my district tech staff figure out how to unblock specific wikis. Thanks Adam!

  14. Students in my gr. 7/8 class use the class wiki, their own wiki and Gdocs accounts. All are thought to be equally valued for different purposes. Students use Gdocs for the brainstorming/rough draft when collaboratively researching. The group’s final project is then posted on the class wiki with the other groups’ work, as well as their own wiki as part of their e-portfolio. For collaboratively work, Gdocs and wikis make great partners.

  15. Hi Jeff,

    I wish I could have been present for this discussion at EBC10 — I definitely do not think wikis are dying out. Wikis have been around much longer than any other “Web 2.0” tool, and I think they serve a very specific purpose.

    Perhaps what may be happening is that as people become more sophisticated with their use of all of these tools they are learning how, when, and where best to use each tool. As many others have stated in the comments on this post, wikis work very well for some uses, but not for all uses — and I have seen many uses of wikis in education that I would not classify as “best use.” (example: using wikis to just create static websites full of links, but with no collaboration from others in creating those links or any other content)

    Another aspect of this — one that I mention in my presentations and workshops on wikis — is that other tools that came after wikis have adopted some wiki features (like history of revisions in Google Docs) because those features are so useful. I don’t think wikis are dying and I do think that we will continue to see their influence as these tools — and our use of them — continues to evolve.

    Stephanie

  16. To me wikis are best thought of as digital encyclopedias or databases, and that is way I present them to teachers. Much like those who see them as online textbooks, I see them as the best tool when you want to generate a lasting, fairly stable yet not inflexible collection of information. I have often though the use of wikis for classroom websites and the like were bad fits for the tool, though it was interesting to see the ingenuity of people who did that.

    I think going forward, the encyclopedic use of wikis is their niche.

  17. Not sure if they’re dying either. But, I like what you said about does just uploading a word document to a wiki page make it a wiki? I like them because they’re quick to set up and share content, but I don’t get much collaboration with mine. The best examples I’ve seen are students using wikis as online notebooks in Randolph like Geoff Olson’s class: link to rcsmath7.wikispaces.com
    It’s like Country music, they’ll evolve and to keep up with Wave, docs, Etherpad and such, they’ll have to transform. Maybe into this music that has no twang in it at all anymore? We’ll see. Great question to post and from what I heard, great session at Edubloggercon.
    Mark

  18. I too wish I could have been there for the discussion at ISTE but if anyone is still reading this blog, here are my two cents. Wikis have been a strong part of what we do at my school and district for some time now and I do not believe they are dying at all. On the contrary, I think they are evolving to fit the needs of their users. The beauty of wikis is they can become a repository for a small or large group of people’s work. It holds so many different types of media (uploaded or embedded) which can be shared and discussed. It is a place in which users can bring all those other web 2.0 elements into one place in order to add to the new knowledge gained and yet is so simple that learning how to use one is not a huge struggle. This is key when working with some teachers who are very slow to adopt new tools for meeting the needs of professional growth or student learning. I just started a new one today for a group of teachers in our district and that wiki will then be shared to the world as a place to go for learning and collaborating.

  19. I don’t believe that wikis are dying. Many faculty members at my school use either wikis Google apps/ docs or Moodle. All are great tool for learning, collaborating and sharing.

  20. I agree with your take on this issue. I just recently read in an article that Wikipedia has been shown to contain fewer mistakes than the most recent edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. Wikipedia is a specific use of the wiki format. It is, as you put it, a collaborative effort centered around creating and sharing content. It’s not about documents and attachments; it’s about sharing useful information in a centralized “community”. That is the heart of wiki and that will never stop being a fundamental part of what the internet is.

  21. I’m a tech teacher for K-5, and I sure hope wikis aren’t dying. I have spent two years dragging, pleading, begging my colleagues to move into the 21st century of education. Wikis are my only chance to do it because they’re intuitive, attractive, student-centered, student-generated.

    Say it ain’t so…

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