2006 IEEE Education Society's Distinguished Lecture Series
Prof. Burks Oakley II
University of Illinois
January 2006

Presentation Four - “The What, Why and How of Wikis.”

Slide 1:

Welcome back!  This is Burks Oakley, and I’m speaking to you from my office at the University of Illinois in Urbana, Illinois, USA.  I’m pleased to be with you today as part of the first 2006 IEEE Education Society’s Distinguished Lecture Series.  This is the fourth, and final, presentation that I’m giving as part of this series.  It is entitled “The What, Why and How of Wikis.”

Slide 2:

As we see on this slide, a wiki is essentially a dynamic, collectively authored set of web pages.  Actually, a wiki is more than one web page – it’s really a collection of web pages – and those pages together form the wiki.  The idea of a wiki was conceived in 1995 by Ward Cunningham to facilitate online collaboration – he wanted to have web pages that were easy for anyone to edit.  The idea of a wiki has now evolved into a way to facilitate all kinds of online collaboration.

Slide 3:

Here we have the definition of a wiki from Wikipedia.  It states that “A wiki is a type of website that allows users to add and edit content and is especially suited for constructive collaborative authoring.”  The most direct way to allow users to edit the contents of a web site is to have a built-in editor on every web page.  The second bullet shows that the wiki also has “a system that records each individual change that occurs over time, so that at any time, a page can be reverted to any of its previous states.”  This is a very important part of the definition, since it means that if you don’t like the latest version of a page in the wiki, you can always go in and change it back to an earlier version.  We’ll see more about this shortly.

Slide 4:

This slide has a screenshot of a web page in a wiki that I was experimenting with in the online class that I teach at the University of Illinois at Springfield – this class has the rubric PAC442 section B, so I named this wiki PAC442B, and I created it on a free wiki hosting site called wikispaces.com.  So the URL of this page is http://burkso2.wikispaces.com/PAC442B.  You will see that this looks like a regular web page, except for several buttons and links on the page, including the “edit” button marked by the big red arrow.  To the right of the “edit” button are links that will let you view a discussion about this page, as well as the history of this page.  Clicking on the “edit” button will bring up the page in an editor, as shown on the next slide.

Slide 5:

Here we have the first page in the experimental wiki for my online class – note that this page is now in a WYSIWYG editor – that is “What You See Is What You Get”, a WYSIWYG editor.  The blue arrow points at the editing bar, where you can select bold, italics, underline, bulleted lists, numbered lists, you can insert an image or insert a hyperlink.  You can link to a page anywhere on the web from this wiki, or you can link to a page within the wiki itself.  If you specify a link to a page that doesn’t yet exist in the wiki, the software will create the new page for you.  After you make any changes to this page in the wiki, you simply click on the save button – as indicated by the upward facing red arrow at the upper right of this slide – you click on the save button to save your changes.  Note that another option is to click on the “history” link, as indicated by the downward facing red arrow at the top middle of this slide.  Clicking on this link will bring up a new web page showing ALL the different versions of this page from the past, as shown in the next slide.

Slide 6:

Here we see a new page that shows the history of the first page in my class’ experimental wiki.  Note several things here – first of all, you don’t have to be signed in to make changes to this wiki – so all of the changes appear to have been made by a “guest”.  But it does log the IP addresses of the computers used by the people who made these changes.  Wikis can be created where the users must login first in order to make changes in the wiki, so then you would know who made each successive edit to this page.  Note also that you can click on the “View this version” link, as indicated by the red arrow, and then view a previous version.  So let’s go ahead and look at a previous version in the next slide.

Slide 7:

This slide shows a screenshot of the page in the wiki, when it was edited on October 16th, 2005, at 10:47 pm, by a person named guest, who was logged in from IP address 24.14.58.98.  So if I decide I want to revert this page to this previous version, all I have to do is click on the “Revert” link, as indicated by the red arrow.  Again, let me emphasize that some wikis allow guests to make edits to the wiki, while others require users to login before being able to make changes.  Two important things to remember here – first, all the pages in the wiki have an edit link, so that you can edit any page, and second, the wiki software tracks all the previous versions of each page, so that it is trivially easy to go back and revert a page back to its previous version.

Slide 8:

Next, I would like to talk about how the wiki got its name.  Wiki is the Hawaiian word meaning “quick”, or “fast”, or “to hasten”.  I guess Ward Cunningham, the creator of the first wiki, was looking for a name that would reflect the pace at which the web pages could be created and edited – so he used the Hawaiian word for quick.  Some of you also may know that Wiki-Wiki is the name of the bus line in the Honolulu International Airport.

Slide 9:

So here we see some photos from the Honolulu International Airport – and the Wiki-Wiki bus.  I remember riding this bus with my daughter, Amy, when we were going to the big island of Hawaii to go scuba diving.  We had flown from the mainland to Honolulu, and then we had to transfer to another terminal to fly inter-island.  So we rode the Wiki-Wiki bus – which I guess has to have been my first introduction to wikis.

Slide 10:

Here we see Elvis Presley, who starred in the 1961 movie “Blue Hawaii”.  He apparently knew all about wikis even back in 1961, when he said “Wiki-wiki to the beach.”

Slide 11:

On this slide, I have a little more about wikis.  At the University of Illinois at Chicago – UIC that is – Prof. Steve Jones states that the word wiki stands for:  Web-based, Interactive, Kollaborative, and Iterative.  This is a little forced, having to spell collaborative with a K, but it works – a wiki is web-based, interactive, collaborative, and since it evolves over time, it is indeed iterative.  Wiki is also said to be a backronym for “What I Know Is”.  Note that a backronym comes from the words “backward” and “acronym”, which means the words were selected AFTER the term was in place.  In this case, the phrase “What I Know Is” describes the knowledge contribution, storage and exchange function of a wiki.

Slide 12:

Well, what can you do with a wiki?  Hopefully, by now you see that you can easily create and edit web pages within a wiki – and many wikis have sophisticated text editors built-in.  Since anyone can edit the pages in a wiki, this means that it is very easy for a group of people to collaborate on creating online documents.

Slide 13:

Of course, it is the openness of wikis that stands as an obstacle to their adoption.  As it says on this slide, “if anyone can edit my text, anyone can ruin my text”.  Of course, this isn’t true, since changes are logged, authors are notified through e-mail or RSS when changes are made, and, as we saw on an earlier slide, the pages in a wiki are easily restored – so really a wiki is no challenge at all to hackers.  Another obstacle to adoption is based on the fact that the pages in a wiki are authored by a group of individuals – whose work is it?  Who “owns” a collaborative document?  And, finally, wikis are open and this openness is at odds with typical work habits.  But hopefully you can start to see how a wiki would be great to use with a group or with a team, where everyone could collaborate on authoring an online document.

Slide 14:

In my presentations for this Distinguished Lecture Series, I’ve given you a number of definitions from Wikipedia.  Well, on this slide, I have the definition of Wikipedia, itself.  It is “A multilingual, Web-based, free-content encyclopedia written collaboratively by volunteers …(with) editions in over 180 languages.  According to Hitwise, an online measurement company, Wikipedia is the most popular reference site on the Internet.”  Wikipedia, of course, is an online encyclopedia that is itself a wiki.  Thousands of users from around the world contribute to this wiki.  As of late December 2005, Wikipedia had over 875,000 articles in English alone.  This compares with about 100,000 articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica online.  I have to say that Wikipedia is now the first place I go for information about a new subject.  Not necessarily the most authoritative source, but one that I’m pretty sure will get me started in learning about a new subject.

Slide 15:

There was a fascinating experiment done this past fall – a writer from Esquire magazine decided to let anyone contribute to the writing of an article about Wikipedia – and, of course, he did this by posting a rough draft of the article within Wikipedia itself.  The initial draft had factual errors and poor examples.  Incredibly, the article was edited 224 times in the first 24 hours after it was posted, and another 149 times in the next 24 hours.  At that point, they locked the file to prevent any further edits – and the final version of the paper, because it was written collaboratively within this wiki, reflects the efforts of the many users who worked on it.  The two references about this experiment that are linked on this slide are really well worth reading.

Slide 16:

Jon Udell, who I’ve mentioned in several other presentations in this series – Jon Udell is the lead analyst at InfoWord – he has done a screencast of the development of the entry in Wikipedia for “Heavy Metal Umlaut”.  If you aren’t familiar with this, a number of heavy metal bands use an umlaut over a letter in their name, as shown in the Motörhead logo in the lower right corner of this screen.  A screencast is essentially a digital recording of the output of a computer screen, and usually contains audio narration.  As it states here, “The 8.5-minute screencast turns the change history of this Wiki page into a movie, scrolls forward and backward along the timeline of the document, and follows the development of several motifs.”  Remember the two important features of a wiki – anyone can edit it, and all of the different versions are saved.  And this screen cast is really well worth watching.

Slide 17:

In mid-December 2005, the prestigious scientific journal Nature ran an article comparing Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica, and the conclusion of the article was that Wikipedia is about as accurate in covering scientific topics as Encyclopedia Britannica is.  The article found that based on 42 articles reviewed by experts, the average scientific entry in Wikipedia contained four errors or omissions, while Britannica had three.

Slide 18:

Well, let’s move on now from Wikipedia.  In my presentation about RSS, I had a slide that was entitled “Things You Can Do With RSS” – and I have a copy of that slide here.  Note the red arrow pointing to the URL – you can see from this URL that this site is really a wiki – so the list of things you can do with RSS is a list that is collaboratively maintained by a community – that is, anyone can go to this page, add a new topic, and proceed to author a new page in the wiki describing that topic.  This is the power of collaborative authoring in a wiki.

Slide 19:

In looking on the web for things that you can do with a wiki, I ran across this one: “Use a wiki for your family’s holiday lists”.  “Instead of sending around 83,259,325 emails to see what your family wants for Christmas, use a wiki instead. Everyone can put what they want and see what other people want. Set one up at http://www.pbwiki.com (takes 10 seconds) and even Grandma will be able to use it. We promise.”  Yes!  That’s a great application of a wiki.  So I went to pbwiki.com – and sure enough, it really only took 10 seconds to create a freewiki, as shown in the next slide.

Slide 20:

OK, here is the new wiki that I created – it is at burkso2.pbwiki.com.  Note that this is indeed a wiki – the upward facing red arrow in the upper left of the screen is pointing to the “edit this page” link, and clicking on this link will bring up a very simple text editor – not quite as elaborate as the WYSIWYG editor we saw in my earlier wiki at wikispaces.com.  In addition, the downward facing red arrow in the bottom middle of this screen is pointing to the RSS 2.0 and Atom feeds for this page.  If I subscribe to this feed in my RSS feed aggregator, I’ll get notified anytime that someone edits this page.  Exactly what I want – since this is my wiki, I want to know when someone edits it.

Slide 21:

Here we have a number of other things that you can do with a wiki:

A list of 100 things to do before you die – very interesting reading, for sure!  And since this is a wiki, you can contribute to the list.
Build the world’s largest “How-To” manual at wikiHow
A list of things to do in Seattle – of course, anyone can contribute to this list.
A world-wide travel guide at wikitravel.org – again, anyone can contribute, based on their own personal travel experiences
A wiki with everything you want to know about VoIP
And finally, a wiki that is all about the flu, called Flu Wiki, which has a great logo, quite obviously based on the Wikipedia logo.

Slide 22:

Wikis can be used with various products – here we see a wiki that was created for the iPod Nano.  Any customer can add content to this wiki, discussing any aspect of the iPod Nano, and over time, the wiki will grow.

Slide 23:

Businesses can also use wikis – here we have the wiki for Michelin China – hundreds of employees of Michelin across China are contributing their experiences to this wiki.  And apparently it is a very successful business productivity tool in this setting.

Slide 24:

OK, now I’ll get to the uses of wikis in higher education.  This slide should look familiar to you – in my presentation about blogs, I had a similar slide from the EDUCAUSE series – but in this case, we have “Seven Things You Should Know About … Wikis”  And the seven things are:  What is it?  Who is doing it?  How does it work?  Why is it significant?  What are the downsides?  Where is it going?  And what are the implications for teaching and learning?  I’ll leave it up to you to pause this slide, or come back to it later, and access the link for this article – it’s available as a PDF file on the EDUCAUSE site.

Slide 25:

On this slide, I’ve listed some of the reasons to use wikis in higher education.  Of course, by their very nature, wikis are participatory, they allow for progressive knowledge building, they are collaborative, and they encourage student-faculty interaction.  Wikis have no hierarchy – that is, all contributors are equal – and this includes faculty and students.  Since wikis are web-based, they can be accessed any time from any place.  The software is incredibly easy to use, making wikis appropriate for any field.  And, finally, by tracking the changes in a wiki over time, you can follow the evolution of thoughts and ideas.

Slide 26:

There was a really successful experiment with a wiki at Bowdoin College in the state of Maine in the United States – it was called the Romantic Audience Project, and I’ve included a link here to the wiki, and also to the article about this project that was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.  Here you see the starting page in the class wiki.  All of the text in dark blue and bold are hyperlinks to other pages in the wiki.  So we can navigate through the wiki and view poems, sonnets, and essays by various authors from the Romantic period, and we can also view student thoughts, reflections, and essays about these Romantic authors and their writing.

Slide 27:

Here we have a webpage from the Romantic Audience Project – and this page deals with John Keats and his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”.  Various students have contributed to this page, and hyperlinked various phrases in the ode, and then created a new page in the wiki where they expressed their personal thoughts on the phrase.  In this way, over the course of the semester, the wiki grew to include contributions from all of the students in the class, and all of the readings were annotated with the students’ thoughts.

Slide 28:

Here we have a screenshot from the “Future of PR” (public relations) wiki, where colleges and universities can add information to the wiki about how they are using wikis on their campuses.  I encourage you to read through this list.

Slide 29:

Here we have the wiki for the Information Services and Technology (or IST) group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  This wiki was built so that the members of this organization could collectively track their presentations and publications.  Presumably this is a wiki that only members of the IST group at MIT can edit.  This is really a very good example of collaboration in creating an online document using a wiki.

Slide 30:

At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, they are using a wiki in this biology class to facilitate a group project.  Each group in the class has their own space within the wiki, and the instructions for the assignment state the “wiki domain should be organized from a home page with subsidiary pages linked to it and to each other allowing the reader to explore the information generated by the group.”  It’s interesting to me that, while this is a group project, the instructions also state that individual pages in the wiki have to be written by a single student.  This lack of collaboration is really surprising to me, given the nature of a wiki.  I guess that really means that faculty (and students) are still learning how best to use wikis and collaboration in teaching and learning.

Slide 31:

This slide simply lists more ways in which wikis can be used in higher education.  Again, I suggest you pause the presentation here, or else come back to this slide, and go to the website that is hyperlinked here, and explore the various applications that are listed.  Again, note from the URL, and from the presence of the editing buttons on this page, note that this also is a wiki – so you, too, can contribute to this page.

Slide 32:

Well, what does the future hold for wikis?  Working in teams is increasingly common, knowledge management is increasingly useful to all of us, and certainly higher education benefits from collaboration and interaction.  Finally, wiki tools are being planned for word processors, and even for operating systems, so my guess is we are going to be seeing a lot more of this in the future.

Slide 33:

If you want to try using a wiki in your teaching or in your research, or maybe even just with your family and friends, you can get started for free.  This slide has a list of websites that will host your wikis for free.  You’ll probably have to look at ads on the pages, but that is what you have to accept in order to have a free wiki.  But these sites have an option where you can remove the advertising for a nominal fee.  The last site listed here is wikispaces, and I set up a free account there, as shown in the next slide.

Slide 34:

Here we have a screen shot from my account at wikispaces.com.  I created a wiki for the IEEE Education Society’s members to use – anyone can edit this wiki.  It’s at ieee-edsoc.wikispaces.com.  Here you see what the initial page in the wiki looked like when it was first created.  The red arrow is pointing at the edit button.  Clicking on that button brings up a nice WYSIWYG editor, which anyone can use to edit this page.

Slide 35:

Here we see what the wiki looked like in mid-December 2005.  I really created this wiki so that anyone viewing the IEEE Education Society’s Distinguished Lecture Series would have a convenient place to experiment with a wiki.

Slide 36:

So this brings us to our last optional assignment.  Create your own wiki!  Sign-up for a free account at http://www.wikispaces.com/ OR edit the IEEE EdSoc demo wiki at http://ieee-edsoc.wikispaces.com/   What should you do?  Well, add a new page in the wiki and use it to tell us about yourself.  Add a new page with comments or questions about the IEEE Distinguished Lecture Series; suggest topics for future presentations. Don’t worry about doing any harm to this wiki, since anyone can revert any page to an earlier version at any time.

Slide 37:

Well, this concludes the fourth presentation, “The What, Why and How of Wikis.”  If you have any questions, please send them directly to Rob Reilly.  Rob is hosting this Distinguished Lecture Series for the IEEE Education Society.  Rob’s email address is reilly@media.mit.edu.  And, of course, you can find out more about me at my homepage, http://www.online.uillinois.edu/oakley/ or, of course, feel free to contact me by email at oakley@uillinois.edu.  This concludes my series of presentations.  I hope that you have enjoyed viewing these presentations as much as I have enjoyed producing them.  Thanks for listening!