Wikis give users, with even basic web browsing knowledge the possibility to add content to the Internet. Moreover multiple users may add or edit the same content thus collaborating towards a common goal. Certain Wikis (like OU wikis) keep a history of amendments done to the same article thus providing options which are not possible through offline communication.
It may be argued that wikis possess the three social features (openness, robustness and decentralisation) put forward by Weller (2006). In fact, anyone forming part of the wiki’s community may edit an article (coediting) or start up a new article for any topic that is desired. Entries are viewable by all the community. Some wikis may be edited by anyone whereas others need membership. In my opinion, wikis as Wikipedia may not be so robust in that articles may contain inexact information. Also such open spaces might be easily targeted by vandals (eg http://www.wikipedia-watch.org/vandals.html). Through wikis, knowledge is built by the many, thus seeing a down top approach rather then the usual top down approach where an article is published and readers gulp its contents. Therefore, wiki’s popularity is enhanced through collective wisdom of its authors. Tools like wikis give users the ability to have their say in an interactive environment rather then browsing an environment in which one cannot show ideas or feelings. In fact wikis distribute the roles which traditionally were centred.
Various examples of wiki usage have shown how learning may occur through collaboration. Minocha and Thomas (2007) report how ‘the students’ accounts show that collaboration enhanced their learning through clarification, re-interpretation and re-assessment, and reflection’ Peer review, co reflection, learner centred approach are just a handful of possibilities.
Does the evolution of wikis show social determinism or technological determinism? I believe it is a blend of both where the development of such a tool has provided a new space through which the reader is able to collaborate. Moreover the users themselves have determined what type of features such a tool may have e.g. integrated search, word processor features and history of edits.
Wikis together with other online tools are providing a new dimension through which users may communicate. Although this is blended with other modes of communication, this new dimension features a functionality which users ‘have been asking for’ and which technological improvement can now provide.
Minocha, S. and Thomas, P.S. (2007) ‘Collaborative learning in a wiki environment: experiences from a software engineering course’, New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia, vol.13, no.2, pp.187–209; also available online at http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13614560701712667 (accessed 1 April 2010).
Weller, M.J. (2006) ‘The distance from isolation: why communities are the logical conclusion in e-learning’ in Dias de Figueiredo, A. and Afonso, A. (eds) Managing Learning in Virtual Settings: The Role of Context, Hershey, PA, Information Science Publishing.