Stewart Mader Wiki Talk at Drexel
Original Blog Post
Transcription by CastingWords
Stewart Mader Wiki Talk at Drexel
Stewart Mader: OK, looks like it's recording. If he didn't tell me to press F9 I'd forget to do that to record my presentation.
So, thanks everybody for coming. What I want to do today is I want to talk with you a little bit about the Wiki, and what it is, and what the origin of the tool is, and what it can do for teaching and learning. I will go through some slides that just kind of give a general overview of the Wiki, and then I want to show you three or four examples of how it is being used as a course web site and as a collaborative curriculum development web site, and as a web site for material for a course, that is somewhat in lieu of a textbook and that, to a certain extent, students are even involved with the editing and development and refinement of the material. Then I want to
talk at the very end about a project that I have been working on to develop a digital book on the Wiki and its pedagogical application in education, which I released two days ago. I released it, it was a completely digital book on a Wiki, and the response has been, actually, very good. So I want to cover those things for you.
First thing is, what is a Wiki? You have probably heard the term, and you are probably wondering why you've heard of blogs and podcasts, and how does a Wiki fit into that landscape? Well, a Wiki is--the most basic definition of it is--it is a web site that you can easily edit using a web browser. You need no special software, and you really need no special skills, because it is something that, the people who have designed Wiki tools have thought a lot about making it a tool that works into the existing way you work, versus making you change the way you work to work with it.
I was just talking with J.C. before, and I hope I a
m not going to offend anybody but I am going to make some comparisons throughout this presentation between the Wiki and the course-management system. I will tell you up front, the course-management system is not going to come out on top in a lot of those comparisons; and I am not going to knock the course-management system, but I am going to point out to you things that I have seen from personal experience teaching with the course-management system as a web site versus the Wiki as a course curriculum web site, and how much easier and more straightforward the Wiki is, and how much more it can involve and engage students than a course-management system.
So what I really want to do is dialogue with you about that, more than anything; and one other thing that I want to say before I go any further is, rather than questions completely at the end, if you have a pressing question and you want to raise it during the presentation, that is fine. I kind of like it if you h
elp me shape the direction of my talk, versus me giving you a completely canned presentation.
So the Wiki is, it's a web site, again, that you edit using a web browser. You need no special skills and no special tools. It is completely web-based. It is also something that you don't need to worry about using one computer to do all your work. It is something that you can easily move from computer to computer and work on it. It is a tool that requires, in some senses, a shift in your thinking about how you use and store information; and if you think about--here's my first comparison with the course-management system--if you think about, for instance, if you use a WebCT or a Blackboard course web site.
Let's say you have your syllabus, and let's say you write that syllabus in Word, you save the Word file, and then you go and upload that file onto the course-management system. But how does it appear when a student goes and looks at it? It appears as a f
ile with an icon that they then have to download, have to open up in Microsoft Word, and they have to... in other words, in-between you seeing that text on the page and the students seeing the text on that page, there is an entire process: you have to save a file, you have to upload it, the student has to log in, download it, open the appropriate software to view it.
Wiki does away with all of that middleman stuff. If you put a syllabus up on a Wiki, you put it up on the page, you edit it right there in the web browser, and you give out the URL to your Wiki web site. A student goes there and looks at it and they don't need to download anything, they just see the information right away. So where there is a bit of a paradigm shift in using the Wiki versus the current or the existing way in a lot of cases, is you have to no longer think of the information as objects. You have to think about it more as something very fluid. It is not the object of a Word file or a
PDF that you upload and somebody else downloads, it is now this material that you come to and you see.
And when you start to branch out and involve multiple people in writing a document on a Wiki, then what happens is it really becomes, you move away from the pushing of a document out to people--you know, you email out to multiple people copies of a Word document, everybody edits that document, and then everybody sends their discrete, separate revisions back to you. You don't have to do that on a Wiki. People look at the same canvas and they edit the same text.
And one of the really big things about that, it might not seem so important at the outset, but think about what happens if you are working on a committee and you are drafting something, and there are six other people. You email out a first draft Word file to those six people, and each person makes their own changes, sends it back to you. You have to then reconcile those changes, or somebody
has to reconcile those changes, into a final draft. How do you do that? And what happens if two people on that committee have differing points of view on something? How do you pick whose stuff to include in your revision without offending somebody, or without leaving out what somebody thinks is materially important to what they are writing?
Now think about doing that on a Wiki. Now you have got everybody looking at the same canvas and editing the same text. So people can directly talk to each other, in a sense. Somebody can go in and edit the page and change a certain paragraph. Somebody else can come and look at that later, disagree with it or want to make some changes to it, and they can directly make changes right there; and those people can then have a dialogue through editing that page, and then through going back and forth they can essentially come to some kind of agreement, or at least some kind of middle ground on what they are writing. And because the
y are doing it together, they are interacting with each other the entire time, there isn't a period of time where ideas really heavily diverge like they would if people were editing discrete, separate files.
I see you looking like you are about to ask a question.
Woman 1: There is a big piece missing, and that is that some guy could put his thing in, and then somebody else just deletes it, puts his thing in, another guy just deletes it, puts his thing in. So there still has to be some king. You could waste a lot of time with these words and words. You are not hooked up on the phone saying, "I don't like what you said."
Stewart: But you don't have to. It's interesting that you bring that up, because that leads into the next piece that
I want to talk about. The Wiki is an editable site, but one of the things that every Wiki tool does is it stores a revision history of every page as you edit it. And the reality is--I'm talking about people that might engage in philosophical debate--the reality is, people don't often get into that heated debates about things, especially when they're working on... I mean, they do, but people most often get into heated debates about things when they are working in person with each other. They tend not to get into as heated debates when they are working sort of remotely over text, because there is time, where somebody could put out an idea, and somebody else could read that, disagree, and write something that is competing; but there is an element of time in there that you don't get when people are interacting face-to-face, where somebody might be less heated and tend to think out their argument a little bit more.
The other thing is, because the Wiki stores a revi
sion history--in other words, it never really deletes anything--the current version of the page that you see is not the only thing that exists in a Wiki. There is an important distinction there, and I am going to get to, actually, a big philosophical debate about this in a minute.
But imagine, with the Wiki, I come in and I put up a draft, and I put that page out, and you go in and edit it and you make a change to paragraph three; you take out the fourth sentence and you put in a different sentence. Then you hit "save." The current version of the page is now going to have your sentence instead of mine, but as part of that page there is a link that you can click on that says "Revision History," and you can go back and see, somebody else can go back and see, what my sentence said. So you might have taken out that fourth sentence, but then J.C. might come and look at it and say, well, there's an element of your sentence that is good, there's an
element of my sentence that is good, let's see if I can edit those two together and revise that sentence. He can do that, and that then becomes the new current version of the page. But what is essentially happening is, all of that is being recorded, and anybody can go back and see that. So you do still need to have, in essence, somebody watching what is happening, and in a lot of cases it is good to have a moderator, but what you have with a Wiki is not somebody who is entirely charged with dealing with all of that change, you have somebody who is in there more moderating the direct interaction between people.
Man 1: [inaudible question]
Stewart: Some Wiki software will let you do that. You can turn off editing privileges for a page and stop things. Someti
mes the discussion will just naturally stop at a certain point. Oftentimes if people are working on something and there's a deadline, they'll just stop editing after whatever deadline, if they're writing a report or a paper or something like that. But you can turn off editing. That is possible, and a lot of times there are articles--it tends to be more in the technology media, it sometimes gets into the Chronicle--that articles on Wikipedia will get shut off for a period of time, like a cooling-off period, if the debate gets to be really hot.
I haven't gotten to Wikipedia yet and I will, but the one thing I want to say is keep in mind that the things you hear about Wikipedia, and the idea of Wikipedia, is probably the most extreme implementation of a Wiki possible, because potentially the entire world is the audience that can read and edit that Wiki. People can go in and anonymously change pages, so there is the potential that people can go in and vandalize.
Much more so than if you were to use a Wiki in your course, and as I'll show you in a couple of minutes, you use a Wiki tool like I use, where students all log in with accounts, and so their name is attached to their edits. There is a lot less practical chance that people are going to go in and do the kind of things they'd do if it's anonymous, because their name is attached to their work, and there is an element of formality and accountability. There is also, when you think about using a tool like this, as with just about any time you use technology, part of your thinking should be, how are you going to make that tool part of the formal assessment of the course.
That, I think, adds another element of stability into it; because having students work on a Wiki, and they have to log in and their name is attached to their work, and their work is part of their formal grade. What I'm getting at is you reach a point where yes, there has been the hype about
Wikipedia, and there is the hype about Wiki potentially being a pit of anarchy, but in most cases people are much more concerned with what they can do with it than pushing the limits and seeing what they can't do, and what gets to the limit of what they can't do. But those are both good points.
I put this quote up; I found this a few months ago, this fellow David Wiley runs a blog called OpenContent.org, and he talks a lot about these kind of issues: what are the practical things when you are putting content out and you are allowing a much broader amount of participation in it? He said the best new technological innovations take what 10 percent of the population have previously been able to do, and make that available to the other 90 percent of the population.
When you think about using a tool like this, and you think about what it can do--yes, you're opening up content, you're making things more editable th
an ever before, but on the flipside there is something very significant about being able to open content up that way and to open participation up that way. And when you think about using a Wiki as a tool in a course, think if you have ever--and in my teaching I have had students do projects where they have to do a PowerPoint presentation, or they have had to do a web site or something like that; and what I have often found is that in a group of students working, there will be one student who is more tech-savvy than the others. And what happens is usually all the responsibility to do any of the tech-related stuff falls on that person. So a lot of times a group will get together, they'll formulate what is going to go on a PowerPoint, and then they'll relegate it to one person to actually put the presentation together.
If you think of using a Wiki as a platform for group collaboration, that dependence on a tech-savvy person, and thus that almost unfair balance tow
ards the more tech-savvy person experiencing the technology goes away, because the tool is simple enough that anybody can use it. So in cases with students, and in just about any case--I'm going to show you some examples where multiple people teaching a course have collaboratively developed the curriculum on a Wiki--because the tool is so extremely simple, people are able to use it who would not otherwise want to use a lot of technology, or otherwise feel a little bit apprehensive about technology. And because the barrier to entry is so low, you get much more participation from those people. And you get from those people, and they get from their participation in the project, more involvement in what they want to do, which is focus on the content of what they are building, focus on what they are really experts in, instead of having to spend so much time up front learning the technology.
I just want to point out these three things, and it's more if there was a te
chnical or more of an audience in here that was thinking about the issues of using a Wiki on an institutional scale; but what I want to point out about it is--and this will be my second comparison with course-management systems--these issues of cost, scale, and that third one says "eat." Wikis, by and large, are much less expensive than course-management systems. At Brown we have WebCT 6.0, which is the sort of cheaper version of Vista, and I like to say that for CE6, WebCT, we pay about the cost of a really nice, high-end luxury car for that. For the Wiki, for Enterprise Wiki software which allows us to have spaces or sites for as many courses as we want, and as many committees or research labs or just about any use that you'd want, we pay $2000.
That is a very significant thing, because if you think about the cost of technology--you know, I talked a little bit about the user using technology, and it being simple enough that there's a low barrier to
entry--but on a larger institutional and almost cultural scale, when technology is so much lower-priced than that, you start to move away from the mentality that you buy a very expensive piece of technology and then you are forced to live with it because you have invested the money in it and now you have it.
Unfortunately, that is largely the precedent right now with course-management systems. They are all very expensive, and institutions that have bought into them, people endlessly gripe about the problems with them. I am one of those people. I endlessly gripe about problems with WebCT, but I don't think my institution is going to get rid of it any time soon, because a lot of money and a lot of people time and power has been invested in it, and I don't think anybody wants to say, "Whoops! We went down the wrong road."
And I think that is a fundamental failure of technology. There shouldn't ever be a case with technology where people fe
el like they have to live with a decision, or they have gone down a wrong road by using something because it has become so entrenched. The Wiki is one of the first tools I have ever seen in technology--and I really mean that--that doesn't have that stigma attached to it. An institution can buy a tool like this and not have spent so much money that if they find they don't like that tool, they can't easily switch to something else.
Because the content you are putting in a Wiki is simply text, it is also not a tool where you are dealing with proprietary file formats, and importing and exporting, and how do you convert content from one software format to another. You are just working with the most basic format possible, and something you can just cut-and-paste content from one Wiki page to another. In fact, in a lot of cases where I have worked with people with Wikis, they'll have started out playing around with some of the free tools on the web, and then they'll s
ay, "Oh I want to use the Enterprise tool," and all they have to do is go to their pages in their free site, copy the text, and paste it into the tool.
It's a funny moment for people when they see that, because they go into it expecting to have to learn how to--"OK, how am I going to convert this content. It's going to be a long process." At every point in the use of a Wiki, you walk up to it with the preconceived, long-held notion that all of us justifiably have, that you are going to have to spend a lot of time learning it, and you are going to have to commit to using it, and you invest a lot of time; and you walk up and you find out that at every step of the way it is so simple, you don't have to invest that time, and the time you would have invested, you get to spend thinking about how you want to use it in terms of your teaching or research and so forth.
="speaker_5" >Man 2: Can you enter other things besides text, like chemical structures or related graphics, so that everybody has access to them?
Stewart: The software is getting better for that. You can upload images and videos and display them on a page just the same as you would on a regular website. It is actually a little bit easier on a Wiki.
Typically Wiki software treats getting an image or a video or something like that on to your site the same way as attaching to an email. When you are editing a page there is usually a button somewhere in the editing interface that says "upload" or "attach."
You click that and upload a file and then it will just drop that file on the page. Chemical structures are not quite there yet. Media Wiki, which is the open source tool that powers Wikipedia, has support fo
r LATEX, which is the formula...I know that a lot of people in math use it a lot more so than chemistry.
There is limited support right now for chemical structures. I think that is coming though.
Man 2: [inaudible question]
Stewart: ...to an image... You could just do that.
Man 2: [inaudible question]
Stewart: It would just be a picture. It would not be for instance a PDB file or a JCAMP if it is a spectrum or something. Wiki software cannot handle that stuff yet, but I know there is development of that going on, and it natur
ally makes sense, because the more formats that it can handle the more beneficial it is...the more broad is its appeal for people.
The other two things here are scale and ease. Because the Wiki is such a simple tool...and I heard someone make a comment earlier, I think it was you, about problems with WebCT not having... People finally put up an error message saying that there are too many users.
That is not good, when software that is supposed to be available for a large number of people cannot handle all the people that want to use it at once. The big problem with a lot of course management software is that it is so heavy duty, it has so many features built in, it has to do so much on any individual course site, that it requires a lot of computing power and thus is a limit on how many people can use it and problems like that.
A Wiki is much much simpler in both...I am talking about how simple it is to use. It is mostly that you are
putting in text and images. It is really just a web site at its core. The whole mentality with the Wiki and the people who have been developing the software tools is not to add new features at every possible point, and not to make the software into a cornucopia of all things that are possible, but to make it do its one thing well.
The good thing about that is that when the software comes under stress, when lots of students are using a Wiki site, and lots of people want to edit pages, Wiki server does not go down as often as a course management server does. I have found that on several occasions this semester alone.
It is because people are only doing one thing and not doing ten different things and it is not this complicated software where there are more chances for error. All of these things really also go back to ease. If you can see the little image there...You do not want to be that guy who is buried in all the cables and so tied to your techn
ology that you do not get to do what everybody has long promised that you can do with technology.
You want things to be so simple that your time spent thinking about technology is picking the tool that you want to use and then you get to spend the rest of your time doing what you want to do with the tool.
I always like to put this picture up at this point and say that I really think the Wiki is simple enough that my dog could use it. It really is. I am going to show it to you in a second. What is important to remember is I am talking all this about sort of these larger broad stroke things about the changes in thinking about content and doing things differently than before, using the tool that does one thing well versus using tools that are supposed to be a jack-of-all-trades.
What all that boils down to is that this is a tool that when you think about using it there is no one use for it. You think about a course management system, in
the name of it is what it does. A Wiki, there is no typical use for it.
You could use it for just about anything because, once again, put away everything else that I have said, first thing, it is a web site that you can edit using a web browser and that is it.
And so, when that hits you and you start thinking about what you can do with it...when it first really hit me what you can do with it I started to think, "Wow, I could replace my existing course web sites and I could post...I first started with...I could edit my syllabus on a Wiki and make that available."
And then I started to think, "Why don't I put the course schedule up there?" and, "Why don't I, instead of uploading Word files and PDFs of assignments, why don't I just make pages in my Wiki site for those assignments?" And then I stated to think, "Why do I not have students work on assignments collaboratively on the Wiki?"
br/>If I am going to have students write a paper why do I not have them give each group a Wiki page and have them from start to finish of the assignment from day one when they go out doing library research picking a topic thinking about what resources they are going to use why do I not have that and document that process on a Wiki and then as they start to write that paper have them write their draft have their draft updated on a Wiki and that way all throughout the process of them working on that project they know what each other is doing and I know what they are doing, I will be able to go in at any point and see what they are doing and see if they are on the right track and see if they are on the right track with the assignment and give them active feedback on it?"
How many of you have ever given a group project and at some point students have come up to you near the end and said to you that one of the students did not pull their weight? I am sure that
it has happened to all of you at some point. I know that it has happened to me.
And you do not really have any way of proving that. People can come up and say someone is not pulling their weight, but how would you know? Now imagine if you have the students working on whether it is a paper, or whether it is drafting, bullet points and topics and so forth for a Power Point presentation, imagine if you have them doing that on a Wiki and you have got this page that everyone can go to and edit collaboratively...so you have erased the idea that only one tech savvy student in the group is doing all the technology, you have got people more involved, and because the tool has the ability to do revision history, so you see the progression of the growth of content over time, you can see how often student are editing, how much they are contributing, now you are starting to have a way to do real assessment in an ongoing way as they are working on the project.
o instead of having somebody come up to you the day of the presentation and saying JC did not pull his weight, he did not edit this thing at all, you could go into the Wiki two or three weeks into the semester and see "Oh yeah he did and he has actually been putting in more than most people" or on the other hand you might go in in those first two or three weeks and see that he has not edited the Wiki yet and you might pull him aside after class and say "How are things going with your group project?."
And, the idea is that you find out early on and you can right the course with something like that whether it is one person struggling in a group or whether it is a group that starts a project and starts to kind of go off in a wrong direction with their research or is struggling in the beginning finding good sources for their paper or presentation.
The idea is that you can catch those things much earlier and your points of assessmen
t become much broader much more granular. You are no longer relying on a final project and maybe a midway check as your point of assessment on a project.
You could now pick the points of assessment, and those points of assessment can have much more immediate and then long lasting impact because immediately you can catch a problem where people are not finding good enough research sources or maybe they have gotten all their sources from the web and have not even gone to the library yet.
You can catch that right away and fix that. And that is going to have a long term impact because the product that they come out with at the end is going to be better because you are able to catch something like that early on. "The computer screen should be as much as possible the contributor's space."
The fellow that I am quoting here is the founder of one of these free web based Wiki services. It is called SeeWiki. I will in about five slides
from now I will go through about four or five free tools that you can try out to get this sense for the Wiki.
I think this is a very important quote because if you think about the use of technology, especially the Internet, and you think about what have you done since the first day that you ever accessed the Internet, what have you primarily done on the Internet? You have read stuff on web sites.
You have read cnn.com, you have read the Chronicle, as more and more journals have put stuff online you have probably read stuff online. You notice the common theme in what I am saying. Most of what people have been able to do on the web is read; and what we are now starting to approach--and the Wiki is the tool that I think is making this possible more than anything else--is a changeover for the web, from primarily something that you go to and you just read what's there, to something that you can contribute. There is a ter
m that has been going around for the last couple of years called the "Read/Write Web." It really, when you think about it, it is both naturally the future of where the Internet should go, but it is also something that has been a long time coming and in some ways is long overdue; because we have been promised great things about technology for ages, and I think this is the realization of a really great thing.
What makes technology engaging for people, and what makes it useful, is when every person who comes in contact with it can participate, and when the technology itself is simple enough and well-designed enough that it recedes into the background and you only really see it for a moment in the beginning, and then you focus mostly on what you really want to do.
I could probably do a whole presentation on issues and things surrounding Wikipedia. The one thing that I really want to focus on for a minute is, about a year ago, December 2005,
the journal "Nature" published a study, and they revealed that in the Fall of 2005 they selected 50 topics--the editor-in-chief of the journal went to the editors for the News section of "Nature," who report on different beats in biology, neuroscience, you name it, and he asked all those people to come up with a list of 50 topics, the kinds of topics that they would regularly report on. Then, the journal went to Wikipedia and Britannica, and they found the article on each of those topics. They stripped out any identifying information about which site or so forth the articles had come from, and then they sent those articles out to experts in each of those 50 areas, and they asked them to look at those articles and evaluate them for comprehensiveness, factual accuracy, the overall quality of the content, and so forth.
What they came back with was, on average, Wikipedia articles had about three errors per article, Britannica articles had about
two. The second thing they came back with was, Wikipedia articles were about two to three times longer than Britannica articles, and the quality of the information in the two was about equal. What they said was, that average one greater error in Wikipedia is pretty much negated by the fact that, one more error but two to three times more information in there, in the article. It sparked a little bit of a firestorm that in their evaluation they suggested that, yes, Wikipedia has one more error per article, but the people on Wikipedia editing those articles could go fix those errors right now if they wanted to. The people publishing Britannica would have to wait until the next edition of their encyclopedia was revised and published to fix those errors.
Lo and behold, it took Britannica three months to reply, and Britannica's reply, which came out in March of this year, was basically a schoolyard bully, "You guys did a bad job!" They accused "Nature&
quot; of doing a bad job with their research, which pretty much fell on deaf ears with a lot of people, because when you attack arguably the number one or number two journal in terms of importance and say, "You did bad research," after the journal published what they did in the same way that they would require anybody else to conduct research and show exactly what they did. It illustrated an important point. "Nature" said, "It is going to take Britannica longer than Wikipedia to deal with this issue, and by taking three months to even reply and make a statement about it, Britannica made "Nature's" point for them.
Where I say it sparked a firestorm is, people started saying, "Well is 'Nature' backing Wikipedia? Is 'Nature' now saying that Britannica and the traditional encyclopedia should go the way of the horse-drawn buggy or something?" And "Nature" came back and said no, that was not what they were doing.
What they intended to do with that study was expose for people on a broad, high level, what was happening with technology and what was happening with the Wiki as an information platform; and to get people to take notice and realize that no, you shouldn't necessarily stop what you are doing and completely change, drop Britannica or drop any of the traditional ways of doing things, but that people could no longer not take notice of this tool and not take notice of what is happening. That people needed to get involved.
The editor of "Nature" suggested in this sort of long thought piece after the whole thing was over that the people who were reading "Nature," and the people who were publishing in "Nature," and doing the research in these fields, ought to go to Wikipedia and see what the articles on their field said. And if they felt there were inaccuracies, or if they felt there was information that should be added, they should add it
, because by doing that, and by doing it as pre-eminent experts in their fields, they would be lending a level of credibility to that information source.
It was a really interesting debate, because I think there are still some people who think that the Wiki is a passing fad, or don't know what to think of it, or think that maybe there were flaws in "Nature's" work. And there may have been; but the impact of it on the people's thinking is what is really important, and no matter what people think of it, it has made a big impact. There has been a lot of talk, since that study, about the idea, and there is now more and more research emerging on the idea of looking at what happens in the revision history of a Wiki page, or an article in a Wikipedia, or any page that is developed in a Wiki, versus material that is published in more static book form. If you think about it, you pick up an article in Britannica and you read the content in that article, you get
what's there at face value; but you don't know what went into developing that article. You don't know, necessarily, who wrote it or what their backgrounds are, or who their influences are, what their biases might be.
Now go over and think about looking at that article on Wikipedia. Imagine going and delving through the revision history, and seeing where people, along the way in the development of that article, have had a disagreement about the content; or where people have come in and added new content, and who those people might be, because a fair number of people who write and contribute to articles in Wikipedia do register, and do associate their names with their work. You can edit anonymously, but a fair number of people don't. They want their names attached. But what you get, when you think about it, with the Wiki, is not only the end product of the information, but you get to see the construction of that knowledge, and there is something very valuable in
If you think about now translating that over to students, there is a lot for students to see in that. There is a lot to teach students about the construction of knowledge and what goes into the construction of knowledge. Where I want to take that even a step further is, I have been working for the past year or so on developing a teaching method that uses the Wiki for science courses. The idea behind the method is you have the students write a paper collaboratively, and it starts with an exploration of this debate, this Wikipedia/Britannica debate; and then looking at the idea that with a Wiki, and with a revision history, you see not only the final product, but you see the construction of knowledge.
Then it progresses to having the students do that, to having them pick a topic and write a paper collaboratively, with the aim that when they have written their paper to the point where it is a final draft and there is a deadline for it, that th
eir paper will then be peer-reviewed by, typically, me and a couple of other instructors. Essentially, the equivalent of experts, to a certain extent, in the field, and vetted for accuracy. And we will not only look at the final paper they wrote, but at the way that they constructed their knowledge. What resources did they go look at when they wrote the paper, and did they document those things along the way? What did individual people writing the paper focus on in their research on the topic.
And when you think about that, that's a kind of lesson that I could never do if I just had the students write a paper and give me the final product. I couldn't do any of that work with the construction of knowledge, because I would only be able to look at the final product. That is where the impact of this paradigm shift in thinking about information with a Wiki really starts to hit home.
I am going to quickly shift gears now. I want to start to show you, re
ally, what a Wiki looks like. I had the Wikipedia page up. What I want to show you now is a project that I started seven years ago as a static web site, and three years ago converted to a Wiki. The project is called "The Science of Spectroscopy." A colleague and I started this because we looked at a second-year Organic course, and we looked at where the students were struggling the most with content, and what they were learning, and they were struggling the most with spectroscopy.
What we really found was the problem for them was, the material that was highly visual was being taught in a very chalk-and-talk, very traditional, in a way that was not taking advantage of how visual and how engaging the material could be. It was also being taught with an immediate focus on the technical stuff, the theory and the techniques behind spectroscopy. "What are you looking for when you do an NMR, a carbon NMR of a substance?" But it wasn't looking at why
you do those things, and it wasn't looking at the applications.
So we developed this resource with kind of turning the usual presentation of content on its ear: start with applications. We developed a wide range of applications, everything from uses in the research lab to how spectroscopy plays a role in the microwave oven, to medical uses and so forth. Then, interspersed in all those pages, we had links that went to pages on the underlying theory: "You get a sports injury and you go to the hospital for an MRI. Well, how does that MRI work?" Then you link them in and get to the technique, and you talk about NMR. Then you can go a level further and you can talk about the theory behind it. What happens is, before students know it, they have picked this application that piqued their interest, and they are in learning the stuff that otherwise they would struggle to learn if it was being taught just on the board in a very rote way.
y short, three years ago we converted the whole site to a Wiki, largely because once we put this thing out on the web and we let a few people know about it, a lot of other people started to use it, and people started writing to us and saying, "Could you add an article on this topic." People even started emailing us entire pages they had written of content, and saying, "Can you add this to your web site?" It was about that time that I started to really discover and use the Wiki, and I played around with it a little bit, and I thought, "What if we put all this on a Wiki, make it available for these people to directly edit?" Log-in is required, so there is some gatekeeping done at the door to make sure that people are coming for legitimate reasons.
And what we have seen in the last three years is the growth of content, the rate of the growth of content, has increased fourfold; because it is no longer two of us trying to juggle all of
the other parts of our lives and spend time updating the site and building curriculum. We now have all these other people involved, writing it. And for them, and for us and the site as a resource, it means that it is much more comprehensive, and it is a much more valuable teaching tool because it has all kinds of material that we: a) either wouldn't have the time or inclination to write, and then for the people who are coming and participating, by nature of it being on a Wiki, the tool is more personally relevant to their teaching because they can come in and add material that they want students to read and they want students to learn as they interact with it.
So just to show you what it looks like, this is the home page, and you see that it starts with the application stuff at the top of the page. Then techniques and theory, if somebody wanted to work from the home page, are all listed here. But if a person goes into one of these applications pages and starts
reading the page where we talk about, for instance, that MRI article, it will say in that article that the basis for MRI is nuclear magnetic resonance, or NMR, and that then links to the article on NMR. Then if the student clinks on that, they're right in, and now learning the material, the real scientific, technical, theoretical material that they need to learn.
So here is an example of a page: this is one on cardiovascular imaging. That is the page, so you see it's just a web site; there's some navigation stuff on the left, there's the text, title. It doesn't look all that different from a regular web site. I put these arrows in here just for reference. The red one points to the article, which is what we are looking at now, the regular old page. The purple one points to the edit mode. You notice, I just switched from reading the article to edit mode. Not that much changed on the page. I'm going to go back: there's the article, title, text, so forth. Editing m
ode: well, there's the title and there's the text. The only difference is the text is now in a box that you can edit. You can make changes to that page. When you're done making changes, you hit "save page" and that's it.
I don't think you get a much lower barrier to entry to using technology than that. And the idea for people that use this site with us, and have all their other responsibilities in their academic lives, they can come here and use this and it is that easy. If they want to jump in and make a quick factual change to an article, add a sentence or a paragraph here or there--boom! You're in, you make changes, and you save.
Woman 2: Many people write, and are unable to write what they really intend to say. Even people whose native tongue is American write differently, everything is ambiguous. How is that controlle
d with something like this?
Stewart: Well, we have done some assessment of how people are using this, and often what we've found people are doing, is when they want to edit something in an article they often write it locally on their own computer, and then they add it to the page when they've revised it and they feel pretty confident about it. In a lot of cases, when people are making a quick change or a quick addition to a page, they'll just go in and edit a sentence here or there. In those cases there is a lot less room for ambiguity if you're just making minor changes. When people are making larger changes, they tend to write offline first and refine their content into what they want and then put it up.
Woman 2: I guess I don't quite understand this...
Woman 2: ...because I have read some on Wikipedia, and it seems fairly well written, and there was some kind of grammarian or controller, because if you look at journal articles for Scientific Journal, you find that oftentimes there can be many portions that are incomprehensible; you get people's articles where we say, "You must have meant this, but you didn't say that." So that even people that think they write well, they don't. So are you telling me that in Wikipedia there isn't some kind of editor?
Stewart: Not to my knowledge. But think about what you just said: when people peer-review articles for a journal, you read a pe
rson's article and you notice that the grammar is not good, and you write back to them and say, "Clean up the grammar in this paragraph or sentence or whatever." On a Wiki, rather than writing to somebody and telling them to clean up their text, a person who notices a grammatical error is much more likely to just change it right there and refine it.
Woman 2: But what if you can't tell what the person wants to say?
Stewart: Well, in the examples where I have seen something similar to this happen, one person will go in and change it, and usually the first person will come back and see that somebody has changed it, and if they have changed it and it is really far off from what they originally meant, they might revise it back or they might change it.
But then again, they might not if the person went in and revised it or clarified it, and got the message they wanted to say right.
But what you are hitting at is the change in thinking between the way we've done it before and the way we do it with a Wiki, because in the way we've done it before you don't make immediate changes to things. You often find a change and you tell somebody else, "Here's a change that you might want to make," versus on a Wiki, you just make the change right there. To a certain extent you're making a change for that person, but in a community where people are actively working on this, people begin to learn from each other's work.
So if you go in and you write something, and I go in and I refine it, and you like what I have written better, you might then adjust your writing style a little bit. I'm not saying that people make major changes in what they do. These things happen gradually over time. And because of the
ability to work so directly with something, those changes happen in a much more fluid way.
So let me do this: I want to, at this point, show you a couple of these other examples of things we've done. I just want to show you, in real life, what this thing looks like. This is the site. So you see, there is the home page; there are all the applications; here is the section on techniques and theory. Again, it's just a website. Any one of these pages, I can go into and read the application.
I am going to go to that one on MRI, if I can find it in here. There it is, Magnetic Resonance Imaging. You see right in there as you are reading, there is the link to MNR, there is the link to Proton MNR, there is a specific page on Proton. So a student comes here, they read this whole page, they click on these links, which you know when you are reading the web - you tend to click links pretty quickly, and they are into that content. That is one example.
The second one I want to show you. I want to show you two things that we have doing with the Wiki in courses at Brown. One is, freshman chemistry course called Chem10. Here is the quick low down on this course. Like just about any freshman general chem. course, at any university, is taught by multiple instructors and multiple sections. Teaching responsibility often rotates from year to year or every couple of years. That raises a big issue with the transferability of the content people use to teach. One person might have a fairly well developed set of lecture notes; they might not share that with other people. Somebody else might just not know who has taught it in the past year. It might be brand new to campus and they might set out to reinvent the wheel, and write a whole new set of lecture notes. In both cases, that is not the optimal thing to have happen. People aren't really improving the content so much as they are just rehashing the same thing over and over again.
What we did is we put all the content for this course on a Wiki. The people who taught several sections over the summer went in, used this material as their primary source of material to teach the course, and as they were teaching, they refined the material.
Because what we did is we took big chunks of material that people had developed and were sitting in Word files and things like that, and put them on the Wiki. We said go ahead in, make changes, do what you want to this to refine it, bring it up to date, add new material and here is how much content that is in this site.
This is basically all the material to teach this course. You know, the five major units that are taught: atoms, molecules, reactions and so forth, macroscopic systems. There is a whole lot of content in here. There is almost enough in here to replace a textbook because people have gone in and written so much. They took a lot of places where somebody just had some
bullet point notes, or little bits of information and they have really expanded upon it. The three people who are teaching the course, none of them are the most technologically inclined people but they are able to get in and do this easily.
Now what happens is we've got material that from year to year to year is going to be available for the next people to use and refine and the next people and so forth. That material is going to get a lot better for it.
Man 3: What happens when somebody enters three paragraphs out of a block of a general chemistry textbook, word for word, which is copyrighted material?
Stewart: If it were me, I would take the paragraphs out. I would delete them.
Man 3: And if the publisher gets there before you take them out?
Stewart: You notice I had to log into this, this is not public for anybody to see. In this case, a publisher wouldn't be able to get in and see it. What you would really have to do is set ground rules and say, "Don't do that." I don't think a lot of people would do that. It is possible that somebody could but think about it, if you are an instructor in a department, it would be kind of embarrassing professionally if somebody found out you did that. I think the likelihood of that happening is pretty low. I think in a lot of cases, people would take that stuff out because they wouldn't want something like that to sully the quality of what they are trying to do.
I am going to show you one other example. Here is an example of using a W
iki for a course website. This is a fellow who used to use WebCT for his site. He started playing around with this Wiki over the summer. He called me up in August and he said, "You know I am just going to use this for my course website, for the whole thing." What he has done, this is one page, he has gone in and put in links to the different sections of the course, which is just linked to other pages. He has put in an image, he has formatted things a little bit and he did all of this in about two hours of work. He pretty much built the whole course website because he didn't have to go and figure out the software. He spent more time creating a page and then writing the content he wanted in the case of adjusting the calendar and so forth.
Man 4: How does he run the discussions?
ss="speaker_3" >Stewart: He runs the discussion using... He hasn't started doing it yet but what he is planning to do, later in the semester, there is a comment feature in this Wiki and it is common in just about all Wiki software; is just going to have the students do a back and forth discussion in typical discussion form, kind of like a threaded discussion. Just using the comment feature.
What he is doing that takes more advantage of the Wiki is, under these final projects, he is having these students write papers. Similar to what I told you before, the idea of collaboratively writing papers. He is having them individually write it but he is having each person individually write and then two other people serve as their peer reviewers while they are writing it, and go in and make changes and suggestions and so forth. People's grade for the assignment is partly for their paper and partly for their participation in going in and peer reviewing two o
ther people's papers.
The very last thing I want to do is jump back to what I've been talking about before. I want to give you some tools to go and try; to get a better feel for the Wiki's. I am going to slip past some of these slides. There is a whole range of tools out there. The tools that we use at Brown is this tool called Confluence, an enterprise Wiki tool, meaning it is something we bought it and it allows us to easily run Wiki websites, as many as we need for the entire campus.
There are a couple of other tools, Social Text and this other company, Jot Spot, make tools that are very similar. The other icons you see are a lot of these free web based tools and I want to just mention a couple of them. Write Board is the simplest of these tools; it is a one page Wiki. You go and sign up for this tool and it gives you one page on which to develop something.
If your interest is peaked by what I am talking about and you want to go s
ee what this is about, I would start with this tool because it is the easiest and simplest thing. All you do to sign up is give it a name, put in a password and enter your email address and they will create a space for you and email you and give you the address and so forth. If you want to invite other people in to try it out, when you are editing the page- there is a box at the top that says invite collaborators and you just enter their email addresses. It sends people an email and gives them the address of the site and the password to log in and collaborate.
Every Wiki tool has that capability, to invite people in pretty easily, usually by just entering an email address. The enterprise tools are a little different because they let you, for instance, connect to campus directory and just bring people's accounts in. The address for write board is writeboard.com.
Another one, I mentioned this earlier, is Seed Wi
ki. This is another one of these free web based tools. This one is a very community oriented tool. On the front page of it you notice there is all these links that look like they are kind of a hodge-podge. They are the names of any of the sites that people have created on here that they have made public. You can make your site private and it won't appear there. The ones that are public, you can come here, what I like about this is you can idea for what people are doing. For instance, there is one right here Biology 1408. I looked at that one. Somebody is using that as a course website for a Biology course. The reason why these look they are a hodge-podge and some are bigger than others, is the size of the name of your Wiki on this page gets larger the more often people contribute to it and work on it, so the more activity. If you want to see examples of ones that people are involved in, you would want to click on one of those. The address for that is just seedWiki.com.
I want to mention another one. PBWiki is another tool; it is like these other ones, it is very simple. One of the things I like about this one over the others is that I think it has the cleanest, slickest interface of all, really the simplest interface of all of them. Just to show what it looks like, I created a quick space. There is the home page. I put a few links in. There is the button up there to edit the page. There is even a button that says new page if you want to create one. The idea again, is the simplicity. All of the stuff, you don't have to go hunting around menus and trying to figure out how to use this. On all of these, if you notice, all the links you need are right up front. The address for that is pbWiki.com.
I think I am going to cut things off there. I know I've gone a little bit over time.
cite class="speaker_8" >Man 4: OK. Thank you very much.
Stewart: I'll stick around if you've got questions.
Transcription by CastingWords