Wiki Use in Higher Education: Implications for Group Size and Task Complexity

Wiki Use in Higher Education: Implications for Group Size and Task Complexity

Elizabeth Koh (National University of Singapore, Singapore) and John Lim (National University of Singapore, Singapore)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch019


In recent years, the field of education has discovered the educational value of social interaction technologies, including wikis. However, a lack of conceptual understanding and operationalization of wiki use has prevented a more extensive adoption of this collaborative technology by educational institutions. The present chapter provides insights into the functionality of wikis and their educational implications for higher education. The authors contend that a conceptualization of wiki use in the classroom context can be derived from a typology of online interactive pedagogies. The proposed conceptualization is based on the assumption that certain kinds of wiki-related activities correspond to certain levels of classroom interactions; namely, social interaction, general discussion, topic focused discussion, and collaborative activities. Additionally, group size and task complexity should be considered as criteria for wiki implementation. The main premise of the chapter is that the instructional use of wiki-based classroom technologies can enhance student learning.
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Due to the collaborative nature of Wiki technologies, Wiki has become a buzzword in 21st century higher education. A Wiki is a platform for content creation and negotiation by user audiences. Students use Wikis for collaborative writing exercises, completing group assignments, service learning, and community outreach projects (Hamer, 2006; O’Shea et al., 2007; Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008). Instructors implement an assortment of Wiki functions for content management systems and for various class-related activities (Bruns & Humphreys, 2005; Glogoff, 2006). These activities have been carried out with varying degrees of success in achieving student learning outcomes. It has been established that online education, with its emphasis on student-centered learning, can benefit from the addition of Wiki tools to the higher education landscape (Bower et al., 2006; Fuchs-Kittowski & Köhler, 2005). However, as Wang and Turner stressed, Wiki deployment in online learning has led to considerable dilemmas that necessitate further investigation (2004).

Addressing the issue of technology-mediated communication in online learning communities, Geer (2006) developed a comprehensive pedagogical framework which integrates three essential elements: learning outcomes, interactive pedagogies, and interactive technologies. This framework can inform instructors’ adoption of interactive technology tools in online learning environments. As Geer wrote:

Central to the framework are the specific types of activities that support varying levels of interaction, ranging from very general to more specific and focused activities. These activities which have been derived from a reading of the literature and also from university teaching experiences, include social interaction, general discussion, topic focused, scripted, cooperative and collaborative activities. Such interactive pedagogies could be used to support student interactions and learning (p. 132).

Geer placed Wikis exclusively within the category of topic focused interactive pedagogy used for achieving such learning outcomes as analysis, interpretation, exploration, reflection, and experiential learning (p. 133). After carefully reviewing the existing research of Wiki implementations in the higher educational context, the authors propose expanding the range of interactive pedagogies that can inform Wiki use to include social interaction, general discussion, and cooperative activities. That will allow broadening the range of possible student learning outcomes to encompass: information exchange, observation, clarification, comparison, and task division (p. 138).



The term Wiki refers to both technology and a concept of how one can create and edit online content (Louridas, 2006). In essence, Wikis are editable websites that enable users to apply simple markup language to build content and collaborate (Lamont, 2007). Developing Wiki pages involves three simple steps: write (or edit), save, and display (Klobas, 2006). Known as “open editing,” Wikis allow users to browse through Wiki pages, edit existing pages, or create new ones (Leuf & Cunningham, 2001). Wikis encourage internal linking of pages but limit the appearance of the so-called “orphaned pages” (i.e., pages that have no direct links to them); thus, a constantly changing body of content is evolving (Wang & Turner, 2004). Besides, Wikis offer an opportunity for groups of users to join their efforts in developing content.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Community Of Practice: A group of people who are mutually engaged in achieving a common purpose by sharing of resources.

Collaborative Learning: A pedagogy that engages students in teamwork and is closely related to cooperative learning. It is based on the assumption that learning goals are maximized by sharing knowledge among learners.

CoWeb (Collaborative Web) or Swiki: CoWeb is a web-based group collaboration tool written in Squeak, an open-source programming language. It has been developed at the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1999 for educational use.

QwikiWiki: A Wiki software engine written in PHP programming language.

MediaWiki: A popular Wiki engine developed in 2002 and written in the PHP programming language. MediaWiki is used for maintaining Wikipedia.

Wiki: A collaborative website in which anyone can freely create and edit content.

Micropedia: An online encyclopedia that contains a limited amount of content and is typically limited to a certain topic.

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