Wiki

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1 Definition

A wiki is a powerful collaborative tool that allows users to add and edit content on-line. User can also easily create new pages. If necessary it's possible to add some permissions to the pages (lock pages or only identified users can modify the content of a page). The first wiki servers were created around 1995.

Definition from the Wikipedia:Wiki:

A wiki is a type of website that allows users to easily add, remove, or otherwise edit all content, very quickly and easily, sometimes without the need for registration. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative writing. The term wiki can also refer to the collaborative software itself (wiki engine) that facilitates the operation of such a website (see wiki software), or to certain specific wiki sites, including the computer science site (and original wiki), WikiWikiWeb, and the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. When used to refer to a specific site, wiki is often capitalized.

The word wiki is a shorter form of wiki wiki (weekie, weekie) which is from the native language of Hawaii (Hawaiian), where it is commonly used as an adjective to denote something "quick" or "fast" (Hawaiian dictionary). In English, it is an adverb meaning "quickly" or "fast".


The main purpose of wikis is to create a space where people can collaborate in writing a same text on a single topic and relate this text to other texts. An other main purpose of many wikis is sharing knowledge for a common good (e.g. as in the Wikipedia project.

See also: wiki book, mediawiki and some other entries in the category writing.

2 What is a wiki ?

Explanation by example: This website is powered by a wiki. If you want, you can modify this page by changing words, sentences or sections or by adding information.

2.1 Technical features from a user perspective

2.1.1 Collaborative online editing

A wiki enables documents to be written collectively using a web browser, usually with a very simple markup language.

In order to make this work, owners of a wiki should think hard about wiki management policies. Educators need to carefully plan an appropriate instructional design.

2.1.2 A simple editing syntax

Editing content on a wiki is usually very simple, users have to learn a small syntax. However, some wikis like this one use an increasingly complex syntax, e.g. for this mediawiki see How to edit a page). Even though, users still have the option to work with a very small subset, as demonstrated in the Wikipedia Chatsheet.

In addition, most mediawiki-based sites use a sometimes huge library of templates. E.g. this wiki has only few, lots !

There is no standard Wiki syntax. Each Wiki Software has its own, although some types of Wikis are very close. Some isolated Wikis even use HTML instead of the traditional Wiki Syntax or allow combination of HTML codes with wiki coding. WYSIWYG through the web editors (TTW) also start becoming popular.

2.1.3 Page History

  • Usually either all edits are kept in history and users can undo changes or compare changes.

2.1.4 Easy page creation and links

Wikis allow for quick page creation and linking (see below)

2.2 Wikis as hypertext system

  • Wikis are one a few true hypertext systems still alive on the Web and this explains also part of their success.
  • It is very easy to link from one page to another. Originally, most Wikis used a CamelCase linking mechanism, but this syntax makes reading more difficult and certainly deviates from standard spelling. Therefore, most Wikis use a syntax like
[[Hypertext]] which will show as Hypertext

or if users want to replace the title's page by some else something like:

[[Hypertext | Article about hypertext]] which will show like Article about hypertext.
  • Some Wikis add other navigational features, e.g. a search facility or categories. In this wiki:
    • You can search either titles or full text ("Go" or "search" button) in the box to the left
    • You can add an article to a category, in order to add this article to the technologies category, we used the command:
[[Category:Technologies]]

2.3 Wiki software architectures

Most Wikis are implemented as server-side www scripts. This includes the following components:

  1. A webserver like Apache.
  2. Most implementations are done in PHP but some use other programming/scripting languages such as Perl, Python, Java, etc.
  3. A database server like MySQL, but some Wikis use a file-based system.

Therefore, a typical Wiki runs under the LAMP bundle.

Some Wikis are embedded within portals, e.g. some LMS include a wiki.

2.4 A simple typology of Wikis

2.5 No wikis

Sometimes, the wiki concept is misused. Here are some examples of non-wikis:

  • Simple CMS modules in portalware that have wiki-like features (but lack important wiki features such as easy page creation and linking)
  • Web site generators like Google sites
  • On-line word processing tools like Zoho Writer or Google docs

A wiki favors hypertext, e.g. features easy linking to other pages and a "flat" non-hierarchical organization of pages. Content management systems that do no not respect this principle are not wikis. Of course, wiki administrators may add hierarchical navigation aids on top (e.g. super-categories or various "menus").

3 Wiki management

3.1 Policy

  • Generally, most sites require that some editing rules for style and content organization are respected. The goal of these rules are to standardize organization of contents within a page or throughout the wiki, in order to make both knowledge retrieval and production easier.
  • Frequently, Wikis also adopt guidlines for co-editing. Wiki administrators have to pay attention to both new new users having sometimes difficulties to adapt to the wiki paradigm (everybody can do what they want respecting other's work) and persons that do not easily fit into a local "spirit".
  • There is an increasing problem with vandalism and therefore many Wikis require at least a login to edit. Educational wikis now tend to exclude external users from editing, since there is a lack of manpower to survey pages.

3.2 Wiki design patterns

4 Wikis for scholarly publishing

“Wikis can be used for dynamic scholarly publishing in several ways, ranging from scenarios which change existing publishing workflows in minor ways to a fundamental restructuring thereof. The wider uptake of such collaborative approaches hinges upon community acceptance and proper recognition of contributions to large-scale collaborative environments” (Mietchen et al., 2011)

5 Wikis in education

this needs more work ! - DSchneider 22:07, 12 June 2006 (MEST)
  • Kevin R. Parker & Joseph T. Chao. (2007)Wiki as a Teaching Tool.Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects Volume 3, 2007.pdf a very good current literature on wiki use in education.

5.1 Categories of use

A wiki is just a medium, and as any medium it does have some affordances. Also, the wiki medium is somewhat tied to "web 2.0" (e-learning 2.0) and computer-integrated classroom culture that engages learners in electronic writing. Consequently, wikis are a popular instrument for constructivists, but wikis also may be used as vehicles for more traditional designs...

Categories listed are not fully orthogonal and they can be combined of course...

Project-oriented pedagogies with wikis
  1. Wiki as a project/class management tool (see project-based learning). This includes using pages for planning and discussion, journaling of student work, etc. Some wikis, e.g. Wikispaces include specific project-oriented extensions.
  2. Wiki as a resource repository to support various flavors of project-oriented learning (e.g. documentation wikis in computer programming).
  3. Wiki to support writing-to-learn designs, e.g. inquiry-based learning.
Wiki as personal development and knowledge management tool
  1. Wiki as learning e-portfolio (although identifying individual contributions is not easy).
  2. Wiki to combine research and teaching, e.g. [courses] in OpenWetware or in the french version of this wiki
  3. Wikis to support a community of practice (e.g. a group of teachers working in the same field or students of a teacher school)
Wiki as global CMS
  1. wiki as a school or class website
  2. Wiki as university (see WikiVersity and the Wikiversity/Modified proposal.
  3. Wiki as a simple LMS (teacher posts syllabus, handouts, exercises, etc. and students submit work as wiki pages etc.)
Wiki for learning materials
  1. Wikis, organized as hypertexts, can help students think about how information is organized (see also the more ambitious cognitive flexibility theory)
  2. Wiki as initial resource for literature reviews (i.e. as a research tool). An example is use of this wiki in educational technology training.
  3. Wiki for students to create text from lectures, e.g. Vorlesungsmitschriften at ETHZ
  4. Wiki as collaborative textbook writing tool for teachers (co-editing of pages) and also as delivery tool (e.g. a revised version of the Flash articles in this wiki.
Wiki as writing tool
  1. wiki for collaborative writing in various flavors (see collaborative learning, writing-to-learn, CSCL, inquiry-based learning, ABAHCOCOSUCOL)
  2. This is related to peer-to-peer learning (peer tutoring).
  3. wiki as a collaborative content management system (includes co-construction of menus and categories)

5.2 Using Wikis to build learning communities

Chen, Gilbert and Sabol (2006) from Stanford's SCIL made a nice 15-square poster [1] that details the relationships between steps and outcome, beginning with: #1: Determine Goals -- what are learners going to do? to to #7: Connect Learners -- what are the steps to integrate face-to-face and virtual activities? to #15: Community of Practice.

Chen, H et al. (2006) Using Wikis to build learning communities, copyright SCIL 2007, reproduced with permission by Helen Chen

This picture made by Helen Chen et al. is inspired by the famous "ladder" games (getting to the top is not obvious and you may fall down ....)

5.3 Examples of educational wikis

In English
In french

6 Wiki software

6.1 To install on a server

Most Wiki installations require some system administration skills. Usually a Wiki runs as a web-based Internet service. If you are interested in history you may consult the Wikipedia wiki software article (and follow the links to various more specialized articles). Wikipedia also provides a [Wikipedia:Comparison of wiki software | comparison of wiki software]

6.1.1 The orginal and similar simple wikis

  • WikiWiki, the original written in Perl by Ward Cunningham.
  • UseModWiki is a popular wiki engine indirectly based on Cunningham's original. A popular example is MeatballWiki, a community of active practitioners striving to teach each other how to organize people using online tools. The first Wikipedia also used this engine before completly rewriting the code in PHP.

6.1.2 Simple wikis (with a database)

There are lots !!

  • PhpWiki, a Wiki quite close to the orginal. At TECFA we use it in secondary education. Active in 2016.
  • Wikka Wiki (a fork of WakkaWiki). Active in 2016.
  • Wikini, a french fork of WakkaWiki. No longer maintained ?

6.1.3 Simple file-based wikis

File-based wikis are not necessarily a worse solution (in case you don't know: data bases also write to files ....). Advantage is that files are portable easily to different computers. E.g. for a personal wiki, Doku wiki is a really good solution.

  • Doku Wiki is popular and an active project. E.g. it is used to create e-portfolios in Schools in Germany (OpenSchulportfolio)
  • MoinMoin Wiki, a popular Python-based wiki engine. Active, as of 2016.
  • WikiPad (Unix,Win,Mac).

6.1.4 Very simple file-based transportable wikis

  • TiddlyWiki, written in HTML, CSS and JavaScript to run on any modern browser without needing any ServerSide logic.

6.1.5 Wiki farms and servers

A wiki farm is a server or a collection of servers that provides wiki hosting, or a group of wikis hosted on such servers. A wiki server is software that allows to run several separate wikis through a single installation/administration.

  • Swiki is a wiki server popular in education. You can create/administer wikis for different communities, control access rights, the editing interfaces are simple enough for schools, also has file upload. This project seems to be dead, but at TECFA we run 2 Swiki servers for years without any problems. (Note: implemented with the Small talk language, usually runs on its own Comanche Web Server).
  • An alternative solution to installing your own wiki is to use a provider of a wiki farm (see below)

6.1.6 Complex Standalone Wikis

  • MediaWiki, e.g. this wiki. We also use it for project-oriented courses at university level and writing-to-learn classes at high school level. Usually one different wiki per teacher.
  • TikiWiki written in PHP is more a portal than a Wiki.
    • LauLima a modified TikiWiki with many additions to allow group collaborative work. Also contains a digital library component to store student work examples for use with subsequent groups of students. Enhanced editing controls so that student work can only be edited by project teams which is important when considering marking (grading) of work. The creators of pages control who can access them. Staff have special access to student-created materials to allow reviewing/marking of student project sites. Though developed for an educational context, the permissions on the wiki make it suitable for other applications too.
  • Twiki written in Perl. Allows to define forms-based editing (structured wiki) if needed. Pages must use CamelCase names and links are automatically created for CamelCase words.
  • PmWiki, PHP and file-based, includes categories, navigation trails, group spaces (equivalent to namespaces ?)
  • Mindtouch (formerly Deki Wiki which is no longer supported).
  • Atlassian Confluence, a so-called enterprise wiki that includes access control, user spaces, templating, etc.
  • XWiki enterprise wiki (including interesting extensions such as the Balsamiq wireframe tool)

6.2 Wiki hosting

Overview: comparison of wiki farms.

Most popular ones in education (it seems):

Others to explore:

  • Mindtouch (started as Wik.is and Deki Wiki, but now offers a cloud-based solution that doesn't have an easy to find and understand definition)
  • wikidotcom (ads free, not tested)
  • Wikia (not tested)
  • YouFig (currently only open to invited people)
  • Pikiwiki (wiki-like, not tested).
  • Scribblewiki (a solution if you want a mediawiki, like this wiki).

Office 2.0 suites with a wiki (Let's you use also other tools, e.g. good word processing, presentations, databases, spreadsheets, etc. As good or better than Google).

6.3 WikiWare Indexes

You can find more wikiware on:

7 Links and General Bibliography

7.1 Tutorials

7.2 Talks/Slides

7.3 General

  • The Wikipedia Wiki article. On Wikipedia there are many more wiki-related articles.
  • Teaching and learning online with wikis (PDF document): introduction on wikis and how they work. Attention is focused on how to choose a wiki for e-learning activities. An icebreaker example for students is also explained.
  • Ebersbach, Anja and Markus Glaser (2004), Towards Emancipatory Use of a Medium: The Wiki, International Journal of Information Ethics, 2 (11). (PDF document)
  • Leuf, B. & Cunningham, W. (2001). The wiki way: Quick collaboration on the web. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley.
  • Scott, J. 2004. The great failure of Wikipedia. HTML, accessed 18:33, 20 October /2006 (MEST). (This is a funny rant about Wikipedia's "neutral point of view", btw. a policy we do not adopt in this wiki).
  • 2006 International Symposium on Wikis wikisym

7.4 About multi-purpose wikis (like this one)

7.5 Wikis in education links

  • Wiki in a K-12 classroom, CTER wiki, Department of Educational Psychology, College of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign., retrieved 15:47, 19 May 2008 (UTC).

7.6 Wiki research tools

(various "instruments" used in wiki research, needs to be completed !)

Survey instruments
  • Jim Woulfe, Kylie Williams, Greg Ryan (2009). Evaluating pharmacy students’ wiki-based collaboration, Ascilite 2009. PDF
  • Design Report 3 (for Improving course materials, particularly the usability of the Teach Web 2.0 Wiki)

8 Wikis in education bibliography

See also:

  • Wiki Research Bibliography (some entries about education are not yet included here - Daniel K. Schneider 19:26, 3 November 2011 (CET))
  • Wikipapers. Large bibliography for wiki publications started by Emilio J. Rodríguez-Posada, a wiki researcher and free software developer from Spain
  • Wiki metrics, rubrics and collaboration tools this EduTechWiki article includes a larger bibliography on various Wiki research topics. Of particular interest to education folks, is the question on how to measure contributions and collaborations.
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  3. Augar, N., Raitman, R. & Zhou, W., (2004).Teaching and learning online with wikis. ASCILITE 2004, 95-104.
  4. Baumgartner, P., Häfele, H. & Maier-Häfele, K. (2004). Content Management Systeme für e-Education. Auswahl, Potenziale und Einsatzmöglichkeiten, Insbruck: Studienverlag,
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