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What's a Wiki? A Powerful Collaborative Tool for Teaching and Learning. That's What!

By Will Richardson - Posted Nov 1, 2005
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Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.

  -Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia founder

Editor's Note: Will Richardson, supervisor of instructional technology at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Fleming, N.J., and now a well-known speaker on cutting-edge educational uses of the Web, has written a book to be published by Corwin Press in February 2006 entitled An Educator's Guide to Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Cool New Tools That Are Transforming the Classroom. This article is adapted from a chapter of that book, with permission from the publisher.

If you want to find the most important site on the Web these days, look no further than Wikipedia.org. As its name suggests, Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, one that really is attempting to store the "sum of human knowledge." In September 2005, the English version of Wikipedia housed over 600,000 separate entries with information about everything from the Aaamazzarites (a fictional Star Trek universe) to Zzzax (a fictional supervillain from Marvel Comics.) Every day, new entries are being added about people, places, things, historical events, even today's news almost as it happens. It's truly an amazing resource.

You're in Charge

But while most people get the "pedia" part of the name, only a few really understand the first part, the "wiki." And believe it or not, that's the most important part, because without the wiki, this encyclopedia, this growing repository of all we know and do could not exist. The word "wiki" is a short form of the Hawaiian "wiki-wiki," which means "quick." The first wiki was created in 1995 by Ward Cunningham, who was looking to create an easy authoring tool that might spur people to publish. And the key word here is "easy," because, plainly put, a wiki is a Web site where anyone can edit anything anytime they want.

So, do you have some knowledge about your favorite hobby that isn't on Wikipedia? Add it. Have you read something you think isn't correct? Fix it. Don't like the way one of the entries is written? Erase it. Did something big just happen in the news that is history-making? Start a new entry. You have the power, because every time you access Wikipedia or most any other wiki for that matter, you do so as Editor in Chief. And it's that freedom that has made Wikipedia the phenomenon it is as tens of thousands of Editors in Chief, people like you and me, take on the job of collecting the sum of human knowledge.

But Can You Trust It?

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This article is available in its entirety in a variety of formats — Preview, Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — on a pay-per-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.


 
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