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Wikis in Business and Education

From classrooms to corporate intranets and from barcamps to large technical projects, wikis are being utilized by people to help them to collaborate, share and build information. The best-known wiki is Wikipedia — but more on that later.

In this article we find out what wikis are and how they are being used to build knowledge in:

What is a Wiki?

A Wiki is like an online whiteboard - a Web-based platform where authorised users can create new pages or update existing pages. Wikis are used in projects where there is a need to collaboratively collect and update information.

One of the best explanations of the concept of a wiki is provided in the following video made by the folks at CommonCraft.

Who started Wikis?

howard cunningham
Howard G. "Ward" Cunningham (left) developed the first wiki in 1994.

Wikipedia: The most popular and best known wiki

The best example of a wiki-based project is Wikipedia.

Wikipedia is a huge online encyclopedia built by thousands of users all over the world. Members are constantly updating existing articles and creating new ones. There are currently more than 9 million articles in over 200 languages.

Here is a screen shot from the Wikipedia page on Angkor:


Jimmy Wales (right) and Larry Sanger co-founded Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia participants who help maintain and expand the online encyclopedia live all over the world. The group pictured below came from many countries to attend the 2007 Wikimania conference in Taipei.

Wikipedia Contributors

Other Examples of Wikis

Wikinomics: A community-built economics book

According to their home page, Wikinomics gives everyone the opportunity to...

be a part of the first peer-produced guide to business in the twenty-first century.

The overall aim of the Wikinomics project is:

The primary objective of the Wikinomics Wiki is to deliberate on topics considered in the book and co-create an extended body of knowledge through community contributions.

Wikitravel: Another community site built using a wiki

Inspired by the Wikipedia project, Evan Prodromou and Michele Ann Jenkins started the Wikitravel project. Travel enthusiasts compile and maintain information for thousands of destinations using a wiki platform.


Wikitravel is fast becoming a competitor to print travel guides and in some cases provides more up to date information.

Wikis as a brainstorming/collaboration platform

mozilla wki

The Firefox browser is an open source collaborative development by programmers from all over the world. To keep track of the complexities involved, they use a wiki.

You can see current developments in the wiki for Firefox 3.

Below is a screen shot of a wiki used by some bloggers in Singapore to plan an event. If you are an attendee or you want to speak on some topic, all you need to do is click on the "Edit This Page" button and add your content. Using a wiki means that there is one version of the event organisation. If such an event was to be organised by email, there would be several versions and it is easy to lose track of the most recent.


Wikis in Business

Talking about the importance of wikis for business, BusinessWeek wrote in 2005:

Internet research firm Gartner Group predicts that wikis will become mainstream collaboration tools in at least 50% of companies by 2009.

At Ann Arbor (Mich.)-based Soar Technology Inc., an artificial-intelligence company that works on projects for the Office of Naval Research, wikis enable the company to slash in half the time it takes to complete projects. Soar engineer Jacob Crossman says that’s because the wikis eliminate the usual flurry of back-and-forth attachments and resulting document-version confusion that’s rife in e-mail. At Dresdner, Rangaswami says that among the earliest and most aggressive adopters, e-mail volume on related projects is down 75%; meeting times have been whacked in half.

Google Documents

Google has a wiki-like online tool called Google Documents. This utility helps users to collaborate with friends and co-workers to create documents. Here I’m working with a Japanese friend to translate an article. The traditional way of doing something like this would involve sending an email for each revision. With Google Documents, both of us work on just one workspace and we can keep track of all the revisions.

japanese wiki

Wikis in Education

Getting students to work on a wiki is a neat way of introducing them to the way in which information-based projects are handled and executed in the globalised workplace today.

Here is a presentation that looks at approaches to introducing wikis in educational settings.

Welker’s Wikinomics: Shanghai American School

Here’s an example where students collaboratively built a rich repository of economics information. The students used it to help them study for an exam.

Welkers Wikinomics
This project was awarded the best educational wiki award by Edublog Awards 2007. The wiki was created to help the students learn Advanced Placement Economics. Jason Wlker, the teacher in charge of the wiki posted his experience online along with the feedback from the students.

The teacher in charge writes:

I think it's safe to say the Wiki was a success. Interestingly, although the students seem to think that I put a lot of work into the Wiki; in reality it was THEM who did most of the work. I would say I spent about two hours per unit (that's every two to three weeks) setting up the pages for the unit, and maybe another 30 minutes per unit tracking who had contributed and reviewing the unit pages for accuracy and completion. The beautiful thing about the Wiki is that students do most of the work, students help one another learn — all the teacher has to do is get the ball rolling!

Jason also shares how he graded his students on their wiki participation.

An early adopter of Wikis at Ngee Ann Polytechnic

With the emphasis on learner-centred learning here at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, we are introducing platforms where students can play a role in content creation. Some lecturers have been experimenting with wikis since 2005. Early on, it involved using an external wiki platform and dealing with the logistics of account creation and separate passwords. In 2006, we installed a wiki component inside our Blackboard e-learning platform that we use at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Wang It PengMr. Wang IP (right), the module leader for Living in the Information Era, was an early adopter of the wiki platform.

ERA is an Interdisciplinary Studies module that looks at issues pertaining to the impact of infocomm technology on life, work environment, intellectual property, privacy, ethics and security. Students are required to brainstorm and come up with ideas on how to cope with the impact of emerging trends like outsourcing and collaborative learning.

Here is a screen shot from the ERA wiki:

ERA Wiki

The project involves groups of three to four students working together to generate ideas. Compared to using wikis on external platforms, the advantages that the Blackboard-based wiki offer are:

  1. Integrated in Blackboard so there is no need to manage a separate set of passwords.

  2. A more detailed statistics view, where the instructor can find out the percentage of participation of each student in a group wiki.

  3. More user friendly markup language

Students attend an orientation session where they are introduced to the concept of a Wiki. They try out posting information with their team mates.

Students Trying out the Wiki

Mr. Wang has created a Research Template for the students. This helps the students get started and also helps in maintaining a consistent structure across projects.

Research Template

Try it Yourself

The best way to learn about wikis is to get involved in one. You could:

  • Write an article for Wikipedia

  • Join an existing professional wiki in your field

  • Create a wiki for your own students to use for collaborative problem solving.

Check out the related article, How to Create a Wiki in Blackboard.

Resources and Further Reading

How to Use a Wiki in Education: Wiki based Effective Constructive Learning
(PDF - 2 pages)

Planning & Sustaining Wiki-based Collaboration Projects, by Maish Nichani of Pebble Road.


Preetam Rai

By Preetam Rai, technology trainer at Teaching and Learning Centre, Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Reader Comments (2)

Hi Preetam,
Nice article!

Your readers may also be interested in attending WikiSym - this aims to bring together academics, practitioners and consultants to share in best practices and uses.

Regards, Martin.

June 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMartin Cleaver

Thanks for the valuable information on Wikis.

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