What makes good wiki? It depends on what you want to do with a wiki, I suppose. Bill Ferriter’s (Twitter @plugusin) excellent wiki, Digitally Speaking, led me to his blog, the Tempered Radical, where he lays out five Wiki Roles for Student Projects.
He’s done a good job describing what needs to be done when a group prepares a good wiki page. But I have an issue with turning tasks into roles. I worry that this creates an illusion of collaborative work but hides the fact that there is little or no synergy in a division of labour. Delegation of duties amounts to one person, the group leader, multiplying his or her personal resources by using others to move things along in the direction he or she chooses. Ferriter is aware of this, I think, when he says,
One of the lessons that I’ve learned about wiki projects with kids is that the organic creation that defines Wikipedia doesn’t always work with middle schoolers! […] If left to chance, that same unbalanced participation pattern becomes evident in classroom wiki projects as well. […] I’ve found that when using wikis as a group project to assess learning, middle schoolers need a set of specific tasks. Sometimes, shared participation is more important to me than individual exploration. (“Wikis.” Digitally Speaking)
I’m looking to use a wiki as a platform for building socially constructed knowledge, which is something different from both shared participation and individual exploration. When musicians play together in an ensemble, they make socially constructed knowledge. Yes, each plays his or her instrument, like the way each of Ferriter’s students completes a wiki role. But, if they are good, the musicians are doing much more than mecahnically plucking and blowing though the score. They each are telling the other musicians what the mucic means to them. On top of that, there is a give and take in playing off each other that parallels the dialogue, revising and editing that happens in conversation–or on a wiki page. A wiki page, it seems to me, is at heart a a record of a dialogue, out of which comes the truth, if it can be found, or, more likely, a better understanding of the problem at hand.
In setting things up for the project, I’ve drafted what I think are the Wiki Attitudes for Student Projects. They are, as I think may will recognize, the intellectual virtues, traits (very old ones) that support dialogue and critical discourse:
Patience. Building knowledge collaboratively takes time and patience. The point of working in a wiki is not to find an answer–you can often look that sort of thing up, or ask someone directly; the point is to come to a better understanding the matter at hand and that can take a lot of back-and-forth. A wiki can work something like a conversation, but one extended over time and space, where a group of people work together to make sure everyone in the group understands equally well.
Integrity. The wiki is a collaborativeproject and that means we ought to hold everyone–especially oursleves–the the same standards of argument, respect and good spirits.
Courage. Wikis are public documents, shared with many others, and it takes courage to speak honestly and openly on them. Sometimes we will have to stand our ground when many others are trying to push us off our position. Our ideas and comments will be open to critique and we need to be able to face that fairly and with a spirit of good sportsmanship.
Empathy. A wiki can generate many different, sometimes conflicting, ideas and opinions. Even if we do not agree with them, we must try to reconstruct accurately the arguments and reasons for opposing views. This is not to say all views are right. But, in imaginatively putting ourselves in soemone else’s shoes and looking at our arguments from their point of view, we can gain new insight and understanding of ourselves and our own ideas and beliefs.
Perseverance. Sometimes understanding comes easily; but when it does’t, we have to struggle through a lot of hard work.
Faith in Reason. Not all discussions on a wiki will be contentious; sometimes–often, we hope–they will be just telling good stories. But when issues do clash, a wiki tries to give the freest play possible to reason as the tool to resolve them.
Fairmindedness. All ideas presented in a wiki ought to be treated equally, that is without reference to our own biases or vested interests.