Wiki Collaboration Fosters Digital Literacy and Collective Knowledge

Wiki Collaboration Fosters Digital Literacy and Collective Knowledge
Collaborative Wiki Project. Woman writing on a computer. AI image generated in Adobe Express.

Wikis in Brief

Wikis are digital platforms on which users can collaborate to develop encyclopedic articles on nearly any subject. Each of a wiki's users can function as contributors and editors of the articles. The most notable wiki is Wikipedia, at its current rate of growth it will contain 7 million articles by March 2025 according to Wikipedia:Size of Wikipedia.

Wikis Promote Digital Literacy in the Classroom

In addition to functioning as digital encyclopedias, wikis have found usefulness as teaching tools in classrooms. Typical classroom use has students collaboratively edit a wiki on a topic related to the enrolled course. Students develop digital literacy skills such as evaluating the reliability of information sources, and communication with an audience. The University of Edinburgh employs a Wikimedian - a professional position similar to a librarian - in residence. The Wikimedian helps to facilitate student learning in digital literacy. In its case studies, Wikimedia in Education, the university cites the positive impacts to collective knowledge resulting from its contributions to Wikipedia.

The Wikimedia Residency at the University of Edinburgh video detailing benefits of integrating Wikipedia into its curriculum.

Wiki development is utilized at Middle Georgia State University in the graduate-level class Technical Writing in the Digital Age. As a collaborative project, students are tasked with writing a comprehensive wiki article describing Technical Writing in the Digital Age along with its various sub-topics. The wiki platform utilized for this project is LitWiki.

Strategies for Writing a New Wiki Article

As a contributing editor to the LitWiki article Technical Writing in the Digital Age, my initial strategy was to add content to a different sub-topic each time that I made an edit. My rationale was that sometimes just getting started on a writing project can be a difficult step. Rather than contribute dense paragraphs of information, my plan was for multiple sections to have initial points from which others could later build upon. As the article developed, this method established avenues for other editors to blend my contributions with their own, expanding upon the topics. Ultimately, this multi-editor collaborative effort led to an article with more depth and a more balanced viewpoint than a solo editing endeavor would have produced.

For example, my inclusion of a statement referencing the need for website content to be designed according to the Website Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) was later improved upon by editors who added more specific details on how web content can be made more accessible. My other contributions included content relating to Pedagogical Approaches, Future Trends and Challenges, Historical Context, and Rhetorical Strategies in the Digital Age. All wiki users can review article edits by navigating to the history pages of articles.

Screen capture of the Accessibility sub-topic with my contributions highlighted.

The Quest for Reputable Sources

Perhaps the most time-consuming aspect of editing a wiki article is the search for reliable sources. Another of my goals when contributing to the LitWiki was to cite information from a variety of sources. I spent time searching for applicable peer-reviewed articles within the Georgia Library Learning Online (GALILEO) catalog and sourcing information from other educational or professional institutions. Sources selected for inclusion in a wiki must be trustworthy. The perceived quality of an article is highly dependent on the reputation of its sources.

But if you include reliable sources in your new article, particularly online sources (in English), other editors will find it credible, no matter how poorly written. -Wikipedia: The Missing Manual, John Broughton (66)

The most valuable lesson that I learned from working with wikis is that articles are written with no original research. Instead, all information contained within the article is obtained from verifiable sources that are named in an article’s citations. The implication is that, while researchers are unlikely to directly cite a Wikipedia article due to the risk of misinformation, the article’s associated citations can be referenced to locate other sources of credible information.

Think of Wikipedia as a place to get your research started, but not as your final destination. -Technical Communication, John Lannon & Laura Gurak (153)

Wikis as Publicly Accessible and Neutral Resources

Wikis provide a central location to bring together subject matter experts and enthusiasts to make article contributions. This unison of knowledge can result in articles that cover a subject in great scope and detail. Another valuable concept to be learned from wiki contribution is collaboration with other editors. In wikis, collaboration not only happens within an article but also takes place on an article’s talk page. The discussions held on talk pages verify that editors are in consensus on the presentation of an article’s subject matter. Since wikis are typically free public resources with no access restrictions, the manner in which information is presented is important.

Screen capture of the Discussion page for Technical Writing in the Digital Age. On Wikipedia, discussion pages are referred to as Talk pages.

The multi-editor consensus approach promotes the formation of articles with balanced viewpoints. Wikis aim to present content with a neutral point of view. Keeping an article free of biased information or hidden agendas allows readers to learn about topics in a factual manner. Editors are encouraged to question and correct any non-neutral content presented. The importance of neutrality on Wikipedia cannot be understated. Wikipedia has been used by politically motivated editors who, as detailed in Wired’s The Hunt for Wikipedia’s Disinformation Moles, promoted certain narratives. These tainted editors attempted to influence, intimidate, or harass other editors with the goal of changing election outcomes.

Ashley Williamson

Ashley Williamson

I am working toward a Master of Business in Professional Leadership at MGA and have a Bachelor of Chemistry from Georgia Southern Univ. I work as a chemist with a concentration in electroplating.