The Part of Wiki Culture the Classroom Forgot

If you look at most treatments of wiki in the classroom, people talk about collaboration, group projects, easy publishing, revision control. All of these are important. But one important element of what makes a wiki a wiki has been underutilized.

Wikis not only introduced the editable page to users, but the idea of page-creating links. (In fact, this invention pre-dates wiki and even the web, having been first pioneered in the Hypercard implementation Ward Cunningham wrote for documenting software patterns).

Page-creating links are every bit as radical as the user-edited page — perhaps even more so. What page-creating links allow you to do, according to Cunningham, is map out the edges of your knowledge — the places you need to connect or fill in. You write a page (or a card) and you look at it and ask — what on this page needs explanation? What connections can we make? Then you link to resources that don’t exist yet. Clicking on those links gives you not an error, but an invitation to create that page. The new page contains both links back to concepts you’ve already documented, but also generates new links to uncreated resources. In this way the document “pushes out from the center” with each step both linking back to old knowledge and identifying new gaps.

In the video below I show this “pushing out from the center”  process on a wiki of my own and talk about how this architecture and process relates to intergrative learning. For best viewing, hit HD button and make full screen.

Using Wiki for Connected, Integrative Learning from Mike Caulfield on Vimeo.

5 thoughts on “The Part of Wiki Culture the Classroom Forgot

  1. Exploring from the centre outwards—somehow this connects to Minecraft for me.

    So this means the spawn point is not about where knowledge itself originates, but where the learner starts in an environment of some given resources and some as yet uncreated resources and some things that will come along later and drive adaptation.

    To get beyond the spawn point the learner has to start foraging, connecting, remembering, adapting and eventually planning. So there’s a shift from: oh, I don’t have/know this, to: oh, I am likely to need to find this. And then: I am going to need to make this. And then to run across what other people have already begun to do.

    It’s an imperfect analogy but I think you’re right that this foraging and making element of wikis has been overlooked. As with just about everything, this takes me back to “we make the path by walking”.

    The video is just what I needed to see, thanks. Obviously, I’m shocked you don’t type that fast in real life.

  2. I really grok it– it’s like a signal of intent to yourself or others. Or an invitation.

    Though my favorite unsung wiki feature is transclusion. It’s like wiki zen

  3. Kate — it’s funny, but when you get into a flow there is a Minecraft feel to it. You tackle huge projects, but they don’t feel huge because at any given time you’re just dealing with these smaller tasks, but they flow out and before you know it you’ve built something you wouldn’t have thought possible.

    And yes, it is we make the path by walking. I don’t show it much here, but there’s a second thing you do after you build this out, which is walk through it occasionally and look for things you may have missed — you walk through what you know, refreshing and extending it, sort of like moving through a memory palace…

    Alan — an invitation. Absolutely!

  4. I so appreciate your making clear and explicit how I have been feeling for a long time now about wikis in the classroom.
    You have also given us a good vocabulary for talking about a uniquely connected phenomenon.
    Thanks so much.

  5. You’re welcome! I’ve been experimenting a lot with this, and would love to know about anything you might end up doing.

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