Uses of wikis: More and less than expected

Before reviewing a variety of ways one might use wikis—only the last of which is the much-vaunted “collaborative knowledge generation”—let us consider the general kinds of reasons for using a technological tool. (This post comes from a wikipage with links that I created in order to give a talk on the Uses of Wikis at an educational technology conference in May 2010. The post, like the wikipage, requires clicking on the links and viewing the examples in relation to key terms in the bullet points below the links.)

Why use a technological tool (such as a wiki)?

pedagogical guidelines (from 2001)

  • 1. To extend thinking of students
    • a. Use computers first and foremost to teach or learn things that are difficult to teach or learn with pedagogical approaches that are not based on computers.
    • b. Make sure that learning/knowledge-construction is happening, especially when asking students to use the internet.
    • c. Model computer use on best practices to ensure learning without computers.
  • 2. To facilitate group interaction, e.g., by freeing teacher from the bookkeeping part of class activities
  • 3. To enhance communication of knowledge
  • 4. To organize a personal workstation or “virtual office”

guidelines for service & institutional development (from 2005)

  • planning
  • community-building
  • probing & reflection towards coherent principles
  • transparency and inclusiveness of consultation
  • documenting process, product, and evaluations for institutional learning
  • organization, including efficient use of computer technology, to support all of the above


  • modeling/experimenting with tools that colleagues & students can also adopt/adapt
  • developing & sharing material (open source)
  • interacting beyond normal boundaries


  • collaborative generation of knowledge

A range of uses, each followed by the themes/principles (from above) that the use exemplifies
Framework of exchanges

  • beyond normal boundaries; learning/knowledge-construction not very successful

departmental memory and information sharing

  • transparency; institutional learning

towards community guidelines

  • probing & reflection towards coherent principles

Office Hour sign up

  • freeing classtime from bookkeeping; virtual office; organization


  • developing & sharing material

program newsletters

  • community-building; efficiency

recording the process and products of workshops, seminars, and courses (4-day workshop, monthly CCT events)

  • documenting process, product, and evaluations; institutional learning; open source; planning; community-building

community-building & update

  • community-building; documenting process, product, and evaluations; modeling/experimenting with tools

to do list

  • virtual office; efficiency

student reflective practice portfolios; guided tour of teaching

  • documenting process, product, and evaluations/reflection; modeling/experimenting with tools

assembling materials for a fieldbook on teaching

  • developing & sharing material

annotated bibliography entries by students

  • open source

teaching problem-based learning

  • computer use on best practices

-including involvement of panels from a distance

  • interacting beyond normal boundaries; difficult to do without computers

assignment dropboxes and course portfolios

  • efficiency; freeing classtime from bookkeeping

collaborative input to a manuscript or proposal

  • collaborative generation of knowledge

About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

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