Back in the 70s and 80s, the educational concept of Cooperative Learning developed and was implemented in classrooms around the world. According to this idea, students are encouraged to work together to achieve a common goal (something akin to what we call Problem Based Learning). The role of the teacher morphs into more of a facilitator, enabling the students to learn and understand the material on their own. Wikis are the latest reflection of this idea of students owning and collaboratively creating their own knowledge.
One type of Cooperative Learning method is something called “Jigsaw”. The kids are broken into small groups. Each child then learns a specific aspect of a topic. Then she would explain what was learned to the other students in the group – sort of like a puzzle. Each child in turn explains to the rest of the group what he learned in his assigned section. In the end the entire group creates a product reflecting their group-based understanding. Elements of Cooperative Learning include positive interdependence, individual and group accountability; face to face interaction, development of social skills, and group processing (go here for another explanation of the idea of Cooperative Learning). Essentially, the whole learning product would be greater than its individual components.
The idea behind wikis is Cooperative Learning made digital. Rather than kids just sitting around a table or on the floor working together, they now create around a screen or monitor. Individual accountability can be assured of, for instance, through color coding each child’s contribution. The kids need to dialogue and collaborate to make sure the wiki meets class requirements. If a student is not good at writing, she could be in charge of formatting how each wiki page would appear, or would be responsible for finding and uploading graphics or other multi-media components. Wikis are excellent tools to enable all learners to become engaged in the process of creating knowledge, through utilizing their individual strengths and talents.