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Editor’s Note:  In her October 2009 article, Ms Kok showed how Wikis relate to and expand upon Piaget’s theories and their application in knowledge acquisition. In this article she explores the value of Wikis for knowledge development and sharing in collaborative partnerships for local and distant communities.

Use of the Wiki Technology in Academic Partnerships

Ayse Kok


The development of new technologies is giving rise to new models of collaboration. One of these models is “Mass Collaboration” that is based on Web 2.0 technologies and services. Within this context, wikis offer new possibilities to exploit in a more effective way the entire potential of the collaborative work coming from the active participation of all the individuals that are present in dispersed locations. This research study wants to contribute to the current debate on the cultural shift that the introduction of this tool in academic partnerships with even the less developed countries is able to produce.


Due to the rapid proliferation of information and communication technologies (ICTs), complexity - which is the nature of things today - has been greatly increased. In order to manage interdependence, we have to work cooperatively with others to share same interests, skills and knowledge. Thoughtful changes in the nature of technology and global economy are giving rise to new powerful models of collaboration. These new collaboration models are based on community and self-organizing, derived from the technological and internet revolution and the Web 2.0 technologies and services that create a new sense of innovation, creativity and ingenuity.

Mass collaboration is a collaboration model based on collective actions that occur when large numbers of contributors work independently but collaboratively in a single project (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). Such projects typically take place in the internet via means of web-based collaboration tools. This model of collaboration unleashes the creativity, innovation and knowledge of individuals worldwide by fostering knowledge-sharing. What distinguishes “Mass Collaboration” from other forms of collaboration is that the content that is being created in “Mass Collaboration”, rather than the social interaction, mediates the collaborative process (Tapscott & Williams, 2006). Furthermore, individuals willing to participate in creative acts require the joint development of shared understandings.

The International Education Consultancy Office within the University of the Arts in London is one of such institution. It tries to use mass collaboration (based on partnerships established in various developing countries such as Syria, Bangladesh and Turkey) to promote development of the textile industry in these countries by providing voluntary education through projects funded by UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) and the EU (European Union). The researcher’s interest in this case study is due mainly to being from one of these countries, Turkey, in which the newly established institute, Textile Academy, in partnership with International Education Consultancy Office, is seen as central to reviving the textile sector hit by economic crises.

The researcher tries to investigate whether the use of these collaborative technologies can further contribute to the knowledge transfer between such academic partnerships.


Wiki is the most representative tool that enables the new Web 2.0 philosophy that is defined by user participation, openness and network effects. Derived from the Hawaiian word of “wiki wiki” which means quick, this social software is an enabler of social interaction, collaboration and information sharing, promoting the growth of communities as user groups. In order to clarify what wiki publishing is a synoptic table of comparison has been provided (Klobas, J., 2006)

Table 1

As Quick as a Wiki comparison of steps needed for the creation of a Wiki page
and Web Page (Klobas, J. 2006)


The application of the wiki in the academic partnership projects can be the object of a taxonomy following these dimensions:

§  Support to effectiveness: This refers to the access of information such as phone numbers or suppliers address. Wiki can be useful to collect and self-update the users’ index or other descriptive section.

§  Knowledge and collaborative support: This refers to collaboration inside and among teams and the related knowledge management issues. Wikis are used in this sense for many applications, from the creation and the implementation of the common knowledge base to the several applications that requires the matching of many experience (e.g.: co-creation of procedures, handbooks, plans, activities, schedules, sharing presentation materials…etc.)

§  Communication and socialization: This refers to development of networked internal communication as well as institutional and intrapersonal. Users are connected using Wiki in order to join the owner of a particular competence or knowledge or real time collaboration with other related parties.

As McMullin (2005) and other social constructivist theorists assert; because of their flexible functionality, wikis afford the opportunity to offer collaborative, constructive learning more extensively by shaping knowledge through discussion with peers and through reflection. Due to the collaborative nature of wikis knowledge is enacted with a focus on the community rather than on the individual learner (McMullin, B., 2005).

Similarly, according to the theory of the community of practice, learning is an inherently social activity, situated in a social and cultural context (Lave, J. &Wenger, E., 1991). So, in order for learning to occur, there must be a negotiation between an individual's unique experience and the knowledge of the group. The community provides a ground for interaction and so that learners can collaboratively construct shared knowledge (Palloff, R.M. & Pratt, K., 2005).

Wikis are web sites that allow users not only to have access to its content but also to change the content online. As Scardamalia & Bereiter (2003) emphasized wikis are tools for knowledge-building which is important for knowledge-creating competencies in a knowledge society. Wikis don’t require software, are easily accessible, and are simple to use for everybody. Their special feature is that hyperlinks can be created and texts can be added, deleted or changed so that groups of like-minded people can work collaboratively on one and the same text about certain topic. Wikis’ potential for collaborative learning lies in their ability to facilitate shaping of knowledge (Chong & Yamamoto, 2006). Wikis can be regarded as media that support learning due to their ability to facilitate collaboration, to allow for design-based learning, to enhance inventiveness, to support inquiry learning and the co-construction of learning (Chong & Yamamoto, 2006). In general, wikis can be considered to support social constructivist learning.

Purpose of Research

Institutions looking forward to adopting mass collaboration are mainly seeking implicit change in their organizational structure that leads to more effective use of individual talents, the stimulation of creativity, the transfer of knowledge and skills and the supplementary of intellectual companionship (Loan-Clarke & Preston, 2002). Despite the fact that management is extremely essential for the success of the mass collaboration’s adoption (Libert & Spector, 2008) most of the studies and researchers are tackling the effects of collaboration (Tapscott & Williams, 2006).

The purpose of this research study is to answer the question of; “How can projects based on mass collaboration be organized in higher education institutions?” The research will be of particular interest to higher education institutions looking to adopt mass collaboration and the related stakeholders such as students, academic personnel, as well as consultants involved in similar projects. Due to the fact that mass collaboration is a new concept and the related literature is limited there are no clear methodologies that focus on the realization of mass collaboration. As the research topic has not reached its full potential, the researcher’s aim is to illustrate a case study where the driving force behind the stakeholders’ collaboration practices is the development of better knowledge-sharing practices.

Research Strategy

The methodology employed in this research is distinctly qualitative. Denzin and Lincoln (2003) highlight the debate that exists over the robustness, validity and reliability of qualitative studies. They underscore that the word qualitative:

“implies an emphasis on the qualities of entities and on process and meanings that are not experimentally examined or measured in terms of quantity, amount, intensity or frequency. Qualitative researchers stress the socially constructed nature of reality, the intimate relationship between the researcher and what is studied, and the situational constraints that shape inquiry. Such researchers emphasise the value laden nature of inquiry. They seek answers to questions that stress how social experience is created and given meaning.”

In terms of validity, the emphasis is not on a single standard of truth using the terminology of Ellis and Bochner (2000) but rather a verisimilitude that evokes in readers a feeling that the experience described is lifelike, believable and possible. Ellis and Bochner (2000) claimed that the introduction of naturalistic and qualitative methods into education has caused the traditional notion of validity to be redefined as trustworthiness or accuracy.

In terms of reliability, Ellis and Bochner (2000) stated that since personal narratives are created from a situated location, trying to make past and present cohere, there is no such thing as orthodox reliability in auto ethnographic research.

The case study is a strategy that particularly suits the descriptive nature of research (Yin, 2003). As the researcher does not have any control on the events; case studies are preferable than other strategies; besides the main theme question of the research is “How or/and “Why” (Yin, 2003). This research strategy also facilitates the use of a descriptive approach as the aim is to describe and analyze a phenomenon non-intrusively. The approach relies on existing knowledge, practices and theories for the formation of the process framework as a way of dealing with the research aim. The descriptive approach aims to gather and illustrate data without any manipulation of the research context (Henrichsen et al., 1997). Conducting a descriptive study makes the research more deductive and requires the use of different data gathering methods and techniques (Miles & Huberman, 1994).

Units of Analysis: The research study is concerned with a single mass collaboration project related to the provision of voluntary education in the less developed world through the partnership with the University of the Arts in London and UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organisation) to promote the development of the textile sector.

Within-case Sampling: Data was collected from stratified informants within the project unit. Informants were selected based on their roles within the project. This within-case sampling is an important strategy to achieve content validity in qualitative research (Goodwin & Goodwin, 1984).

Data Collection

Interviews, observations and documentation (Miles & Huberman, 1994) were used to improve the construct validity of the research and provide opportunities for triangulation during the analysis of the study as a whole (Creswell, 2007). The documentations helped to understand the project more in-depth. Four interviews were undertaken with the related two Project Managers from the unit of International Education Consultancy, the Head of E-learning and the Web Coordinator in the University of the Arts in London.

Data Analysis

Data reduction is one of the qualitative analysis phases of Miles & Huberman (1994). It consists of various processes: selecting, simplifying, abstracting and transforming the data in field notes and/or transcriptions (Miles and Huberman, 1994). Data reduction took place when choosing the research question, collecting data and dealing with interview transcriptions. Besides, surveys were also given to the interviewees.


In order to investigate the attitude towards Wiki use, we can show how the new tool influenced the communication with the related parties.

The interviewed personnel confirmed that the relationship with Wiki inside the academic community is very complex and not all the related parties use it.

“When I arrived at our other sites’ in Syria or Bangladesh I realized that most of the academic staff did not know what Wiki was, but then, the tool became a known tool inside our community (UNIDO project group) and other groups started to use it.”
(Head of E-learning)

Others interviewed confirmed their intensive introduction of Wiki into the workflow process:

“I use Wiki almost every day, for instance, to put together the reading materials and related case studies with regard to textile sector, to give links to free brainstorming and visualization tools that the other party (partnerships outside of UK) might otherwise not be aware of.” (Project Director).

The tool seems to satisfy mostly the needs with regard to documentation. Its perceived value is in the easiness of the publishing system and in the simplification of the traditional documentation repository.

“It is quicker and simpler than html if you want to publish something on the web.”
(Web Coordinator).

And more:

”It is a sure place where to find your draft documents. Indeed, this way to work reduced the e-mail traffic with the other parties.”
(Head of E-learning).

These words also prove that wiki influences in a very positive way the quality and effectiveness of people work: they share ideas and collaborate on teaching materials that can be seen and checked practically in real time in order to release daily up-to-date documentations.

This is further confirmed by statements such as

“the fact that we can’t be always present in these distant locations is compensated by the related parties’ autonomy in finding information without the need to ask others”
(Head of E-learning);

“Effectively, the use of Wiki slims the workflow; it is great when you are able to share knowledge” (Project Director),

“I am sure, now I can see whether the students in other countries are collaborating; yes the horizontal communication is improved!” (Project Director).

The definition of the wiki and the importance of the eight cultural key drivers, found with a deductive method from starting theory- quickness, flexibility, sharing, collaboration, social networking, peering, openness and trust are supported by an empirical experience at the UNIDO project held in partnership with the University of the Arts in London. According to the interviews, the main three key drivers for the use of wiki across the international academic partnerships are: collaboration, sharing and quickness.

This case shows extremely positive evidences that the deductive insights here presented can be considered as a starting point towards further studies that can research how to support a Wiki impact on academic institutions with regard to voluntary education.


This research intends to propose just a personal and not yet validated manner to assure the right adoption of Wiki inside an educational partnership context. A scientific validation here proposed may be supported by additional studies and structured empirical research to promote systematic surveys in similar contexts of academic partnerships.

One of the main points agreed upon in this study is that the use of Wiki permits not only a knowledge stocking or the sum of prior information, but a true creation and circulation of new knowledge. The results from the interviews and surveys can be useful to the related stakeholders (project managers, teachers, e-learning staff) who want to verify whether Wiki can be successfully used for academic partnerships in different cultural contexts. Wiki is not just a technology, but a true philosophical way of intending work. Although in this study, wiki has been mainly used for documenting activities and sharing internal resources in an autonomous way it can also be used for other collaborative activities such as meeting arrangements. 

Appendix 1

Interview Questions

Cultural Key driver



1. Quickness

Do you find up-to-dated data useful for your daily work?

Regarding the booking common resources, Is it possible to make it by yourself?


Do you find it an easy and quick way to-update information – or knowledge-owner – useful for your work?


Do you find up-to-dated information about organizational activities?

2. Flexibility

Are you free to dedicate a percentage of your time to your own projects?

Is it possible to get information about the whole project work progress and direction?

Is it possible to re-configure and handle contributions from others?

Are you active in different teams?

3. Sharing

Are the common resources accessible to all and can these be booked in an autonomous way?

Is it possible to access or find results and insights inside and outside the community?

Is it usual to implement others’ work or co-create documents?

Is the real time circulation of ideas among the community supported?

4. Collaboration

Do you know which people are involved in your same projects?

In your team, are individual plans often compatible with the group activity?

Is it usual to participate to other group projects?

Is it usual to discuss with others about their work, solving problems together?



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About the Author

ayse Kok.jpg

Ayse Kok completed her undergraduate studies in Management Information Systems in Bogazici University in Instanbul, Turkey and her Masters of Science in Education (e-Learning) at University of Oxford, where she is continuing for a Ph.D.

She is founder of a non-profit that provides digital learning services to primary and secondary schools and has worked for international corporations and the United Nations. Her May 1, 2008 interview in E-Learning queen explores differences in e-learning in different countries in Europe, in Turkey, and in other cultures.

Web site:

E-mail (2):


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