For those of you who haven't yet discovered Wikipedia, a brief explanation may be in order. Wikipedia is a free content, multilingual encyclopedia, written collaboratively by contributors around the world. Any content that is put on the website can be edited or changed by any visitor to the site.
The result is a constantly updating and evolving source of information. This in itself may not seem much more than a useful reference source. However, what is becoming increasingly popular in classrooms is the technology behind it. Being able to create a website - or wiki as they are known - that can be edited or added to by anyone else at will represents a powerful collaborative tool.
As usual, the Americans have been doing this for some time, and a "using wikis in the classroom" search in Google will reveal a number of treatises on the subject by US colleges.
Some of the educational uses wikis have been put to include creating an editable source of information online, and allowing a whole class to reach a consensual solution to a problem by sharing experiences. Wikis can also promote focused discussions and are a good way for groups of students to work together on a project or assignment, with the wiki acting as an ongoing journal of work. Wikis can also be used in remote learning, allowing students to hand work in -and have it marked - online.
The easiest way to start your own wiki is to have it hosted (ie run on someone else's computer that already has the relevant software). Have a look at the wikicities site. Alternatively, you can download the wiki software and have the system running on your own school server (the central computer in your school).
There are several types of wiki software available, at varying degrees of difficulty to set up, but a good starting point would be the mediawiki site.
There are dangers involved with using a wiki - people will simply put false or erroneous information on it, referred to in the wiki world as vandalism.
But, more often than not, this is dealt with by others within the community who simply edit this information out.
Despite this, wikis represent a powerful collaboration tool which deserves serious consideration in the classroom.
And if you think it's an odd name, here's why: When Ward Cunningham created the first wiki in 1994, he named it after the shuttle buses of Honolulu airport, the "Wiki Buses" (the word "wiki" means fast in Hawaiian), as speed is a fundamental characteristic of this collaboration tool.
How it works: computer.howstuffworks.comwiki.htm
A US college wiki in action: ssad.bowdoin.edu:8668spacesnipsnap-index