With all of its advances, the Internet is still an environment dominated with text. Take a look at Wikipedia or just about any blog and you’ll see pages filled with text with an occasional picture added for some visual appeal. Some news sites add videos to enhance a story but the bulk of the information is still conveyed through the text on the site. What if the information was conveyed in a story that was read to you? What if relevant pictures and videos were assembled into a slideshow as the story was told? That’s the idea behind Qwiki. Qwiki pulls data from a variety of sources to build an “information experience” where users can search a topic and then hear a story (called a “qwiki”) about the topic. To date, over 2 million different topics have been assembled spanning historical, scientific and societal concepts. The site also offers daily Qwikis that relate to newsworthy topics. For instance, during the NBA finals, a Qwiki of LeBron James was one of the featured Qwikis of the day. Since the site works like Google and Bing, the site is extremely easy to use. Just type in a search term and the site will display the related Qwikis that are available. Select one and a computerized voice will tell the story of the term and display text, images and videos in an elegant slideshow. There’s even a free iPad app that presents Qwikis on your iOS devices.
Qwiki has loads of educational opportunities. For instance, Qwiki would be a great way to help emerging readers access information on the web. Since the site displays the words as it narrates them, beginning readers could follow along and learn from the site. Qwiki would also be beneficial for students who may have difficulty reading or may need to experience the web in a more auditory fashion. Qwikis can also be used as a discussion starter in the class. Instead of showing a video, consider showing a Qwiki. The real educational power could lie in the not-too-distant future when the site starts allowing everyday users to publish their own Qwikis. Then, it will not just be a novel way for students to experience the web. It will become a platform where students can author new content as well.