By Dr. Harry Tennant


by Harry Tennant
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Entries with keyword: wikis
Posts 1 - 6 of 6

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Do students need to learn about collaborative work?

Wikipedia does not identify team members, assign responsibilities and so on. Instead, goals or needs are identified by whoever happens to identify them. Individuals who can satisfy the needs do so. Individuals assign their own responsibilities, determine what’s missing and decide what needs to be improved.

The same sort of networked, non-hierarchical organization is often used in software development. Called “open-source software development,” this type of software development is done by volunteers, needs are identified by those who notice them and solutions are constructed by volunteers who decide to take on the tasks. Some of the most widely used software in the world was developed and is maintained through the open-source model. The open-source model is also being applied in other domains such as biotechnology, security, political campaigns, website directory making and textbook writing. In other words, non-hierarchical voluntary collaborative organization is becoming commonplace now that it is possible through collaborative online technologies. Today’s students will increasingly find themselves working on collaborative projects in the future, so they are well served to develop the skills.

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Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning


Thursday, May 5, 2011

How classroom wiki projects may change your course

Creating a wiki as classroom activity may change the nature of the course. It is no longer the case that all the information flows from the teacher to the students. Rather, the students teach one another. It is peer-to-peer learning. In addition, the students discover knowledge through the exercise and, of course, under the guidance of the teacher. The teacher may become more of a manager of collaborative knowledge acquisition rather than the source of all classroom knowledge.

Diverse groups are best for most types of learning.  Students guide each other, which is the main benefit of collaborative learning.  Information flow among students is a student-centered approach to learning which de-emphasizes teachers presenting information and tends to increase learning.

Collaborative learning increases "interdependence".  Students soon recognize that the group succeeds or fails as a unit which causes group members to help others and to feel a responsibility to other group members. This feeling often results in better effort and performance by group members.

It also teaches that the content of the course, any course, is not fixed. It is open-ended. It demonstrates the methods and necessity of lifelong learning. And one of the responsibilities of the teacher is to emphasize the relative importance of different elements of the learning.

Another lesson that can be taught with wikis is the processes for working in collaborative teams. In hierarchical teams students can be given the responsibility for the familiar steps of collaborative work:

  • Identify team members
  • Define project scope
  • Assign individual and shared responsibilities
  • Work together to refine the final product.

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Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning


Monday, May 2, 2011

Providing guidance on classroom wiki projects

Just as Wikipedia started from a small number of articles and has branched into millions, collaborative work on one article may result in students branching off related articles (if the teacher’s guidance allows that).

A project like a wiki must come with some guidance from the teacher as to what is expected. Even Wikipedia comes with guidance: the policies and guidelines for creating Wikipedia entries. Familiarizing your students with the rules of wiki use is particularly important for first exposure. Students may not be accustomed to the give and take that collaborative work implies. You can prepare them to expect their work to be challenged and to challenge that of others in a civil, thoughtful and respectful way. Some example policies from Wikipedia follow.

  • Take a neutral point of view
  • Be civil to others and assume good faith
  • Seek consensus in discussions
  • Work toward the goal of a better-written and more comprehensive encyclopedia

When a wiki is to be used as a group project, set up the environment for success. Start with groups with diverse skill sets and diverse attitudes. They will complement and teach one another. And then tell the group what it needs to do, step by step. The guidance may be the sequence of questions for the group to consider when analyzing a text. Or the guidance may be how to comment on the creative writing of other students. Or it may be the pieces required in building a business plan. But the point is that the wiki isn’t doing the teaching. It’s only enabling a certain type of learning (collaborative learning) but the teacher must still guide the students in how the learning is to be done.

Another advantage of using wikis for classroom work is, if given the password, parents can also follow along and see what their child and his classmates are doing. Putting classroom work online, with proper protections of course, opens new opportunities for parent awareness and involvement.

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Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Increasing collaboration in classroom wiki projects

Of course there are variations on this theme, and the degree of collaboration can be stepped up. The teacher need not assign the topics but simply create them and allow the students to select their favorite topic and get to work.

Another variation is to assign a topic so that each student has primary responsibility for one article, but then also assign responsibility to edit two or three other articles that classmates are creating. This gets into a higher degree of collaboration. And it brings up one of the differences between collaborative work and individual work. That is, individual contribution can be harder to identify in collaborative work. So assessment can be more difficult. However, collaborative work will be increasingly important after the student leaves school so it's important to learn the skills of collaboration.

Typically, when multiple people are editing the same wiki page, the goal is to arrive at a consensus document. That's what Wikipedia is all about: Lots of people contributing to the same pages and settling their differences.

But maybe you want to emphasize differences. For example, you could build a wiki for which each topic had two documents, a male and female point of view or a conservative and liberal point of view. Or you could open up your wiki to another classroom in a different community or halfway around the world and maintain two perspectives for each topic, the local perspective and the perspective of the students in the distant classroom.

The examples above use wikis for creating the overall collection of documents but, for the most part, students are responsible for their own pieces. That’s good for keeping track of credit for work done but it isn’t always the way wiki collaboration is done.

You can require more collaboration by assigning not just one individual but a team to each article on the wiki. The members of the team all edit the same page and the resulting article is a team product, not distinguishable by individuals. What might be lost in terms of tracking individual effort is offset by developing the skills of collaborative work within teams.

An even more extreme example is to have the entire class work on one article. Let’s say you’ve assigned the class to write an article comparing the use of technology by high school students in school versus in their personal lives. The point of the assignment would be to participate in a collaborative project as it leads to consensus with a group large enough to have many differences of opinion and many personal anecdotes to call on. Since this project is likely to have some students hang back from participating, it would be a good idea to introduce students to wikis and collaborative work with more individualized or small-team assignments like those described above before moving to a many-author assignment like this one.

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Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Example collaborative wiki projects

The particular advantage of wikis is that they foster collaborative work. Here's an example. A teacher starts a wiki for the class with an outline of the course. She then assigns students the responsibility for finding videos, news stories or other material that illustrates individual elements in the outline. In this way, the class collaborates to build a richly illustrated document about course content.

 The wiki expands as the grading period progresses. More and more detailed information is integrated into the wiki.  Students must consider the outline or organization of the material and where their contributions fit in. This provides benefits similar to concept mapping. By the end of the grading period the students have created a written representation of the topic which teachers can grade and give other feedback.

The teacher doesn't have to start with the course outline. She could start with one of the readings for the course. Students could elaborate on the arguments made in the reading.

Here's another possibility: imagine a class taking a field trip to the zoo and each student is assigned to write a report on one animal. The resulting wiki would contain descriptions of the zoo full of animals. In this example, the students aren’t collaborating on individual animal descriptions but each student can see the work of all of the others.

The “What I did on my summer vacation” assignment could be done as a wiki where entries are grouped by the type of activities described or by travel destinations.

Or let's say you have a long list of references on a topic such as climate change. Each student could be assigned the task of writing annotations on a set of the references. The result would be an extensive annotated bibliography, available to all.

There are as many possible wiki topics as there are course topics. You could start with a list of the Presidents, endangered species, insects, Shakespeare sonnets, applications of algebra, favorite pets -- the point is you can create a wiki about anything and make it an exercise in collaborative work.

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Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning


Monday, April 25, 2011

Student collaborative learning with wikis

Collaboration during learning obviously has the potential to improve collaboration skills such as coordination of effort and social interaction. Students learn how to get along and deal with others on a team.  Collaboration is increasingly important in the workplace. The more able students learn to help those with less knowledge or skill.

Moreover, much research suggests that students learn better in a collaborative environment when compared to competitive or individualistic environments. Encountering diverse perspectives is beneficial to learning. Groups of learners also share their cognitive resources (e.g., working memory), which are very limited in individuals.

Wikis are web tools that make it easy to collaborate. The idea of a wiki is a collection of webpages that anyone can edit with an easy-to-use online editor. The key idea of a wiki is that for any page, anyone can make a change. In order to make that work, wikis maintain history lists of the pages that are changed. If someone messes up the page, it's easy to simply revert back to a previous page in the history.

By far the best-known wiki is Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Like all wikis, Wikipedia entries can be edited by anyone. Early critics of wikis expected that the open model would result total chaos. However, we find in Wikipedia the world's most extensive encyclopedia with article quality rivaling the best edited encyclopedias. The success of Wikipedia demonstrates that the wiki notion that when anybody can edit quality can increase.

When wikis are used in the classroom, we find better writing as a result of improved integration of ideas due to collaboration. Classroom wikis foster writing in general and more thoughtful writing because entries must integrate what others say. Collaborative writing with wikis places more emphasis on organization of ideas due to the structure of wiki pages.

Classroom wikis are designed for classroom use so often include features not available in open-to-the-public wikis like Wikipedia. For example, classroom wikis are often password-protected to prevent people from outside the class from making edits. In some cases, teachers may choose to restrict the wikis so that even reading them is password-protected.

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Keywords: wikis, collaborative learning

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