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To Wiki or to Blog, that is the Question.

July 26, 2009

Wikispaces

Please see click on the badge above for a link to a wiki I started with my Grade 5 students in January, 2009.

It was stated in the Web Tools 4 U 2 Use wiki  that, “More than a third of American adult internet users (36%) consult the citizen-generated online encyclopedia Wikipedia, according to a 2007 nationwide survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.” According to Richardson (2009), “Currently edits appear at a rate of 400,000 a day.” Mind boggling statistics like these prompt me to ask these questions: Who exactly has the time to do this online editing, besides those who are paid to do it? And why you spend vast amounts of time creating something that could potentially be erased, in which case your efforts would all be for nothing. Do we truly have an innate desire to construct knowledge in a collaborative and social setting? Are we simply practicing our rights as citizens in a democratic society? What do you suppose is the intrinsic motivation for participating in this revolutionary practice of online collaboration via wikis?

While I don’t see myself ever contributing to Wikipedia, I do see the value of using wikis in an educational context. Wikipedia is, after all, one of the sites most used in student research. While heavily criticized as an unreliable resource, the real treasure lies at the bottom of each page in the references section. Before we can teach students how to use Wikipedia, we must enable them to experience the type of collaboration and constructivist learning that goes into each page, by introducing them to the wonderful world of wikis.

Why would we use wikis in schools?

A wiki is a web2.0 tool that provides a means through which people can collaboratively construct knowledge and edit it at will. The content created is visible to anyone (if unrestricted) or only to a select group (restricted). The manager of a wiki can control who is able to edit the wiki and who is not. Being able to see a history of edits made and by whom, makes this an excellent tool with which a teacher can monitor his/her students’ learning. Hosting services like wikispaces and wetpaint make this process easy and quick (Parker and Chao, 2006), hence the name wiki, which means “fast” in Hawaiian.

Aharony’s (2009) research results, collected from a qualitative study on the use of a wiki in a college course, supported the idea that using a wiki for educational purposes encourages collaboration, meaning construction, and higher level thinking in discussions among participants. The way that the Aharony (2009) separated the comments and feedback of students and instructor  into categories suggests that there are 4 essential elements when planning to implement a wiki for a class project. They are: familiarizing students with the use of wikis, teaching students how to engage in courteous but meaningful discourse, providing regular instructor feedback but far less than the students provide themselves, encouraging students to offer suggestions, and encouraging students to communicate regularly with their classmates. In this study (Aharony, 2009), the percent of student to student interactions was 80.4% compared to 22.6% instructor feedback. There should be a significant difference between the contributions of the students and those of the instructor, as the instructor should give up control so that students are engaging at a deeper level.

The use of a wiki in this particular study (Aharony, 2009) did encourage collaboration as well as deeper learning. However, the study group included second year college students. So my question is, would younger students (middle and high school) have the maturity and cognitive ability to collaboratively construct new knowledge on a wiki and engage in higher level thinking with minimal teacher intervention? If not, would a wiki really be the most appropriate means for the learning of students younger than university-age? I considered Achterman’s (2006) statement that, “providing students with support, structure, and instruction when they lack the skills to assume complete control in no way undermines the effectiveness of the wiki as a tool.” So the conclusion that I have drawn is that wikis are a conveniently versatile tool with which intended use can take a variety of different shapes and forms. The teacher does not need to hand over complete control to the students for the wiki to be effective, but his/her main role is always to support the students.

The list of skills that can be taught through the use of wikis is quite substantial. This includes lifelong learning, the writing process, reflection and revision based on constructive feedback, social learning and collaboration, negotiation, and persuasion, among others. Most importantly, using wikis in education provides opportunities for students to learn the skills necessary for survival in a society Grant (2006) aptly describes as a knowledge economy where, “Knowing how to learn and how to participate in creating new knowledge are increasingly essential life skills.” (Grant, 2006).

Is there a place for wikis in my classroom? In my library?

I have created a list of practical applications for wikis. Some of these ideas are generated by me, and some are shared by other teachers and librarians

Judy O’Connell  points out that wikis provide an opportunity for all members of the community to become involved in school matters.
 can be used when teaching students how to evaluate the reliability of a resource.
the teacher librarian wiki demonstrates teacher collaboration and generating resources. Ideas that would be relevant to my teaching context are an ESL Strategies wiki and a Best Reading Strategies wiki.
 day review for students to edit and parents to view (can be organized so that each month has a page that continues to be edited throughout the month.
 collaborative student notes page for test reviews  *Vicki Davis comments that the leeches will benefit from the notes, but won’t benefit near as much as those who participated in the editing.
 students can create an annotated bibliography for a class project
 introductions to projects using links for information loading
 distributing course materials in older grades
 can be used to teach and explore online identity and how to protect privacy

 any group projects
 supplemental math resources and a place where students can ask questions and discuss issues.
note taking   or a daily lesson review, organized according to unit

 a work order wiki for tech and apartment issues
 displaying student work (an awesome example of what a librarian can do with a wiki  )
 provide teacher professional development

 after a unit of study, the class could edit Wikipedia together OR could create an online text for the unit.

As is the case when using any technology tool, one must first consider the learning objectives and whether or not the wiki is the best tool for the job. Based on Grant’s (2006) research, when a wiki is used in education to facilitate collaborative learning, there must be a goal, and the reason for using the wiki must be explicitly taught, otherwise, students will only scratch the surface of their exploratory project and they will not actually learn how to learn.

Potential limitations

There are a couple of things to consider, when planning to implement the use of a wiki in your classroom or library. By being prepared for the potential limitations of wiki use, one can plan to prepare students and plan for ways around these limitations to ensure that students have a positive wiki experience. In Aharony (2009), Raman et al.(2005) notes that there are certain requirements for a wiki to be effective in an educational environment. These are knowing how to use a wiki, a lot of planning for how the wiki will be used, the size of the group, and student motivation. A lack of basic technology skills, unclear goals, a very large group, and lack of interest are all possible obstacles that can be overcome.

One thing that really surprised me in the Achterman (2006) article was the information about the Deleting Online Predators Act, passed by the House of Commons, which refuses any kind of help to schools who do not block all social network tools. This would limit the students’ access to their wiki from home as access would need to be contained within the school server. I’m not sure how to get around this issue.

Issues, issues, issues

Quickly disappearing are the days when experts are the only ones who disseminate facts. Today, it is regular people like you and I who try to write as objectively and accurately as we can to provide the facts to the public. Accuracy has become an issue as Wikipedia is criticized for its sometimes biased and false reporting of certain facts. The trouble is, edits can be made, even when they are wrong. Fortunately, there are thousands of people who are giving it their all to ensure that Wikipedia is as accurate as possible. The same holds true for the use of wikis in education. Students must understand that what they create on their wiki is changeable if their facts are incorrect. They also need to know that they can’t always believe everything they read on a wiki.

The fact that content is changeable poses another issue, and that is authorship. Who gets credit for the final project? How does a teacher assign marks in a way that is equitable and fair? Fortunately, most wikis have a history tab which allows the teacher to see what changes have been made and when, but this can become very time consuming and confusing. Here is a link to one example of a wiki rubric, Rubric: Wiki Rubric for a collaborative project, but I am still not clear on how I would assess a wiki. I suppose it would be trial and error.

On the topic of assessment, in order to meet the needs of all learners, it would be necessary to assess all aspects of the project and weight these nearly equally. Writing skills, visual literacy skills, tech literacy skills, collaborative group work, contributing to the work of others, and demonstration of growth should all be a part of the assessment scheme in order to ensure that students don’t just focus on one skill in order to get the best mark.

Another potential issue becomes evident in Grant’s (2006) case study. One might learn from this study that it is important not only to teach students how to collaboratively write a wiki page, but also how to deal with others revising or offering feedback on their work. Farkas (2006) said, “It can be difficult for people to get used to the idea of a website that anyone is allowed to add to or edit. The notion of private property is so deeply embedded in our society that it’s difficult to imagine going onto someone else’s website and changing things, even when they want us to.” Valenza (2006) supports this further when she mentions that some of the issues with wikis are that, “They have the potential to inspire editing quarrels as groups negotiate content.” It would be wise to decide, as a group, what type of conduct is considered acceptable. Using the guidelines provided on Wiki Design Principles would serve as an excellent model. These principles are key to answering my inquiry question on how to create a safe web environment for my students to work within. My hope would be that explicitly teaching the mutual respect that is expected would deter any cyberbullying that might happen on the wiki itself.

The issue I struggle with now, perhaps because I am a bit “old school,” is whether or not wikis are an effective replacement for face to face collaboration? Do students really engage in their learning when collaborating online, more so than they would in person? How do we ensure that contributions are being made by the students themselves if they are working from home? Where I’m at right now, I believe that I would use the wiki as an after hours option for editing, but would expect quality discussions to occur once students were back in class.

My Personal Journey – to blog or to wiki?

When inquiring about whether to use a blog or a wiki for my “Book Trade Place” wiki in January of 2009 (Click on the badge at the top of this post), I received conflicting advice. One teacher preferred the blog because he was more comfortable creating the content and having the students respond. Another teacher suggested I use wikispaces because he knew that my students would be creating content by writing book reviews and would be commenting on the different reviews at different times of the year. I had also told him that I wanted content organized according to topic/book, and not in chronological order: each book with its own separate page and discussion. In the end, I chose wikispaces.

I decided to maintain control over page editing, but students were free to post whatever and whenever they wanted, with a minimum of one time per week. I gave explicit directions and modeled how to respond to posts, as students were inexperienced in online interactions within an educational context. Most adhered to these guidelines and only a few did not engage in the discussions at a deeper level; most likely because they did not understand the books. This has prompted me to reconsider the book selection process.
The intent of this wiki was to provide students with a web space on which they could discuss books, books, books. This was not “for marks” and they were told it was simply to help us get to know each other better, to understand the books we are reading, and to help our classmates with reading comprehension. Students were given a book at Christmas, which they read and wrote a book review for. Every week after Christmas break, we had a book trade and students posted comments and questions to their classmates’ book reviews. In retrospect, there were several things I should have considered and modifications I need to make in order to make this more of a success.

As I now have a better understanding of blogs and wikis and their design, I asked the question again, should I use a blog or a wiki for “The Book Trade Place”? Parker and Chao (2007) compare and contrast blogs and wikis. The following summary of that comparison might help you in deciding if a blog or wiki is the best tool for achieving your learning outcomes.

  Blogs Wikis
Authoring Usually one author Usually many authors
Organization Reverse chronological order By topic
Flexibility Content is not usually  edited Always changing
Feedback In the form of comments Readers can comment or make edits directly on page
Content Thoughts Topic knowledge
Purpose Good for communicating information Collaborative building of knowledge

In the Parker and Chao (2007) paper, it is noted that, “Wikis enhance asynchronous communication and cooperative learning among students, and promote cooperation, rather than competition (De Pedro et al., 2006).” As I reflect on my students’ behavior in our wiki, I would have to say that they were cooperative in contributing their views on a book and offered constructive feedback (perhaps because it was not “for marks”). When I look at the expected learning outcomes (to write a book review and respond to the ideas of others each week) I think that I would still use a wiki, and I would have handed over more editing control to the students. I noticed that several students either offered corrections to inaccurate details (in the discussion tab) or offered different viewpoints. It would have been interesting and more beneficial to the students, had I encouraged them to edit and revise the book reviews each week, with careful face to face conversations about why changes should be made.

I am quite content with using wikispaces, but decided to investigate other wiki hosting sites. I found a great tool called Wiki Matrix  which was recommended by Judy O’Connell. This tool allows you to select and compare the different wiki providers and see which one best suits your needs. I compared PBWiki, Wetpaint, and wikispaces. I am comfortable with wikispaces and think I will stick with it.

I also decided to explore wikispaces a bit more, as I was in a rush when setting this wiki up in January. I found cool tools like the badge (which I have embedded in this post for you to link to my wiki) and an import blog tool which I will use to import this blog into my wiki as a new page. Similar to wordpress, I am also able to see how many people have viewed our wiki. My new discoveries make this wiki even more exciting.

Slightly off topic, but I have found a great wiki that I am currently using calle Ah bon!  to brush up on my rusty French.

Works Cited

Achterman, Doug (2006). Beyond wikipedia. Teacher Librarian, 34(2), 19-22. Retrieved July 25, 2009, from ProQuest Education Journals. (Document ID: 1176903831).

Aharony, Noa (2009). The Use of a Wiki as an Instructional Tool: A Qualitative Investigation. Journal of Web
Librarianship,
3(1),  35 — 53.

Farkas, Meredith (2005 Sept.6). Using Wikis to Create Online Communities. Webjunction. Accessed July 25, 2009 from http://www.webjunction.org/technology/web-tools/articles/content/438229

Grant, Lindsay (2006). Using Wikis in Schools: a case study. Futurelab. Retrieved July 24,2009 from  http://www.futurelab.org.uk/resources/documents/discussion_papers/Wikis_in_Schools.pdf

Parker, Kevin and Chao, Joseph (2007). Wiki as a Teaching Tool. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, Volume 3.

Richardson, Will (2009). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. 2nd ed. Corwin Press, CA. Pgs.55-68.

Valenza, Joyce (2006). Blogs and Wikis in the Classroom. Information Searcher, the newsletter for the internet and curriculum/technology integration in schools. 16(1); 1, 3-8. Accessed from Wilson Web July 25, 2009.

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3 comments

  1. I agree with your ponderin of “whether or not wikis are an effective replacement for face to face collaboration”
    I don’t think that any technology replaces the face-to-face conversations; however, I find that since we now use technology so very much in many different ways, it takes up a large portion of my work day so I don’t have oppotunity to engage in those face-to-face conversations. I thought technology was going to save us time but it doesn’t in this instance.
    On the other hand,if students and staff can’t meet in one physical environment, then wikis provide the space virtually where we can meet and collaborate. I’m a bit torn between the benefits too so we’re back to your initial ponderings.
    Thanks for making me think about this concept.


  2. Joanne, you bring up a valid point that wikis provide a virtual space where people can meet an collaborate. One of the biggest reasons my students dislike doing group work is that it is difficult, inconvenient, and sometimes impossible for group members to all meet at the same time outside of school. Wikis provide an excellent solution.


  3. I would prefer to blog with my middle school students. I feel if i let them do wikis they would be editing too much. I will try both ,wish me luck!



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