About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lessons learned about Wiki use

A post by Michael Hanley reminded me that blogging takes discipline and like going to the gym, if you give up on posting regularly because of other commitments, it is easy just to get out of the habit. (I have been remiss in both instances: the posting and the exercise!)

In my case, I have been trying to keep up with some great blog posts, including one from Ken Allen on support in learning, and the e-course on work literacy, along with my own research for my dissertation on organizational learning and research for my class on visuals and electronic aids in teaching speech composition and presentation.

However, this week is wiki week on the work literacy, and while I think the personal learning information is good on wikis, there is so much more to the use of wikis than the tool itself when used collaboratively in the classroom.

A Multiclass Wiki Project

One problem with using a wiki in formal training is that it is difficult to measure the actual learning that takes place in using the wiki, especially if the final product is a "mess". However, I found the more my students experimented and communicated through the wiki, more learning took place
outside of the classroom and wiki.

I used the same wiki for an ongoing project between classes, to plan and execute an online conference. At the university level, this means that students could take part in a long term project outside of the semester. The first semester, a group of global communication students planned an online conference, including the title of the conference and audiences (international), along with some background material. Students in two different classes the next semester then performed different tasks that were laid out from a document from the previous class and my own format to help structure the work they would need to do outside of class.

Findings from Multiclass Project

Set up is important.
I made the assumption when I initially set up the wiki that each group would be able to develop their own way of using the wiki. However, I soon found that unless they were granted ownership, and encouraged to use the wiki as "group" property, that they would not take ownership of the wiki.

I found that a front page that is used for logistics and acts like an aggregator or organizational tool (table of contents) for the group helped groups to develop their own group pages without feeling as if they were stepping on toes.

The wiki should have instructions on how it should be used for that specific wiki. I found that by establishing protacols such as color coding changes or adding icons to areas that had been changed or tasks that had been completed, helped establish the boundaries for the use of the wiki. Even though the changes would show up in a separate post, my students wanted to find the changes within the context of the page and quickly (i.e. seeing the icons).

Halfway through the second semester, a group of students and myself sat down to establish instructions that fit the groups' purposes. This might be necessary as groups change and/or the project requires a new structure.

The wiki should be perceived as a tool for collaboration, not a piece of collaboration. Once my students started using the wiki as a means of collaboration, the wiki itself became a mess. This meant that students would then need to go back in, edit and restructure the information so that it was accessible for readers outside of the group. This editing process was much more of a learning tool than the final product. When I asked students to give a presentation on what they had learned, the wiki was a vital center piece to their learning process. However, the learning they presented to me was not obvious in the wiki view.

belive one reason for this might be the tacit learning that wikis promote through the collaborative writing process. There are also group processes that happen outside of the wiki space, such as leadership, conflict resolution, group organization, the development of group norms, inter and intragroup relations, the development of trust (cognitive and affective), group assumptions, and shared cognition. Of course, this will make the use of wikis less than desirable for organizations that want proof of learning.

It's the process, not the product.
All of these points leads to the conclusion that the process of creating the wiki is where the learning is. As such, work on the wiki should include assessments that allow students to demonstrate what they have learned, not just the final product that they come up with. For example, I had my students blog about what they were learning as they used the wiki. I also had them give a presentation on the project they worked on. Often the wiki was a record they could go back to which gave some evidence of what they had done. However, they admitted that the work on the wiki (e.g. mistakes made that needed to be corrected, misunderstandings that were resolved, identification of resources from multiple sources) was much more important to their learning than other activities they did in class or the final outcome.

In addition, the wiki was a document that only those that went through the process could really understand. Therefore, something that looked like a mess to me, was understood by the group members as it fit their communication and group norms.

Wiki products/documents may need to be "translated" or interpreted for the outside reader. My students found that they also learned through the comments and questions features (although not as much as I feel they could have) and through class discussions with others outside of the class. They were often surprised when others outside of their group had difficulty following the way their document read. It is important, therefore, when a wiki is used for learning or even within an organizational environment, that feedback be actively solicited. It is not enough to ask readers to "post their comments". The feedback should be targeted. This is one reason why we established an icon protacol to help monitor tasks.

The wiki should be easy to read and follow. One complaint I had from my students was that the document was boring and hard to read based the set up. They wanted pictures and better design (e.g. text boxes with additional information). They also would have appreciated more audio visuals such as podcasts or embedded videos. Many of the wiki software now includes templates for those with limited programming and software design skills.

The uses of Wikis in formal learning

Finally, there are three main uses of wikis in formal learning: sharing and communication of information, collaboration, and developing a permenant record of information.

My students used the wiki as part of their conference to keep track of the logistics of the conference. The conference went on for 12 hours. Each group had a designated "trouble shooter" for 4 hours at a time. The students chose times for check in during the day to identify any problems. For example, the group taking care of registration, needed to "dump" the names into an excel file on a regular basis so that the limited file space of the free registration software they used would free up (they were only allowed 50 names at a time). At the beginning of the conference, the registration closed out. The group keeping track of the promotion were contacted by various people trying to register for the conference indicating that the registration would not work. They posted this problem on the wiki so those in charge of registration and technology were appraised of the problem within the first check in period. By the next check in period the issue was resolved, so other members of the trouble-shooting team knew what was going on.

In another of my classes, students put together a wikipage for an online class presentation that drew resources from a number of places. Students used the wiki first as a collaborative space, in which they learned about the choice of technology in instructional design through colloborating on the presentation.

The wiki then became an information tool as they used the document to present how a specific technology worked ( a wiki in one case, and a podcast in another).


Mathieu Plourde said...

A wiki is an unstructured container. It can be used in so many ways that it gets very confusing if not boundaries are set from the get-go. Your post reflects this fact in a clear way.

To the exception of the conclusion that what is in the wiki does not act as a real proof of learning, a wiki report I wrote earlier this year has pretty much the same conclusions: the wiki process is key to learning.

Nice post, thanks for sharing!

Here is the URL: http://udel.edu/~mathieu/wiki

Mathieu Plourde, University of Delaware

Tony Karrer said...

Great post!

Anne Marie said...

Thank you:) This is a great post about how wikis really can contribute to learning.

V Yonkers said...

Mathieu, the report looks interesting. I wonder if you have any experience or information on the cultural aspects of wiki use? I would think different cultures would use wikis differently.

Tony and Anne Marie, this, in fact, was one of my most read posts this year (I still get new readers every day on this page).