Monday, January 12, 2009

Turbo-Charged Wikis: Cooperative Learning Embraces Technology

When teachers first embraced wikis in the classroom, they met less-than-ideal outcomes. Usually students were disinterested in the topics or were not familiar with the technology, or were not adept with collaborative writing. The results usually consisted of disproportionate work distribution and copy-and-pasting: in other words, very little learning. Even if the work was evenly distributed, it resembled a “quilt,” with each student stitching in his own panel with little regard for what his partners wrote.

What was missing was a sound pedagogy for learning. By infusing structured Cooperative Learning strategies (Johnson and Johnson, University of Minnesota student-generated wikis become a much more productive activity.

Some of the more readily usable wiki interfaces are and A slick website that evaluates wikis head to head is Try it!

First, a teacher must establish a collaborative environment from the beginning of class. A wiki-based project should not be the first time students work together. Collaborative projects work well, but only if an environment of cooperation already exists.

The assignment of the project must possess two qualities. First, it must be an authentic problem or situation which must be solved collaboratively. Second, the final product must be utilized by another audience, preferably classmates to advance the learning of the entire class. In other words, the wiki cannot result in an assignment that is merely "turned in." Also teachers need to remember that the wiki is only the tool to enhance learning; the problem solving is what drives the project.

One example of this is an assignment I have recently given to students. While studying Lord of the Flies, students are placed in small groups (no more than 4 students) and read the book through a particular "lens" which guides their study and discussion. As they read, they research sources that analyze and support their particular lens. Since they are the ones becoming "experts" in their lens or theme, it becomes their responsibility to share their findings with classmates. To do so, they create a collaborative article analyzing the specifics on the theme complete with links to authoritative sources. The final step is to create two "foundation questions" (Inquiry Research) related to the theme and make them available. As a final class assessment, students read the analysis of themes done by classmates (total of four) and answer the foundation questions using the novel as well as their peers as sources to support their answer.

To make sure this project progresses, teachers need to instill the five components of Cooperative Learning: namely, Positive Interdependence, individual Accountability, Face to Face Interaction, Group Processing, and teaching small-group social skills. The most important of these are Positive Interdependence and Individual Accountability. These two seem, at first glance, mutually exclusive; a further look reveals that they are two sides of the same coin…somewhat of a “Yin-Yang” philosophy.

Positive interdependence: We are better together than alone. Johnson and Johnson identify twelve types of Positive Interdependence, and further go on to state that for a lesson to succeed, at least three need to be present. A wiki assignment constructed properly can have at least four. Goal interdependence relies on the teacher creating a challenge for the students to create a compelling document. A unified vision of that goal is essential. Role interdependence is achieved by assigning specific, unique roles to individuals in the group. Each may be responsible for drafting a particular section and revising another. Environment interdependence becomes inherent within the wiki itself. If students have a part in creating a unique space they tend to take more ownership; therefore, I encourage student to select color schemes, titles, and images to “dress up” the assignment…that is, after the text is completed. Task interdependence relates closely to “Role.” “Task” is the idea that one portion may not be completed unless another’s task is completed. Veronica cannot edit the segment unless Jonathan drafts it, and so on.

Individual Accountability: EVERYONE learns One of the common criticisms of “Group Work” is that an unequal distribution of work and learning often results. In order to ensure that everyone participates, contributes, and learns, the teacher must structure several layers of individual accountability. First, wiki groups should contain no more than four members, and two or three is actually more desirable. Identifying roles and assessing is much more realistic in a group of three. Furthermore, “hiding” among three people is very difficult. Also, teachers must assess the project at various times during the project. Teachers need to assess and give feedback at the outlining, drafting, revising, and publishing stages. Also, since most wikis have history features, teachers need to continually view the participation of each member.

In addition, teachers need to supply a structured system of expectations, due dates, and a constant flow of feedback throughout the development of project (Stiggins). Also, teachers must build in time for students to meet during class to negotiate meaning in the planning and revision stages. Assessment must be a collaborative endeavor, with students having input on the rubric criteria prior to the completion of the project, as well as an opportunity to self assess. Adherence to these strategies will ensure greater learning.

Additional Sources for Wikis in Education

The Cooperative Learning Center at the University of Minnesota

"Examples of Educational Wikis"

"Ideas for Educational Wikis"

Nielsen, Jakob. "Participation Inequality."

"Wiki Etiquette for Students."

Orech, Jon. “Wikis Make Learning Wicked Fun.” Tech Learning E-Zine

Schroeder, Barbara. "10 Best Practices for Using Wikis in Education."

"Seven Things you Should Know about Wikis"

Stiggins, Richard J, Judith A. Arter, Jan Chappuis, and Stephen Chappuis, Judith A. Erter. Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing it Right, Using it Well. Assessment Training Institute, Jan Chappuis, Steve Chappuis, Educational Testing Service. Published by Assessment Training Institute, 2004

ISBN 0965510158, 9780965510158

"Using Wiki in Education."

1 comment:

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