My Brilliant Failure: Wikis In Classrooms

NB: Further Explanation of just *why* I felt this was a failure: Aiming for communal constructivism in a wiki environment

I had a brilliant failure using wiki in the classroom. I had some hopeful ideas about the potential of collaborative document editing in a group-learning situation. Visions of ‘negotiating meaning’, ‘knowledge construction’ and ‘student-to-student interaction’ swam through my head. I wanted to share with the participants my experience of collaborating in a wiki environment, and how it feels to have someone else edit your document, how you see a concept from someone else’s mind map. From my experience, in addition to my research, I believe that learning is inherently social, and any tools that can promote this will be the most effective. But finally, I ended up using wiki as pumped-up PowerPoint. It turns out I changed the tool, but did not change the practice. It was WikiLite.

I was using wiki during a six-week workshop on visual design in web development for non-experts. I used the wiki to create presentations, and allow the class to edit the content, in addition to completing tasks on pre-created empty links and SeedPostings (as they are called in wiki-speak).

My mode of conducting the class was, to a large extent, the limiting factor in how people engaged with the wiki. Yet I still wonder if, for our purposes, I was required to conduct those classes in that manner due to the subject matter and time restraints, especially because participants had little time outside of classroom hours to contribute or participate in any extra tasks? No answers, only questions… Perhaps time and access are important factors that cannot be overlooked.

An experienced wiki developer told me that people come to him from "academia" and wanted to know questions such as: "how can I use this in my classroom". What they don’t realize is that there is a great potential in this tool to be completely disruptive (in a good way) to the classroom setting. At this point, I made a connection to an article by Scardamalia and Bereiter about ‘Computer Support for Knowledge Building Communities’ which called for no less than restructuring our concept of ‘schools’ to allow for student to student interaction, negotiating meaning, and knowledge construction.

I used an instructionist and fill-in-the-blanks approach, whereas, what I would have rather have done is for the student to identify the blanks themselves, and build from there. In other words, it's as if I had installed a blog, but only for myself to publish to the class, and allowed them to only make comments. To really use blog to it's fullest potential, the participants need to be writing their own posts and making comments on each other's pages. To really use a wiki, the participants need to be in control of the content- you have to give it over fully.

I’ve worked with teachers, both North and South of the borders here in Ireland. I know everyone is busy. I find that teachers are looking for specific ways to apply tools in classrooms: “give us lesson plans, templates, instructions” I can here them saying. I suppose that is along the lines of which I was thinking. I developed a model in the first class, modified it in the next one, and for the remaining, I proved that my simple model of using wiki in the classroom (aka wiki-as-powerpoint) really worked. Great. So what?

In fact, the tool did not matter whatsoever. I didn’t even need PowerPoint. I just used the tool for the fun of it. It wasn’t harmful, I hope, but I suppose I was disappointed. I wanted to see something magical happen, and it didn’t. Why something that seems so obvious to me now could not have been seen before is just mind-boggling. In a way, I see this experiment as a brilliant failure.

It seems clear to me now that you cannot just change the tool- you need to look at your practice as well. Being so open, a wiki does not have any inherent properties that will instantly make a knowledge-building community. It depends not only on the software configuration-- for example whether certain areas are locked or whether you make templates for layout—but also on the social norms and practices around the wiki. In a classroom setting, this means the practice of the teacher, and the interactions of the students.

Models being explored at MeatballWiki and CommunityWiki are particularly applicable. There they are developing a language to describe the importance of group interaction around collaborative document creation.

I don’t have any answers… just some questions.

So try, try again- I’m looking down the barrel of another brilliant failure, but enjoying it anyhow. I’m now using wiki as a tool for building a website (no, still no knowledge construction and negotiating meaning). Yet it is empowering internet non-users to create a resource for themselves, building in inherent usefulness to the web, and allowing these people to create their own presence online. Surely this is the wrong way to work, I tell myself; one should identify a problem, and find the right tool to apply in the situation. Here I am walking around with a tool (wiki instead of hammer) and looking for not nails but different situations. But I can’t help it! I’m enjoying using wiki so much, and learning so much at the same time. I would like to be able to apply the tool, as well as the practice. *sigh* It's fun to fail.

See Also:
http://wiklossary.nearlythere.com/
Wiklossary, which is a place to point to; to help WikiNewbies coming to understand wikis. We’re growing it as we need it, adding in terms and references when we need to describe them.

CommunityWiki:WikiAffordances
Understanding how configurations in a wiki environment can change user behaviour
http://nearlythere.com/notes/social_software/simple_software_complex_int...
Understanding the importance of social norms in wiki communities

Meatball:UniversityWiki
Tips and caveats about Using a wiki in a university setting.

http://firstyear.tamucc.edu/wiki
Learning Community, an example from the Texas A&M university-wide wiki at http://www.tamucc.edu/wiki

http://ferret.bemidjistate.edu/~morgan/cgi-bin/blogsandwiki.pl?Entry_Point
Wiki for a writing course at Bemidji State university.

Comments

I suppose I know now what it feels like to be the Invisible Wiki Man! Hellooooo, people, does anyone realize there is a poster here at Kairosnews named blacklily8? I'm starting to feel ignored around here.

For Christ's sake, somebody posted a long blog about wikis and didn't even mention my extensive work with using wikis in the classroom. Argghghgh..

Oh, well. Computers and Composition has accepted my wiki article for publication in their famous academic journal. Maybe after the article comes out, people will finally start noticing the work I've been doing. Until then, I guess I'll just pretend I don't know what wikis are. What's a wiki?

i'm sorry- i can hear your ARRRG... i am familiar with the excellent matt barton site, and am constantly linking people to it, it has excellent resources to scholarly articles, i think i even added it as a link on this site..... in the weblinks section... not even knowing you were the assoc editor...
http://kairosnews.org/weblink/view/69

and... um... i didn't know blacklily8 was matt barton :/

i was certainly curious, because i've read your posts, and discussion forum topics... i wanted to know who blacklily8 was... (i esp ... but on the user profile page, there's no user info:
http://kairosnews.org/user/view/195

on the matt barton site, i had not noticed the mention of the blacklily8 username... so did not make the explicit connection... maybe everyone else here knows you and your work, i'm just a visitor here.

in the forum, you wrote that readership was down, and i felt i might stop lurking here, i like this site... so i posted an article. i didn't link to the matt barton research page in my post... but i will add it now, for sure.

i feel really bad now, horrible actually. you sound pretty angry and this makes me wish i had not posted my thing. but i'm going to AssumeGoodFaith, as they say.

i don't know much, i'm just learning about wikis, and online interactions, and academics and their concerns...and about developing ideas collaboratively... and making all kinds of failures, and sure- this is one of them.

i feel horrible. very very very sorry.

I'd be surprised if Matt's really angry; that wouldn't go along with his rejection of the author-function. :D



Seriously, congratulations on the C&C article, Matt! That's fantastic, and hopefully it will get more people to pay attention to wikis.




CultureCat

Well, I have mixed feelings about the C&C article, actually. On the one hand, I am flattered that they'd accept my humble writings. On the other, I'm not too fond of the publisher's practices, at least as they've been publicized lately. Then again, I didn't say anything in the article that I haven't said everywhere else, so I don't think the free world is really going to miss much! Meanwhile, maybe it WILL get some people to start paying attention to wikis.

I've been criticized a lot lately for not speaking up more in seminars. It's a sensitive point for me, because I'm one of those guys that always gets cut off whenever I try to make a point--or, I make a point and the conversation just flows around it. I'm convinced that people just don't get what I'm saying or it's simply too problematic for the kind of easy-flowing discussion that plagues most seminars. Either that, or I lack eloquence. Maybe I could take a public speaking class?

I mean, for God's sake, when the class is talking about wikis and I can't get a word in--and the conversation is banal and flat out WRONG, I get pissed. Some of those people would probably learn a lot if they'd just shut up for a few minutes so other people's voices could be heard. YYEEAARRRHGHGHGHGHG.....I hhhaaatteee seminars!

Maybe if I came to class in drag people would take what I had to say seriously. :P

Anyway, please don't take offense, heather!! Don't be sorry. BLOGGING MEANS NEVER HAVING TO SAY YOU'RE SORRY!

Why not post some of your research here?




CultureCat

TrackBack from notes:

I promised I'd reflect on my failure using wikis in the classroom. I shouldn't have used the word brilliant, because that makes it sound smarter than it was. - My Brilliant Failure: Wikis In Classrooms 21 May 04 where I...

Great article, Heather! I (think) I can totally envision how the class went. I agree that

"To really use a wiki, the participants need to be in control of the content- you have to give it over fully."

and that probably you were "required to conduct those classes in that manner due to the subject matter and time restraints, especially because participants had little time outside of classroom hours to contribute or participate in any extra tasks? No answers, only questions… '''Perhaps time and access are important factors that cannot be overlooked'''."

As everyone knows, everyone is pressed for time and students barely manage to do anything at all outside of classroom time, usually not even doing assigned work beyond the deliverables. I think that many people naturally enjoy helping out others, but aren't foolish enough to do so, unasked, in lieu of assigned work (and since no one ever has time to do assigned work, everything is in lieu of assigned work).

Like you, I don't have answers (at least, I don't have feasible ones), only questions. Some minor ideas though:

* I don't know who you teach classes to, if you are supposed to assign things, or what. If it comes down to assigning students to write on the wiki, make it as open-ended as possible. Perhaps "50 sentences over the next X weeks, in any form". These 50 sentences could include an essay, answering someone else's question, writing or improving a page, (and maybe even just chatting on homepages about offtopic personal issues?). This way, different people will be able to repurpose the site to what they want to use it for, and interact, rather than creating a bunch of isolated, assigned essays (WalledGarden""s).
* If you can get students (maybe even by assignment??) to post questions and requests for help on the site for the other students to answer, it may be likely than other students will answer, at least to the questions that seem genuine. People are happy to help when someone actually seems to want the help. Throwing time into a class website on the offchance that it may become useful to the other students is a more dubious proposition.
* If lack of student time is the bottleneck for student contribution (and I bet it is), then what you essentially want to do is to give the students more time. So, you could just do that. Give the students a class or half a class just to work on the wiki. Do all the students get computer access during class? If not, you could either have everyone meet online in lieu of a class period, or if you have internet access in the classroom you could scrounge up a couple of laptops and lend them to a couple of students (different ones each time) during each class.

Although, perhaps none of this will be radical enough. Perhaps wikis won't be useful to/used by the students unless they can use it to organize something. Maybe a class project, or maybe, more radically, they could help plan what will be covered in future class meetings.

TrackBack from Synesthesia:

My Brilliant Failure: Wikis In Classrooms Heather James' experiences using wiki as a teaching adjunct.

TrackBack from Preoccupations:

I had a brilliant failure using wiki in the classroom. I had some hopeful ideas about the potential of collaborative document editing in a group-learning situation. Visions of ‘negotiating meaning’, ‘knowledge construction’ and ‘student-to-student interaction’ swam through my head. I

Just an inexperienced reflection to share ....

I feel that communal constructivism is both a tool and a process, but without a clear, motivated and enthused end-aim for pupils in the classroom, there may not have been enough focus, collaboration and momentum to "see something magical happen".

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I've downloaded the Internet ....
Now what do I do ;-)

I had a brilliant failure using wiki in the classroom. I had some hopeful ideas about the potential of collaborative document editing in a group-learning situation. Visions of ‘negotiating meaning’, ‘knowledge construction’ and ‘student-to-student interaction’ swam through my head. I

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