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.
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.
Understanding how configurations in a wiki environment can change user behaviour
Understanding the importance of social norms in wiki communities
Tips and caveats about Using a wiki in a university setting.
Wiki for a writing course at Bemidji State university.