Wikis

We’re talking about wikis in our 516 grad seminar and questions worth considering revolve around my assumptions and experience with wikis, what concerns or questions I have about the complexities of wikis as a teacher who might use them in the classroom.

I have zero experience as a wiki author but much exposure as a user, primarily from Wikipedia. I find the pages are generally well organized, offering readers linked subtopics further down in the article after a brief overview of a given entry. I find both the internal linking and linking to external content very useful and easy to navigate.

I also find all of the linking a bit distracting at times. I’m somewhat of a clicker when I read through a wiki entry, and before I know it, 13 unread Wikipedia tabs are open along the top of my browser window, of which I may give a few a cursory glance before closing them all in a fit of anxiety fueled by digital clutter.

In terms of grounding my students in the complexities of wiki writing, I suppose I have concerns similar to those I would have when assigning my students any kind of group work.

How will they get along and be productive? How will they organize their individual contributions into a coherent artifact? How will they make sure they are not working against each other? If they have disagreements or encounter obstacles, how will they resolve or overcome them together? What happens when there’s a “weak link” who’s not pulling his or her weight?

With in-class group work, I have discussions with my students before they roll up their sleeves and get down to work and encourage them to think about what makes a good teammate, what are the different ways groups might go about accomplishing a task, and how might they go about exploring each group members’ talents and preferences.

Like other kinds of group work, wikis, ideally, would foster collaboration and cooperation, so ,thinking pedagogically, I wonder how I might use wikis in the classroom.

One possible project that come to mind using wikis would start students out all writing a brief (2-3 page) essay on a composition topic. In my 516 grad seminar we’re doing something similar; we’ve referenced Keywords in Composition Studies, and each of us will write a short essay on a keyword of our choosing.

Here’s my thinking on how to bring wikis into the mix. In a class of 25 students, assign five words important to the course outcomes to the class to research and write a brief essay on. Each word will have four students researching and writing about it, and in phase one, students will write an essay independently.

Come phase two, students will be assigned the task of assembling a substantial wiki entry of their keyword. Their task will be to meet with the other students who wrote about the same word they did and build a wiki that incorporates all of their findings plus. They will be invited to think collaboratively, cooperatively and critically about redaction, organization, addition of new content and more.

What might be interesting to explore in class is the process of transforming a traditional “essay for teacher” into a more publicly-oriented wiki. Discussions might revolve around what’s similar or different about how traditional essays and wikis, from how they look and are organized to what kinds of audiences they might be reaching to how they are assembled.

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3 thoughts on “Wikis

  1. This sounds promising, Joe. I agree that wikis lend themselves to both individual authorship (in one phase) and something more genuinely collaborative (in another). I emphasize roles and ask students to document the ways they step in and out of a series of roles: facilitator, researcher, writer, editor, coder, etc. I probably mentioned this on Thursday. These roles help students see as structured the various kinds of interactions they self-sponsor in relation to the wiki.

    Over time, the wiki has an impressive build-up, too. HihiWiki, for example, has only been used in a handful of classes (maybe three or four total), but the breadth of materials taking shape there is one of the main factors getting me to think about using it more extensively in future semesters. Over time, it stands to become a rich resource where student writing carries forward as a resource for future classes–and this is the sort of circulation of student writing I think we ought to be encouraging across the curriculum.

  2. I really like this assignment — it seems to incorporate genre transformation, revising strategies, digital writing and collaborative work. I wonder if you’d considered giving students a more specific audience for their wiki? For example, their goal could be to explain their keyword/terms to a high-school English class in order to illustrate the kinds of concepts they will encounter in college writing. I like the idea of writing for a general, public audience, too. Both could be possible, actually, if students wrote their project for a high-school audience but also contributed some of their own knowledge to public Wikipedia pages.

    Your concerns about group work have led me to think more about how I might assess the wiki project I described on my own blog. Leading a discussion about how to be a team member sounds really interesting – I would like to hear more about it.

    1. I really like that idea of a high-school English audience, Sarah. Another project that strikes me after reading your comment might just start with groups building wikis all on the same term, say, “Rhetoric” or something like that. Here’s the catch, though: each group might have a different audience to write to. One might write a wiki for 5th graders, another group for high school freshman, the next for college freshmen, one maybe for a general audience (equating a general audience to those who read mainstream magazines, say) and one group might be writing a wiki for advanced ESOL learners. All the same topic, but five different audiences, and a whole lot of analysis and reflection before, during and after the project examining the different compositions.

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