This semester I decided to try using a wiki in my upper-division, English-Education-major class: Literacy Studies. To put it mildly, the assignment floundered, used up a lot of face-to-face class time, and eventually worked mildly well. However, I asked my students A LOT of questions during the assignment, reflected a great deal, and then reflected some more.
I learned a lot from this experience that will help me the next time I introduce a class to writing in a wiki environment. One of the most important things I learned is that the hardest thing about the wiki isn’t the online context, it’s helping students learn to collaborate. When I asked my students why they weren’t adding to the one brave person who posted material on the wiki first, they told me that they felt like it was “rude” to correct someone else’s work (even though I have them do peer response groups). There was something about having equal ownership in the task that translated to not wanting to change their peers’ words. I think they were also really conscious of how public it would be to add/delete/revise someone else’s writing. Moreover, I learned that students still needed me to set deadlines–because my procrastinators wouldn’t write anything until the last minute . . . which drove the more organized students crazy.
Next time I introduce wiki assignments to a new class, this is how I’ll do it.
1. I’ll start like I did this time with individual biographies. My students did great with this element of the wiki.
2. I’ll have my students engage in online discussions about articles using Diigo.
3. I’ll have my students trade ideas about some aspect of their literacy experience on the wiki–this won’t be a formal writing assignment, just something where they have to have an online conversation.
And this is where it gets murky for me. At this point, I’ll probably have partners create a more formal essay together. After that, I’ll assign a larger group project . . . using literature circle-like roles that will give students a defined task within the wiki environment.
Then, and only then, will I assign a more free-ranging group assignment.
I’m pretty sure that I’ll be refining how to help students learn to collaborate for awhile still. I know what I’ve described above will work better, but I’m pretty sure I still need to experiment some more. Lucky for me this semester, my students have been really patient as I’ve been learning something new.