Friday, March 22, 2013

Why wiki is the right tool for collaborative documents and learning?

The Media Culture 2020 project proposal was written on a wiki document, and now five student teams work on wiki documents to prepare the actual workshop. What is so special about wikis?

Social Media offers many new platforms for collaborative learning like wikis and blogs. They are easy to use and maintain, the teacher can focus on supporting the students instead of focusing on the maintenance of the platform.

According to the creator of the first wiki software, Ward Cunningham, a wiki is "the simplest on-line database that could possibly work."

The most popular and well-known wiki is the Wikipedia. A wiki is used and edited using a common web browser. A wiki is used to collaboratively create, edit and maintain documents. It is a very good tool for shared knowledge building and learning.

Collaborative online work guidelines before wiki era
The old way of managing creation of a collaborative document is that the coordinator sends a draft to the team as an email attachment. And what happens then?

The usual scenario: Kerttu and Giovanni send their own versions with some changes and additions to everybody as attachments while Helmut and Susan send some proposals in email messages. Pekka and Vaclav give their input too. Pekka makes his alternative to the original text while Vaclav formulates in another way the same paragraph, but adding to the proposal Susan made. Finally no one knows who has proposed what and there is no final version, just confusion.

This is the way to work in the 21st century:

When collaborative documents are prepared on a wiki, there is only one version, which is always up to date and includes all corrections. Wiki software store the history of the pages which is also a very useful feature.
The coordinator edits the final version and everything is ready for moving forward.

Wiki in learning
The traditional method for a group of students who are supposed to write a learning diary, a report or an article is to  write it solo and send to teacher. End of story.

The pros are:

- It is easy for the teacher to assess and grade

The cons are:- The teacher is the only person reading the output of the student
- The student will not process further the ideas after finalising the assignment (unless the teacher gives feedback and starts a dialogue with the student. Teachers seldom have time for this)

For a group of students writing a learning diary, a report or an article, it is a good idea to use a wiki document. The students see what the other students write about the subjects and discussion, and debate will occur.

The pros are:
- The student will not only fill the formal requirement of the assignment, but (s)he will be involved in an intellectual discussion, which always is a learning process
- The student will enjoy many observations made by other students and learn much more
- The teacher will have to review only one document and (s)he learns much more

The cons are:

- The teacher will have to monitor the discussion and work a little bit more to grade assignments.

Why haven't we done this before?
There are many reasons, but I see two main developments that has made use of collaborative on-line tools possible.
The technical reason is that the net is faster, there are high quality wiki software available, and more and more people can access the contents not only with desktop PC:s but with different mobile devices.
The political reason is the urge of revolution in education; to move from teacher centred standardised test oriented education to student centred, learning focused education.

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