By Dr. Collie Fulford, assistant professor, English and Mass Communication, NCCU
Course: Writing for Digital Media; Introduction to Technical Writing
Brief explanation of the project
Wiki project 1: Wikiglossary
Students in my Writing for Digital Media course collaboratively developed a wikiglossary of key terms relevant to the course’s focus on digital rhetoric. Our use of the wiki evolved considerably from this initial project.
Wiki project 2: Team proposal writing
Small teams of students in my Introduction to Technical Writing class used a wiki to co-write a proposal and manage other documents they assembled into a group portfolio.
Goals: What did you want to accomplish?
My overarching goals for the technology in Project 1 were for students to develop increased familiarity with writing in selected digital media and learn critical inquiry methods for examining digital media. The technology of the course became both the medium and the object of inquiry.
My goals for the technology for Project 2 were more pragmatic. I wanted the students to have a tool to use for distance collaboration so they could co-write a proposal within one week, whether or not their schedules allowed in-person meetings.
Outcomes: Were your goals met?
Yes, I think my overarching goals were met.
Students experimented with writing in wikis, and we made a terrific creative mess in our class wiki. As they were immersed in digital writing practices, they were also engaged in traditional academic thinking about the process. We had a lot of experimentation and questioning going on in this class, and those are always among my goals.
Unexpected outcomes: Hmm. Well, I didn’t expect to enjoy using the wiki so much personally. I can see ways I might apply it for, say, writing conference panel proposals with colleagues across the country. I have also adopted the tool for collaborative projects in other classes because it’s just plain useful and fairly simple to learn. As for unexpected outcomes with the student learning, our wikiglossary wasn’t all that thrilling as an end product. It never quite jelled. However, the process of attempting to write the wikiglossary got all of us engaged with the application so we could try other projects within it. The wiki unexpectedly became our main mode of communicating, a supplement to Blackboard that has much more flexibility. For instance, in our class wiki I ended up posting links to my students’ blogs, and students posted the blogs they had used for case studies as well as their summaries of the take-away points for other blog writers. Students also contributed and commented to the wikipages when assigned to do so. Occasionally, students used the wiki to communicate with each other in unassigned ways. One student conducting a survey for a project in another class asked her digital writing classmates to participate by posting a blog comment and link to her survey on Surveymonkey.com.
Another unexpected outcome was a comment in class that one student made about wanting some teacher-student privacy rather than entire class sharing access to each other’s higher-stakes assignments. That really startled me. Here we were networking and sharing drafts, collaborating on wikiglossary definitions, all of which I saw as a good thing, but one student said she actually preferred that some of her work just remain between instructor and student. This was not because the topics were particularly personal — they weren’t. I suspect there may be a perceived loss of individual attention and instruction when most of the writing circulates freely among all classmates. I will keep my ear out for these kinds of comments in future classes and try to learn why that perspective might surface.
Five out of seven groups found the wiki a convenient and easy-to-learn tool that facilitated rapid teamwork. A majority of the Technical Writing class recommended that I continue teaching with wikis.
Advice to faculty: What would you do differently?
I would encourage other faculty who are unfamiliar with wikis to give them a try. The environment is easy to learn and students can pick it up readily. Students do benefit from designated coaching time, however. Writing for Digital Media was a small class, so we frequently met in a small teaching lab where I could demo and students could actually use the application during class time. Dan Reis and I could help students directly as technical issues arose, while students could spontaneously inform each other about workarounds and cool features.
When I have adapted wikis to larger classes (such as the Tech Writing class) for which finding lab space was difficult, I tried two methods. In one class, I projected the wiki pages during every class in which we discussed the wiki project. Students could at least see me using and referring to the wiki environment, making it somewhat familiar. That was adequate, because early adopters of the tool informally taught other students from their small groups outside of class. A better practice, however, was reserving a computer lab and asking those who had laptops to bring them, since there were not enough monitors for all. Having two work sessions directly involving the wiki seems to have made it truly a tool that students are then able to use for successful distance collaboration.
Lab classes were not merely wiki skills sessions. Individual writers and teams worked on their projects during those workshops. Members asked questions about the substance of their projects easily as often as they did about how to use features of the wiki. These were very productive sessions on all levels.
What tools did you use?
Pbworks.com is a wiki platform that is free for educators.
See the example pages below from the class wiki to see the layout, comments and inclusion of video and images.
How did the Center help?
We used the Center’s training classroom.
The Center staff provided technical support for instructor and students to get started with wikis and blogs.
The staff provided intellectual support in the form of project planning and debriefings with instructor.