Last modified on 25 January 2010, at 17:21

Wiki Pedagogy/Pedagogical Potential

General Pedagogical Potential

Wikis are new to the university context. (Some recent implementation practices are presented in Examples section, and several guidelines for wiki use are offered in Evaluation Tools section). Wiki pedagogy is literally — and figuratively — "in-the-making". Wikis, both in and by their ontological existence, circumvent traditional power/knowledge relations. What these democratizing tools may — and may not — enact in and across educational settings remains to be seen. While the descriptions about their potential enactment are brief, the issues they invoke are complex and challenging.

Wikis enact knowledge building with and for others. The focus is on the community itself rather than on the individual learner (Holmes, Tangney, FitzGibbon, Savage, & Mehan, 2004). The implications of communal constructivism for the university context are of particular import. In the words of Holmes et al (2001), "What we argue for is a Communal constructivism where students and teachers are not simply engaged in developing their own information but actively involved in creating knowledge that will benefit other students. In this model students will not simply pass through a course like water through a sieve but instead leave their own imprint in the development of the course, their school or university, and ideally the discipline."

The goal of such "co-curricularization" is to influence the quality of ALL work, not just one's own [1] Quality is to be influenced OVER TIME (long term sustainability of knowledge) (Ciffolilli, 2003 & Schwartz, 2004), ACROSS collectivities (across students, over classes, over years, over generations; see, e.g., Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994), VIA open-natured projects and TOWARDS creating "impossible public goods" (Ciffolilli, 2003). While creating assemblages of valuable collective goods is not new, tools that intrinsically incite them — and on such a large scale — may be truly new (Godwin-Jones, 2003).

Like many on-line environments, wikis create the possibility for international "Collaborative Collectors" and interdisciplinary "social webs" that enhance social life through knowledge of and mutual participation in new types of cultural and leisure activities (Mark, 2001 cited in Muirhead, 2004). Networked collectivities purportedly allow for wider, diversified, teamwork (Ciffolilli, 2003). Teamwork is said to invite multiple perspectives, induce higher developmental skills, reduce uncertainty during complex activities, and increase participation (Harasim 2003, cited in Muirhead, 2004).

Several on-line environments (such as forums and news boards) enable such potentially innovative exchange and labour practices. Like wikis, they are premised on a distributed knowledge-building model, wherein information flows freely without having to pass through a central authority. However, in wiki technology, such distribution pertains not only to the exchange of ideas but to the editing and publication of ideas as well. Wikis are based upon a principle of non-exclusive authority. Anyone and everyone gets to decide what will be said (content), how it will be said (organization), and whether it will be said (dissemination). Some potentials and concerns about distributed authorship, open editing, and public as publisher are outlined in the About Research section.

Specific Pedagogical Potential

Wikis maximize interplay.

That is, they maximize the written word advantages of reflection, reviewing, publication, of witnessing cumulative written results. It is important to note that dissatisfaction in interplay may be key here. When students do not like what they see — for example, the approaches taken by others — they may act to create otherwise (Scardamalia et al, 1994).

In wikis anyone can play. "This sounds like a recipe for low signal (noise) as Wikis get hit by the great unwashed as often as any other site — but to make an impact on Wiki, you need to generate real content. Anything else will be removed. So anyone can play, but only good players last." (Reference: Category Wiki-5.) Wikis are democratic.

"Allowing everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use of the Web and promotes content composition by non-technical users" (Leuf et al, 2001). For an excellent critique of democracy — indeed, a case for its rethinking — see Agamban in the About Research section. Wikis work in real time.

People take time to think, sometimes days or weeks, before they follow up some edit. So what people write is generally well-considered (References, Category Wiki-5). Wiki technology is text-based.

The extremely simplified hypertext format may allow for a greater concentration on the text itself, that is, on the content or the writing process (as opposed to figuring out or playing with text tool options or presentations). The lack or small number of images may also enable a greater emphasis on quality content creation and/or comprehension (Fountain, 2005a; Godwin-Jones, 2003). Wikis permit public document construction, that is, distributed authorship.

Co-authoring is complex, whether in the real or the virtual worlds. There appear to be many ways of writing together. Roles can vary scribe&consultant/parallel writing/joint writing in Mitchell, Posner & Baecker, 1995) dynamics (collaboration alters within and between authors in Mitchel et al, 1995) politics (participation and engagement is not necessarily equal in Fountain 2005a, Hormon, 2005, Mitchel et al, 1995). Wikis complicate the evaluation of writing.

Since wiki authors are typically anonymous; unless the group is extremely limited and/or identification of textual input is imposed, one will not normally know who the author is. Thus, unlike threaded discussions in which the writer is identified, it is usually impossible to identity contributions to a wiki (Schwartz et al, 2004).

Such anonymity poses enormous questions for academic institutions wherein rewards (grades, bursaries, grants, publications and hirings) are still typically based on individual contributions and efforts. However, it is possible to insist upon authorial identification within any given wiki. But the advantages of "non-identifiable authorship" may outweigh the disadvantages in certain academic sectors. Garcia & Steinmueller (2003) outline three potential advantages:

1) an intensification and diversification of non-ownership/non-proprietary models; 2) an emergence of self/other identification hybrids; and 3) the proliferation of consumer/producer horizontal assemblages, reflecting the multi-authored character of information goods produced through collaborations. Wikis promote negotiation.

The non-hierarchical decision-making about what counts (or what will remain published) can occur between students, whether within a given course or across extended periods of time (Holmes et al, 2001) [2]. Wikis permit collaborative document editing, or open editing.

First, they subject writing to constant scrutiny (Barton, 2004a). Mutually editing content may improve the quality of ideas (concerns about the potential to "destroy" others' work are discussed in the Production section). In addition, witnessing and participating in the progression of editions, and seeing editing as a political struggle (Barton, 2004a), could lead to heightened creativity and more nuanced critical skills with respect to document production and evaluation (References, Category Wiki-5).

Second, making editorial changes public (as wikis do) could provide excellent data for:

1) quality analysis (in terms of both form and content) pertaining to what counts as improvement or not;

2) political analysis in terms of decision-making (quality according to whom).

Note that this second option is only possible if the authorship of wiki changes is made explicit. The use of egalitarian editorial decision-making seems to enable rotating leadership roles, allowing participants to build on what works (reference: Category Wiki-5). Wikis permit the public to publish - Public as publisher.

Wikis permit the creation of "publics, not masses" (Barton, 2004a). Arming a public to edit means that "an armed society is a polite one" (References, Category Wiki-1). Wikis make texts intensely public and potentially durable. Work is placed for the wider community to see and edit, both in the present and in the future. Writing for a "real" audience seems to be highly motivating, leading towards the desire to attain better language skills, including expression (Fountain, 2005b). It may also lead people to be more thoughtful in terms of content and structure (Godwin-Jones, 2003). Yet, while expression is important, "being heard" may be more so. When one "goes public", receiving no response can be as troublesome as receiving a bad response. The relationship between "listen" and its anagram "silent" merits considerable reflection. As Oscar Wilde said, "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." Feedback then, at least in an educational context, is key. Wikis make feedback intensely public and potentially durable.

Educators can insist that students read and respond to others. The elaboration of what constitutes appropriate feedback, and the creation of guidelines for its equitable distribution, are two fundamental issues in educational contexts. Wikis work on volunteer collaboration.

Wikis created in pedagogical contexts wherein collaboration is forced and enforced (since participation is often related to the student's grade) — a kind of Lacanian "choix forcé" — may prove to be a factor that determines why wikis may not work for some educators. That is, the voluntary aspect of wiki work, which involves an "opting in" to knowledge construction, may prove to be an essential and non-negotiable component of creative and sustainable participation. Wikis enable complete anonymity.

The import of responsible anonymity (creating and/or responding responsibly and ethically to public speech acts on the web across potentially extremely large audiences) needs no elaboration. Wikis endorse particular ways of writing.

See the concept of NPOV and OnlySayThingsThatCanBeHeard.

Wikis have no rules; non-interference with respect to creativity is high (Godwin-Jones, 2003).

Wikis require trust: trust the people, trust the process and enable trust-building (reference: Category Wiki-6). Building trust and enabling it in the digital domain, across differing and often divergent times and spaces, may prove to be too great a challenge to ask of educators who already lack time and resources. Some Queries

We need to question:

   * equal participation as actually possible and as always desirable,
   * content interest as related to a shared timespace (Garrison & Anderson, 2003, cited in Muirhead, 2004);
   * while content gets people involved and creates discussion, what does it mean if we are forcing this content in our coursework (References, Category Wiki-5)? For a critique of discourses of collaborative learning and knowledge construction. (see the About Research section);
   * the lack of images, both as good and as bad (Collaborative Software Lab, 2000);
   * the value/import of officially unauthorized texts. As James (2004a) puts it, "While just about everything we used to teach was a finished, edited text, the Web now provides us with a gazillion unedited texts";
   * the lack of content moderation: we may need to review content to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio. UseNet became Uselessnet because of lack of moderation (Category Wiki-5);
   * the serendipity of wikipages: the wikipage may already exist. See ErikDeBil (Category Wiki-3);
   * whether all content should always be openly editable. Open comments, yes but... (Katherine Derbyshire, Category Wiki-1) Possible solution? Two parts to a page — one static part (for text or artwork) and another which is a standard wiki (Daniel Church in Category Wiki-1);
   * when writing is neither hierarchical nor threaded. That is, changes are not indicated in each version; one must read for them. This evokes a time element, and poses another question: is it possible to spend too much time reading (Category Wiki-5) ?

Guidelines for wiki use

According to Palloff and Pratt (cited in Li, 2003 and Muirhead, 2004) the virtual student wants: 1) communication and feedback;

2) interactivity and a sense of community; and

3) adequate direction and empowerment to carry out the tasks required for the course.

In virtual work, there are typically four types of behaviour upon which to focus: participation, response, affective feedback and focused messaging (Horman, 2005; Burge, 1994 cited in Muirhead, 2004). Of particular importance to effective behaviour are:

1) the degree of social presence;

2) the quality of the feedback received;

3) the intellectual depth of dialogue; and

4) the virtual presence of the instructor (Berge, 2002; Gunawardena, 1995; Swan, 2001 cited in Muirhead, 2004).

Some specific guidelines for wiki work : [3] Getting involved

   * Some things that drive others are: recognition, respect, desire to have an impact and desire to participate in significant discourse.
   * Making student work available drives up the level of coursework, as other students can more easily understand what is expected of them and thus build to a higher standard rather than reinventing the wheel.
   * Include sections that show how the work could make an impact.
   * Communicate the value of the activities as much and as often as possible.
   * Create extra credit opportunities.
   * Recognize that on-line identities encourage more in-depth dialogue.
   * Realize that when participants know each other, it makes the process easier, since there is less on-line fear. 

How to wiki work

   * Take time. Be prepared for this; people need to get comfortable, so take a class off and do it on-line.
   * To use a wiki, participants need to be in control of the content: you have to give it over fully.
   * Get to know your audience (for approaches see the "Issues in Deployment section" in Tonkin, 2005)
   * Make the work as open-ended as possible.
   * Do not impose strict rules and patterns of usage.
   * Use email notification of changes (perhaps time-line dependent).
   * Use "hans". Hans (plural for "han", a Japanese learning model) are made up of three or four students in a class. It is the responsibility of the han to make sure that all members are able to progress through all materials. (This is a radical departure from Western education where the individual is paramount).
   * Less is more; motivation decreases when there are too many assignments and/or too many discussion questions.
   * Use wikis across age groups, classes, courses (sections) and over time (courses).
   * Get students to comment across projects (i.e. point out parallels and contrasts); choose high-quality, complex projects.
   * Make what is to count as acceptable collaboration as clear as possible. Outline ways of acknowledging dissatisfaction.
   * Decide whether individual authorship is important. If so, then choose an appropriate wiki that either insists upon identification before writing can occur or that accepts colour-coding of texts (this would only work within and for very small groups).

How to begin

   * Begin with a period of open use (i.e. a sandbox).
   * Use introductory activities (e.g. "who's who", movie reviews) and other not-required-but-useful activities to convince students of the utility of the exercise by generating discussions.
   * Get students to post questions and requests for other students to answer; people are happy to help when someone actually seems to want the help.
   * Plan what will be covered in future class meetings. 

Where to end

   * Don't. 

Specific guidelines for the quality of information

Neus- offers five guidelines to support a strong collaborative culture and improve the quality of information in virtual communities of practice:

1) Accountability: The prerequisite for reputation

2) Focus and culture: A community charter

3) Trust and identity: Personal profile pages

4) Collective memory: FAQs as efficient knowledge repositories

5) Membership criteria

[1] Some might say this reflects a kind of of "pay-it-forward pedagogy".

[2] Psychological factors important to negotiation, such as fear and vulnerability, seem to be somewhat reduced when people are familiar with each other (Holmes et al., 2001). Negotiating inter-project writing across courses between students who are strangers requires an ability to support uncertainty and ambiguity, a willingness to develop written communicative skills, additional time and special tools (Fountain, 2005a; 2005b).

[3] These suggestions are taken from a variety of author's experiences, notably Fountain (2005a; 2005b; 2005c); Tonkin (2005); Horman (2005) ; James (2004a) ; Holmes et al (2004); Muirhead (2004); Brereton et al (2003) ; Synteta (2002); Muirhead (2001, as cited in Muirhead, 2004); and Collaborative Software Lab (2000).