Posts Tagged ‘wiki’

In this note, I’m going to look at the various kinds of technology I’ve used for the first time since the start of this course. This is mostly commentary on the usefulness of the technology and any problems I/we encountered with it. One of my goals, not only for this class but in general, was to find out about and use more forms of technology. For example, I’ve seen wikis before but never made one myself. As a lecturer in a technological university, I should be up-to-date on the latest tech and know how and if I can use them in my own classes. Here’s my report:

1. Wikis

Q: Why use a wiki?

A: A wiki is a collaborative way to produce a group document. With a wiki, people around the world can work on a document together asynchronously, which is very useful for writing a group paper, or a list of resources, or a website where contributions from many people will be included.

It’s odd that I had never made a wiki myself because I wrote a paper on wikis back in 2005 with my colleague, Rick Lavin. He had been using wikis with his classes and suggested we write a paper together on wikis. He wrote about wikis and I wrote about how wikis represent some tenets of constructivist thought. I was the theory person, he was the practical wiki person. Our paper is good, I think, when I read it now, and it’s a good example of a cooperative (as opposed to collaborative) paper where two people bring very different skills and background to a project, where you cannot contribute much to the other person’s side of the project because you don’t know much about it. In any case, even after writing the paper and presenting it with him I did not try out wikis on my own.

So it’s very satisfying to have finally produced a wiki, and a very collaborative one, with my teammates Anni and Dan. We used one because we had studied wikis in class, knew their affordances well, and a wiki seemed to meet our need for a common writing ground.

Indeed our wiki at Wikispaces, a popular free wiki was very convenient and useful. One of the tools I like best is the History tool. It records all versions of the wiki that have been produced. If you choose two versions, say the latest version and the one before that, you can see all the changes that have been made. All text that has been added shows up highlighted in green, and all text that has been deleted shows up in red. So a contributor who doesn’t know exactly what changes have been made can find out simply by selecting the last version that she/he read, and the latest version. You can also use the Notify Me tool to get an e-mail sent to you every time the wiki has been updated.

I chose Wikispaces randomly from the available wikis simply because of its prominence and because Vincent told me that it had a discussion page. In fact we never used the discussion page because we discussed everything using our online KeC forum and by chatting using Skype. In retrospect, I think it was a good choice, and I like that Wikispaces comes with a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 License, which means that anyone can use it or adapt it as they please.

The one drawback to using this wiki, and I think it’s a big one, is that it doesn’t tell you when someone else is updating the wiki. Dan and Anni were both editing at the same time, and our wiki didn’t tell us that, and they had a huge problem in that when they finished the update, the changes the other person had made were lost! This seems to be an obvious kink and I wonder why there is nothing in place to prevent it from happening. The wiki should only allow one person to edit at a time, with a simple message box of “Someone else is editing the wiki now” popping up would suffice.

As a result of my very positive experience with a wiki, I’m going to use it with my second year students, who’ll make a wiki of useful websites for studying and/or practicing English. I’ll have to work out a way for them not to be editing at the same time, so I may designate days where only one group member can edit and contribute. But I just found this discussion where it says that Google Docs does not have this editing problem. And here in Google Docs documentation, it says, “If you and another collaborator are editing the same document at the same time, a box with the name of the collaborator appears at the top of the screen. If other people are editing a document simultaneously with you, you’ll see their edits in real time. You can also see their names listed at the top. Click the arrow to the right of the names to open a tab where you can chat with other editors within the document.” This would solve the multiple edits problem, and it would be useful to have the chat right in the same window as the document!

So maybe I will use Google Docs instead. Anni, Dan, want to try our Google Docs? 🙂

Note: Since this is already a page and a half in Word, I’m going to make it a note by itself. Next time I’ll write about blogs.

I have to write about how great my collaboration experience was with Anni and Dan. It’s the first time I have had such an intense experience and it was just great. Big hugs to both of you! What a team effort we made. (Our paper is available for viewing at http://casestudywiki.wikispaces.com )

We started out by using the KeC forum and this we kept as a base throughout the whole project. We had our first Skype chat (at that time the KeC chat tool had a problem) in early February and Anni volunteered to write summary notes which she posted in the KeC view. We scheduled weekly chats. We decided to write a paper as our final product (tho I don’t remember actually discussing that) and to break up the paper into three main sections: constructivism, collaboration, and social presence. We decided that each of us would write about one topic and that we would add to and edit other sections. The other two topics of moderation and tips for online classes we decided to merge into the rest of the paper instead of each having their own section.

The problem with our initial plan (Plan A) was that we ended up with three separate articles that all referred to the same problems that Leanne (the instructor in our case study) was having. So it was impossible to join them together without cutting out huge chunks of text. So we went back to the drawing board and Dan wrote first about constructivism, then Anni wrote about collaboration, basing her writing on what Dan had already done, and then I wrote about social presence, picking up where Dan and Anni had left off. This worked much better!

We used a variety of media to communicate, and this was interesting too. We used the main Case Study view in KeC (discussion board, so asynch discussion), we used KeC’s private message tool (like e-mail) often (probably 30 or more private messages over the past few weeks), as well as quick chats in KeC and planned much longer chats using Skype (both synchronous CMC). These were all invaluable tools. Also the online U/T library was invaluable for finding the articles we needed.

I wrote a mini-introduction which I later expanded and Anni helped by finding some references I needed. Anni was the “go find it” master! She is the one who finally found us a reference for how many Canadian students are studying online, (our opening sentence!) which Dan and I both tried to find, but failed.

We then checked with Clare to see if we were on track, and we were, but we hadn’t considered the questions that the instructor asked at the end. This changed everything! We had thought we were almost finished, and then we had to quickly make Plan B (actually Plan C) to be sure that all of Leanne’s questions were answered in our text. We first analyzed the questions to see which section they logically fit into, and then assigned one or more questions to each of us, based on our topic.

Up to this time, we had been acting rather cooperatively, in that we each had our own task to do and then we put what we did together. But then the real collaboration began. We had a weekly chat which became increasingly focused. “Have we answered all the questions? What has been left out? Which areas are weak? Let’s go check.” And we would all go and look for weak areas or things that hadn’t been done yet.

The last three online sessions were at least two hours long and the last one was almost five hours. We were in top form then, editing, looking for references when need, identifying and rewriting weak paragraphs. There are some sentences that have words from all three of us! We all shared reference work, meaning that if someone said something but couldn’t back it up, we’d all hunt thru our articles to find a good ref. It was like a race at some points.

This was all rather stressful as time was becoming a big issue, but it was also very enjoyable, for me at least. The best parts were getting silly together, making jokes, teasing each other. One of us had “a tendency for pedantic meandering” and another had a deleting addiction… “Why edit when we can just delete? Let me delete it…” I had to several times admonish Dan and Anni for dancing and drinking beer (both emoticons in Skype) before we were finished – yes, I was the task master 😦

The last chat was particularly collaborative as we went thru the paper with minute attention to detail, “looking for scabs to pick” as Dan called it. Every sentence was considered, and all weak areas were identified (we hope!). Dan is a past editor and this was a fantastic surprise that he saved for the last day to tell us. He knew all about colons and semi-colons (I have to look it up!) and he explained patiently and clearly how “ill-structured” does not mean “poorly structured”. I hope my teammates learned something from me too! 🙂

But it’s the groove part that I want to get across, the feeling of intense immersion in something and the extra four arms and two brains that I acquired in those last few hours. This is an excellent example of distributed cognition, knowledge building (Dan and I had an animated discussion of what exactly constructivism meant and what it included and didn’t include, poor Anni just waited politely for us to finish) and even distributed intelligence. We were three people with our computers and our articles, our minds all in the same space at the same time, functioning together in harmony and productivity. Yes, I was definitely in a state of flow then, and yes, it was awesome. Now I know what true collaboration means! I think it also helped that we were a small group of three students, and that we had a common goal and compatible schedules. I really think that the Skype chats were what made this project so collaborative. It would not have been the same using asynchronous discussion only. Should I post one of our chats somewhere to show how it went?

So it was odd when I woke up this morning for the first time in 4 days and didn’t go right into a chat with them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad it’s over! But I think I will always remember those Skype chats and the very intense feeling of intricate collaboration with two great students, who have become friends, when we had a shared goal of writing the best possible paper together. I hope I’ll have more experiences like that when I write future collaborative papers, but I think that this first will always be the most memorable experience for me.

January 5

(First I’d like to situate this journal entry physically – I’m in Toronto now! We are here for 5 days (we were in N.B. for Christmas with my family) and went to the Ontario Science Center yesterday and met good friends last night and will do so again tonight. Toronto is great – so many things to do, such a rich and international culture! We leave on Saturday for Vancouver and Whistler (skiing) and 5 days later we’ll be in Tokyo for 5 days before heading home to Kitami. I anticipate having little to no Internet access in Tokyo (we stay at an old but lovely hotel) so I’m trying to do as much posting now as possible to make up for any gaps later on.)

In this first week of my new course, I’m amazed by the strengths that classmates are bringing to our online forum/community of practice. The level of tech ability, experience and the collaboration so far will surely make this one of the most rewarding classes I have taken at OISE. It will also revitalize my interest in using CMC in my own classes. The problem is that my classes are Spoken English classes, not written, so while I can use a blended format, there are limitations on what I can do.

This week’s readings bring up an article called Wikis as constructivist learning environments that my colleague Rick Lavin (a wiki guy) and I wrote in 2005. I do see the possibility of wikis being used in socially constructive ways, but I think that they are limited. Of the 6 requirements below for online socially constructed learning (from our article but not available at wikisalon anymore), I think that while wikis and forums both meet all of these to some extent, forums are much better for social negotiation. Multiple perspectives and collaboration opportunities also seem to be better represented by forums.

1. Multiple modes of representation

2. Collaboration opportunities

3. Experience with multiple perspectives

4. Learner centered

5. Learner relevant

6. Social negotiation

For me, after 8 online courses, I have to say that there is no way that I could have learned this much from my peers in an online class, and I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have learned like this in a wiki either. Wikis certainly are useful and have a place in education, but I see them as only one of many tools (e.g. blogs have great potential for transformation). But forums are discussions, discussions are dialogue, and dialogue is central to critical pedagogy, which is my great passion and also the focus of my dissertation. Here is a comment made about how Freire saw dialogue,

“Dialogue wasn’t just about deepening understanding – but was part of making a difference in the world. Dialogue in itself is a co-operative activity involving respect. The process is important and can be seen as enhancing community and building social capital and to leading us to act in ways that make for justice and human flourishing.”

Because dialogue is the central means of communication in online forums, I recognize its value for not only changing an individual’s ideas, but also its potential for changing the world.