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Using wiki with students as a notebook for ICT learning

Executive summary

In this report I will explain what is a wiki and how I use it in my ICT course with my students as a participative notebook. I will point out the different outcomes and drawbacks I have noticed after two years of practice. Finally I will provide some recommendations for using wikis with students and give some further readings.

Background

Although the web service Wikipedia is well known by most Internet users, the concept behind wiki remain obscure for most of them. A wiki is a piece of software usually accessible on the web in which users can create, edit and improve text as in a word processor.
Text authors embed links, multi-media such as images, sound or video. Wikis are called social tool because they let other users to interact with published media and edit in the same time or at different time. Documents can then be created within a group of users. Authors or wiki managers can attribute roles to each actor and limit the right to edit or create to certain or all readers/users.
An history is preserved and shows all the editing together with the name of those who made them. From this, it is always possible to rollback and return to a previous version of the wiki documents or to decide to purge the history and then freeze the document in its latest stage.

Current practice

With my first year Gymnasium students (secondary school, students in age 16-17) I give an IT course. This course is given half class (about 16 students) every two weeks. One of the most problems is students’ memorisation of taught concepts between two session. Sometimes, taking account of the holiday and imponderables more than one month can separate two lessons.
Until 2007, I requested students to take notes of what we studied during a lesson. Especially when working on Excel with some complex formula or concepts. More than
once, notes were lost and not taken by students and then assessment always shows poor results.
Since 2008, after each didactic sequence, students are asked to write a small report on a wiki for memory. They also have to write step-by-step instructions to show they have understood how to proceed with tasks and to remember the process in the future. These notes are shared among the groups and each member can come on one other’s wiki and edit it if he finds that corrections have to be done.
The result of this is already a better rate of pass at the final assessment. I have observed that students go by themselves to find information in their wiki’s notes whenever they need to recall some procedure in Excel or in Word. They are more critics on the notes they take and on the notes others have taken.
In the future I would like to observe whether the reflexive task requested after each learning sequences gives students more confidence or doesn’t change long term retention.

Recommendation

To extend or adapt use of wikis in teaching, we must be aware that a wiki is not a tool our students have already use. A phase of learning a about the tools is essential, and exercises using wikipedia, for example, could be positive.
Installation of wiki is relatively complicated. But a simple wiki with basic functions is available in Moodle as activity. This activity module supports groups and grouping to crate group, private, or class wikis.
Without tasks that demand collaboration a wiki is useless. And wikis are to develop interactive and dynamic, multimedia, hyperlinked documents. For any other use of text processing, wikis have to be replaced by fora or blogs which are more common to practitioners.

Issues

The main issue is in the nature of wikis which is not very well understood by users. Wiki is a tools belonging to the Web 2.0 family. It encompasses collaborative, multimedia and hypertext facilities. It resembles to a word processor but has to be use differently.
Page layout editing is most of the time less straightforward than in a word processor, in a blog or in a forum. Editing wikis has some limitations that are minors if other functionalities (group, link, multimedia) are used. .

Further reading

Duffy, Peter D. and Bruns, Axel (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities. In: Online Learning and Teaching Conference 2006, 26 Sep. 2006, Brisbane. Available from http://eprints.qut.edu.au/5398/1/5398.pdf (accessed on 11 January (2010)
Educause (2005), 7 things you should know about… wikis, Educause, Available online http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7004.pdf (accessed on 10 January 20010)
Mader (2006), Using Wiki in Education, Steward Mader ed.
Richardson, W. (2009) Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for
Classrooms Corwin Press; Wikipedia (2010), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki (accessed 11 January 2010)

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