December 9th, 2010

Using Wikis for Collaborative Learning

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If you are looking for ways to facilitate collaboration among students, consider using a wiki—a website that contains pages that can be easily created and edited by multiple users. Several characteristics of Wikis make them excellent choices for projects that involve brainstorming and research and that require a final report, says Rhonda Ficek, director of instructional technology services at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

The main advantage of using a wiki for collaborative work is that it eliminates the need to email different versions of documents among team members. This reduces confusion and ensures that all team members have access to the current version as it’s updated.

“Add a watch” feature
One feature that helps keep students engaged is the “add a watch” feature, which notifies team members via email when a certain page or section of a page is updated. This eliminates the wasted effort of having to access the page repeatedly and try to figure out what, if anything, has been changed.

“This helps with the cohesiveness aspect, because you can’t really depend on group members to go to the wiki every day and look for what was changed,” Ficek says. “It’s a very effective way for group members to stay on top of the group process.”

History feature
In addition, wikis allow users to access different versions of the page with a history feature, which identifies the time and day of each change and the individual who made the change. This encourages each team member to participate because the other members and the instructor will be able to see who contributed.

The history feature also allows users to revert to a previous version if necessary. If someone accidentally deletes something on a page or makes a mistake, which sometimes happens when you have multiple people editing a single page, the history feature allows you to revert to a previous version or compare the page to subsequent versions, and make corrections if needed.

Group size
Ficek prefers to have three or four students collaborating on a single wiki. “If the group is too much bigger, it’s hard for individuals to feel like they can contribute effectively. If it’s too much smaller, it’s overwhelming to grade all this. It’s also overwhelming for the individuals to do the project with very little help,” Ficek says.

Collaborative research
There are many different uses for wikis. For example, for collaborative research, Ficek created a template that is used to put group research in a single table. This table includes a column for students’ names, a column for each work’s title, a summary column, a column commentary column, and a column to add anything else that is noteworthy about the source.

“It’s all in a table, and anybody in the group who wants to look will have a basic understanding of what each reference is about and [of] the group members’ opinions [on] whether or not this is good information. Projects that involve looking at research and articles lend themselves pretty well to wikis,” Ficek says.

Excerpted from Using Wikis for Collaborative Learning. Online Classroom, Nov. 2009, 8.