Designing for a Wiki Way of Learning

Learning how to work in groups coexists with learning how to participate in social writing practices with and through social media.

Young people are entering higher education with high levels of personal digital experience. Their experience of collaborative learning with and through social media such as Wikis is limited. A wiki way of learning can significantly contribute to developing digital social team working skills.

Social writing practices include blogging and microblogging, editing wikis, document sharing and commenting on content shared in mediated social networks. Each of these is formally and informally being used in higher education and workplace contexts. Their use has implications for how we design learning experiences to develop student socially mediated literacies for collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning has diverse meanings, from group or team-based working to peer-to-peer interaction on shared tasks. Through collaborative learning, meaning is socially constructed, knowledge is shaped and co- created through discussions with peers through group interaction. This can lead to positive group member interdependence, accountability and the use and development of collaborative social skills. Cooperative groups also achieve higher levels of thought, and retain information longer, than those who work individually.

Collaboration is often difficult, especially with and through social media.

It is important to consider how students in higher education experience collaborative learning with and through social media contexts and social writing practices. We also must consider how faculty and their institutions embed social media practices into curricular. These issues are at the forefront of the digital literacies in higher education debate. Questions include:

Questions include:

  • What role do socially mediated practices play within and between formal and informal learning contexts?
  • How do students of varying experiences both perceive and participate in socially mediated activities, such as social writing?
  • And how do we design connective learning experiences to support the development of a multiplicity of collaborative and mediated social writing practices?

We explored these questions while adopting a wiki way of learning approach.

A wiki way of learning approach focuses on the learning design and the situated social contexts of learning as equal partners in the learning experience.

Ruth and Houghton

The social learning environment relies heavily on how we approach pedagogy design. The design of ‘A Wiki Way of Learning’ approach to learning design is co-created by members ~ that is students, professors, and administrators, over time, collaborating with and through a multiplicity of social contexts. Learning is forged with and through interactions between members, social spaces, and tangible and intangible digital artifacts, to form a complex network of connected learning.

The use of wiki practices and social contexts in learning involves a different way of thinking, learning and knowing. In particular, wikis foster collaborative, egalitarian learning that is designed to encourage group (network) interaction instead of just individual performance. Moreover, a wiki way of learning involves community ideals and challenges the traditional ‘instructor/teacher’ and ‘student/learner’ modes of interaction for all members of the learning experience.

This social practice approach challenges the view of wikis as a ‘tool for educators’. If wikis are approached as social software tools for use in instructor-led learning, a wiki will be used as such. And in these cases often results reported poor levels of student wiki adoption and differing use perceptions ~ as a student tool to store/learn content; when compared with how wiki editing was perceived in personal contexts ~ as a member of the group or considered domain expert.

Institutions, their academic and administrative practices, are strongly implicated in learner digital literacies as they are embedded in a deep rich social-cultural fabric of connected member interactions. From these interactions a discourse about the learning experience is co-created and wiki participation is constructed from the value and meaning shared between actors and the system.

Students are co- constructors of knowledge as well as co-designers of the pedagogy and social learning environment.

If wikis are approached as a way of learning and a social practice through which learning is constructed, not just as technology tools, this is how they will be experienced.

Kelly Page, PhD

Prior to the wiki project students had a high level of experience consuming, but very little experience creating, editing or reviewing wiki content. This confirmed our position that today’s university students while heavy users of social media as individuals, are learning how to work collaboratively in groups and also how to write collaboratively with and through socially mediated contexts. This opposes the assertions that underpin the positive digital native rhetoric.

By participating in a wiki way of learning students gained experience with social writing in a context that was meaningful, as well as experimenting with the use of multi-modalities for meaning- making (i.e. pictures, audio, video, and hypermedia content). All these activities contributed to increasing the students’ digital media literacies [16]. As a direct result of participation, student self-reported familiarity with technical web terminology significantly increased, as did exam performance.

We also explored questions concerning what motivates student participation during group work mediated by socially mediated contexts as students participated to varying degrees in the project. Research on barriers to successful group work and participation inequalities are well documented. The inequity that exists could be explained by a number of factors:

  • Self-management of workload distribution within the group across the project;
  • Motivation to participate;
  • Perceived value of participation, extrinsic rewards.
  • Peer participation and faculty interaction is forthcoming.
  • No overly technical issues or frustration with the mode of interaction.
  • Within-group factors under student influence are more important to both task and socioemotional outcomes.

Our work revealed two further interesting dynamics.

  • Wiki participation occurred both with and through the wiki context when in different locations
    (e.g. ‘I can’t make all the team meetings as I work a lot, so I post my edits on the wiki page’)
  • It also occurred around the wiki when in the same location
    (e.g. ‘We meet after class to discuss the week’s task and allocate who does what, we then meet at someone’s place to add our notes to the wiki together’)

The students were not geographically distributed. Group collaboration also occurred face to face ‘around the wiki’ in meetings in the coffee shop or at a group member’s residence; group members would sit around the computer discussing that week’s task, making notes, while one or two group members lead on the wiki edits.

In groups not geographically distributed, a wiki way of learning fosters not only mediated collaborative practices, but also face-to-face collaboration around the digital interface.

Kelly Page, PhD

Young people are entering higher education disciplines with high levels of personal digital experience with social media services (e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram), mobile platforms (e.g. iPhone, Apps), and processing and mixing technologies (e.g. Audicity, MS Office, Adobe Photoshop). However, student experience of collaborative learning with, through and around socially mediated contexts, and how we design for this is more limited.

Co-creating a wiki way of learning can significantly contribute to developing student digital skills and social writing practices, in addition to improving confidence and the subject being studied.

Read more: Page, K. L., and Reynolds, N. (2015). Learning from a Wiki Way of Learning. Studies in Higher Education. 40 (6). 988-1013.