S. Hadjerrouit

University of Agder (NORWAY)
Wikis are potentially powerful tools to support collaborative writing. Students can use wikis to edit each other’s contributions, or simply add, delete, or format content. Wikis have also a discussion page that enables students to engage in critical reflections. In addition, wikis have a history function that tracks all produced versions of the wikis, and helps students to revise their work. The purpose of this work is to evaluate students’ views of wiki-based collaborative writing in teacher education. First, a set of quality criteria were derived from the very nature of wikis and their specific functionalities:
• Wiki overall design in terms of technical usability
• User-centeredness in terms of content understandability and adaptability
• Editing in terms of rewriting each other’s contributions
• Discussion in terms of critical reflections
Using these criteria, data on students’ views of wiki-based collaborative writing were then collected. Data came from 16 students enrolled in a course on Web 2.0 technologies. Two data collection methods were used: (a) Peer-assessment with open-ended questions using a set of predefined criteria; and (b) Data log from the wiki’s tracking system using a proposed taxonomy.
After data collection, the results were then analyzed. Peer-assessment indicates that the wikis were technically well designed. Concerning content understandability, peer-assessment indicates a satisfactory level of understandability, in some contrast to content adaptability, which shows a rather lower degree of adaptability. In any case, responses to open-ended questions by means of peer-assessment indicate that the wikis were not well adapted to the users’ characteristics. Concerning collaboration, the data log indicates a rather average level of collaboration, since editing each other’s contributions was not the most frequent activity carried out on the wikis. Regarding discussion, students mentioned the difficulty of using the discussion page for reflections, and that oral communication is still important when using wikis. These results are line with some previous research done on wiki-based collaborative writing.
Finally, some pedagogical recommendations were drawn from the results to foster wiki-based collaborative writing:
• A pre-requisite for using wikis in teacher education is the adaptation of the wikis to the specific characteristics of the users.
• Collaborative writing requires some language proficiency, reading and writing skills, group dynamics skills, and social skills.
• Since Web usability techniques are important for designing wikis, students will still need to learn about usability issues, particularly if they do not possess prior knowledge in wiki design.
• It is crucial to determine how students will be assessed for the wikis they develop, since grading both individual and group work is a motivating factor for collaborative writing.
• Peer-assessment based on pre-established criteria is important to provide reflective comments on collaborative writing. It may help students to understand and improve their own wiki by means of constructive feedback they received from their peers.
• To foster collaborative writing, students need to participate actively, make effective decisions, and engage in constructive critical dialogue. The discussion page should not be used alone, but in combination with face-to-face and other communication means, e.g. email, mobile phone, and face-to-face.