THE WIKI WAY: SUPPORTING COLLABORATIVE LEARNING FOR FIRST YEAR STUDENTS
Dublin Institute of Technology (IRELAND)
Skills in working in teamwork are demanded from graduates, and these are ever more likely to be over the internet. Horizon (2011) calls for this need to be reflected in students’ project work. The use of Wikis has been posited as a tool for collaborative online knowledge creation, increasing engagement, and social constructivism (Wheeler and Wheeler, 2008). The use of wikis in student groups is still relatively new, however, and the need for deeper investigation of its role in supporting group collaboration has been identified in literature (Bruen et al, in Donnelly, Harvey and O’ Rourke, 2010).
This study aims to contribute to this debate, and should be of interest to instructors who use group work in their teaching, as well as those who wish to explore the application of web 2.0, tools or wikis specifically, in enhancing learning. The study indicates that many positive benefits (for both students and instructors) can be gained from embedding a wiki into a group activity, and points to some of the issues and challenges that may arise.
Wikis were adopted to support a collaborative group project in the first year Business Computing degree for a Marketing module in the Dublin Institute of Technology. The wiki was used by the students for a short project on the integration of technology and marketing. The class of 30 students self-selected their groups of 3.
This study utilised an action research methodology, with the aim of improving professional practice (Mc Niff, 1988, Whitehead, 1985). The wiki was selected in response to some concerns about the assessment. Issues such as poor progress, last minute action, lack of meaningful collaboration, and inability of the instructor to track progress or identify problems, all arose in the past. For these reasons, along with the desire to integrate Web 2.0 tools into assessment, the wiki was adopted.
A questionnaire was administered anonymously using an online survey tool (www.surveymonkey.com), using mostly open-ended questions. This was triangulated through wiki contribution measurement and instructor observation.
From a theoretical point of view, the students’ responses demonstrate the enhancement of the groups’ collaboration, improved communication and social construction of knowledge. This supports the findings of earlier studies (Wheeler and Wheeler, 2008, 2009, Lai and Ng, 2011).
From the students’ point of view, feedback was generally positive about the experience. Practical issues such as ‘one version of the project’, being able to view each others’ progress, and avoid repetition were perceived as adding value to the process. Managing the introduction of third level assessment expectations, working in groups, and the wiki technology posed challenges for the instructor.
In conclusion, positive outcomes in supporting student collaboration and deepening learning emerged from the research, along with implications for further enhancement of the students learning experiences in future assessments. Further examination of the individual contribution levels warrants further study, while the role of the instructor as moderator of the wiki also deserves examination.