In a university context, skill learning is of higher importance than fact recollection. On the one hand, one of the primary goal of university teaching has always been to assure that graduants demonstrate a capacity to think for themselves, in order to function effectively in the local, national, and world contexts. On the other hand, the societal changes have come to favour more and more the students and workers who possess good knowledge construction skills (learning skills rather than facts, like for instance learning information searching skills) and manipulating skills and penalize less and less the ones who are not good at remembering facts.
The last decades have seen an explosion of the amount of information available: books, encyclopedia, and more recently the internet. The universal adoption of electronic formats for storing these different types of information means that gigantic repository of knowledge can easily be searched and copied for uses as note (even books now thanks to the e-book format). The continuing expansion of these knowledge bases does not mean that any content loses its significance. Rather than the point of education becomes more and more to help students become more effective independent inquirers, rather than to train them in particular skills, or to infuse them with sets of information or particular ideas.
In addition, there is a growing requirement for learning and working in a distributed, collaborative environment. There is also a growing recognition of the benefit of communities effort, in diverse domains, collaborative knowledge building included. (Open source initiative, Learning object repositories, for instance)
When these societal changes and the changes in teaching they require are recognized, Wikis become an obvious tool to use to support teaching. Though other tools exist, the needs met by wikiseasy authoring of Web content, empowered users, open access, unrestricted collaboration, increased motivation and engagement with the learning process, more reflective and deeper learning are simply not being satisfied by other present IT strategies and tools.
As some user puts it, “Wikis provide at the same time the environment, the content, the experiment, and the place for students to 'put it all together' to share with other students, parents, and the world.” Because of this, they make it as easy as possible for teachers to create collaborative Web-based activities.
The type of learning that can be encouraged with traditional methods like lectures, tutorial groups or with the help of tools like formal exams, quizzes, quizzes, essay assignments, though still effective for some skills, is not really effective to give way to a teaching situation where students are required to take more responsibility in building up their own knowledge, in a cooperative setting.
This does not mean that it is impossible to conceive successful collaborative knowledge construction exercises without a Wiki setting:
This does not mean either that a Wiki-web is the only technology to provide an environment for collaboration. Each one of the familiar types of software (word processors like Word, spreadsheets like Excel, data bases like Access, drawing programs like Corel Draw, or Multimedia Presentations like Power Point) can be used to provide an environment that would let the students students produce a product that they can share with the class or publish to the world, via a newsletter or the web. For instance, a collaborative writing exercises may for instance be realized with the students updating one after another a document written in a word format.
However, the truth is that the Wiki technology provides an amazingly simple to learn and use way to publish, collaborate, and exchange ideas with others over the web. This makes it a most wanted tool to set up and manage activities that encourage collaborative knowledge construction, that is activities whic involve:
A Wiki-web setting clearly encourages many of the features that are seen as highly desirable:
In a constructivist setting, the teacher role is at least five-fold, on top of being experts in their field:
<More about this http://coco.edfac.usyd.edu.au/Reports/Nystrom.html> Such roles would be difficult to assume in a traditional setting. In constrat, the infrastructure provided by a wiki-web makes it easier for the teacher to relinquish control (to some extent) to influence and encourage rather than control and enforce.
Wiki-web provide a platform on which there is many ways that learning took place in collaboration”: “interactions with fellow students, interactions withthe instructor, interactions with the system (the field, the internet)”
We have already pointed how a wiki-web provides a platform well suited to collaborative projects. Wikis are simply websites that erase the boundaries between authors and readers. A wiki can be changed by anyone who bothers to change it. Wiki-content is ego-less, time-less, and never finished. Anonymity is not required but is common. With open editing, a page can have multiple contributors, and notions of page “authorship” and “ownership” can be radically altered. It is therefore possible to propose open-ended collaborative projects to a single class as well as propose future classes to build on the work done by the past students.
Obviously, wiki's presence on the web makes it easier for students to have rapid access to any specialist knowledge available on that medium. It gives them, for instance access to all web course materials that MIT, in an “OpenCourseWare” project, decided to make free to the public.
But the possibilities do not end there. Because of the web presence, collaborative authorings can eventually be done from a wide variety of locations. This means that persons others than the students can very easily be invited to read and comment the web pages and doing so, productively collaborative effort. For instance, it is particularly invite external experts to visit and contribute to the tightly-focused wiki. Specialists will probably have special information or advice that could easily be organized and edited to build an effective and highly useful wiki.
<Cut/Paste from ???> Lave and Wenger (1990) for instance argue that significant learning takes place not through conscious educational activities but through being around people who are more advanced in the area of activity. They looked at various forms of apprenticeship, for example, becoming a midwife in Mexico, but also include a study of becoming members of alcoholics anonymous. From their empirical examples they posit that learning is the process of becoming a member of a “community of practice” and takes place through the process of “legitimate peripheral participation”. This notion, they observe, “has led us to emphasise the sustained character of developmental cycles of communities of practice, the gradual process of fashioning relations of identity as a full practitioner ” (ibid.: 121).
<Adapted from Gudzial 2001> Guzdial et al. (2001) describe such an attempt to provide students with the opportunity to experience “legitimate peripheral participation” through being involved in the development of a website. This concerned students involved in architectural design. On two occasions during the class, they had expert architects were invited to tour the students” pin-ups and comment on the projects. For each expert architect, a “tour page” was set up with the architect”s name on it. The architect was invited to visit each of the pin-up pages listed on his or her tour, and comment on the pin-ups either directly on the student”s page or on the tour page. This activity was judged to be fairly successful. The experts wrote a surprising amount of commentary. They wrote sometimes left comments on students” pin-up pages with particular advice, and sometimes they wrote on the tour page with general advice that the expert felt that the whole class group needed. Students took the reviews quite seriously, and the experts reported enjoying the experience (Zimring, Khan, Craig, Haq, & Guzdial, 1999). Experts particularly enjoyed reading one another's postings and seeing how their peers responded to the students' work
As wikis make their mark in higher education, the ultimate implications may prove to be far more profound than enhanced learning experience for students. <Brian Lamb> Scharff Scharff, for instance explores how open source efforts can be used as inspiration for the creation of collaborative learning communities which would be involved in collaborative knowledge building activities.
He starts with a description of open source software development initiatives:
He then outlines how open source projects can be used as motivating examples for the kinds of collaborative learning activities we wished to encourage in the context of University courses: <Adapted or cut/paste from Scarff>
It is easy to see how open source principles could be used for the creation of rich learning scenarios. Open source communities embody principles that are considered desirable in many collaborative learning situations. Notably, they encourage the creation of concrete public deliverables in a loose structure that promote collaborative design in ill-structured domains.
They also engage both staff and students in a more meaningful learning dialogue.
At the same time, it is easy to see how student-led projects created in the context of university courses may provide both the foundation and the conditions for the growth of collaborative learning projects. Students are encouraged to create resources created useful for future generations of students. Widely available Open source material is an enabling condition for a community, as past efforts can easily be taken advantage of to create better future projects.
Anyone with the time, motivation, and aptitude can correct the information if necessary, or adding some new material or creating new resources. However, just because some educational material will be freely available does not mean that anyone will have any desire to use or modify it. Success will depend on the engagement of a community in the open source project. In that respect, Open source projects are a socio-technical collaborative design problems, with the content and community co-defining and co-evolving over time. The course-based wiki-web projects may also contribute in the sustainance of the communal effort and self-maintance of the material, by having each year a new cohort of students evaluating and improving the material.
Scarff however points out that there is at least one sharp contrast between the open-ended projects given to students to realize in a wiki-web environment and open software development ones, this difference being that there is a well-defined ending point in a course context. In contrast, open source participants come and go, but without the formal academic constraints there aren”t recognized stopping points. Open source projects have continuous activity over several years, while undergraduate activity is broken into discrete, semester-sized chunks. He pointed out that in his own experience, Wiki-web edits virtually stopped after the final deliverable.
A cautionary note is however the rigour as nothing guarantees that students' contribution will be one that meet the teacher or the community needs. As the students are encouraged to take the initiative to create projects themselves, they cannot be used as “free labor” where to solve some problems problems for the community. Since no one exists to force people to do something (as may be the case in a commercial software project) then some issues may never be addressed, regardless of how important in the abstract a problem might be. There is a tradeoff between top-down, rigidly controlled situations and bottom up, emergent, completely self-motivated projects. <Adapted from Scarff>