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Using Wikis to Model Collaborative Writing and Constructivist LearningAmong K-12 Teachers

The opportunities are growing for digital native students to use digital technology in the classroom. Teachers and administrators have the option to embrace the technology for practical educational use while preserving student privacy and safety. The benefits to be gained are great, and the risks are great as well. However, ignoring the proliferation of digital technology in our daily lives and in the global workplace is not an option. ~ Matt Redmond, High School Math and Engineering Teacher
Student interactions are at the heart of a learner-centered constructivist environment, and teaching with the Web has provided unique opportunities to promote those interactions (Siegle, 2008, p. 14).
As secondary-level math teacher Matt Redmond states in the above passage, teachers have the opportunity to embrace emerging technologies. However, advances in technology raise challenges for teachers, such as combating cyberbullying, fostering healthy online learning environments, and using social media responsibly. Now, more than ever, K-12 teachers need to be experts in their content-areas and able to teach their content using technology. Organizations, including the Partnership for 21st Century (2002) and the National Council of Teachers of English (2007), have recognized the need for K-12 teachers to receive training and support as 21st Century educators. However, a recent study (Kajder 2005) indicates as many as two-thirds of teachers do not feel prepared to use technology in their classrooms. Add a brief paragraph here describing why “digital natives” (students) are quickly outpacing teachers’ technology proficiencies and why it is crucial for students to learn 21st Century skills in their K-12 classrooms. (I was thinking some of the information from Matt’s wikipage/project might fit into this paragraph).

(Need for better transition here…) Recently, to address the changing needs of educators, teacher education programs are including information and technology literacy within their coursework and standards (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2010; Teacher Education Accreditation Council, 2010). In fact, a review of preservice teacher education programs indicated “numerous” programs have made “extensive efforts” in terms of integrating technology into coursework (Kay, 2006). The findings of Kay (2006) suggest that teacher education programs are providing preservice teachers with opportunitites to learn about new Web 2.0 tools (e.g., online discussion boards, podcasts, wikis, blogs). However, less information documents how, specifically, technology-embedded projects or assignments learned in a postsecondary setting affect teachers’ concept of constructivist learning in shared, digital spaces.

This paper addresses a gap in the research regarding connections between teachers’ technology-embedded coursework and their teaching beliefs and practices. More specifically, this paper examines a wiki project developed by a teacher education department faculty member. In this project, the faculty member co-constructed a wiki with students enrolled in a hybrid graduate-level course. That is, the faculty member and graduate students engaged in collaborative authoring, sharing responsibility for the composition and publication of a multipaged, interlinked wiki (Does this make sense? Is it needed?). The purpose of this project was to engage students in collaborative authoring to learn how a technology-embedded assignment might affect ideas of authorship, authority, and constructivist learning among the students and faculty member. Much like the collaborative design of the wiki project being described, this paper is also co-authored, allowing four participants of the project to share varying experiences. In order to recognize that collaborative writing can take many forms, from a single voice to mulitple authors’ distinct voices (Gerben, 2009), we chose to co-author some portions of the paper (Introduction) and write other portions alone (Our Perspectives).

Related Literature
Wikis in Education
Wikis have been used regularly and frequently in various classroom settings to promote synchronous and asynchronus collaboration among students. Siegle (2008) described this Web 2.0 tool as, “Wikis are collections of Web pages that are linked together, and they can be edited by anyone who has access to them” (Siegle, 2008. p. 14). As a “community-owned and operated Web site,” a wiki enables contributers to post and edit site content remotely or in face-to-face settings (Mindel & Verma, 2006, p. 4). Wikis, then, are shared spaces where teachers and students can post information, communicate with one another, and link to other sources of information.

In the past decade, numerous scholars and practitioners have documented their experiences using wikis in K-12 and postsecondary classroom settings (Author, 2010; Auger et al., 2004; Bergin, 2002; Chao, 2007; Donne, 2012; Doyle, 2006; Engstrom & Jewett, 2005; Evans, 2006; Godwin-Jones, 2003; Parker & Chao, 2007; Schaffert, Bischof, et al., 2006; Siegle, 2008). A collaborative tool by design, wikis have most often been utilized by teachers to facilitate projects among groups of students or entire classes (Author, 2010; Chao, 2007; Donne, 2012; Engstrom & Jewett, 2005; Schaffert, Bischof, et al., 2006; Raman, Ryan & Olfman, 2005; Siegle, 2008; Wheeler, Yeomans, & Wheeler, 2008). When used successfully, wikis allow contributers to not only communicate with one another (e.g., reporting on information, summarizing information); wiki contributers can also share in the construction of new knowledge. Elgort, Smith, & Toland (2008) described how student interactions on wikis differ from other online communications in stating,

The nature of interaction in wikis is fundamentally different from that of threaded discussions; it is interaction through action. Participants in a group project wiki work together towards a common goal, i.e., not so much engaging in a discussion about concepts and their application, but actually applying what they know and have learned, and demonstrating their understanding in action. It is through the prism of this cooperative and collaborative activity that the processes of knowledge construction can materialise in a wiki environment (p.199).
Theoretically, wikis can be used to facilitate student-centered, constructivist learning. Need to add a few sentences here clarifying what we mean by “constructivist learning” with citations and/or a quote describing constructivism. Anyone care to add that information? In reality, however, the degree to which students participate in such collaborative learning has varied. One factor affecting students’ wiki participation is the role played by the teacher in the wiki project.

Wikis: Knowledge Sharing Vs. Knowledge Construction
Engstrom and Jewett (2005) conducted a study among 400 middle school students and 11 teachers, who used wikis as a collaboration and publication tool for group research projects focused on social studies curriculum. According to this study (Engstrom & Jewett, 2005), wikis were beneficial because participating students were geographically dispersed and could not work synchronously. By working asynchronously online, students collaborated freely; further, the wiki allowed students to be “…grouped into teams that represented a mix of geographic, cultural and economic diversity,” thus broadening students’ exposure to multiple perspectives regarding research topics (Engstrom & Jewett, 2005, p. 12).

Many of the in-service teachers who participated in the above project believed the wiki experience positively impacted their technology knowledge and skills; however, researchers noted teachers would benefit from additional training and modeling in wiki teaching strategies (Engstrom & Jewett, 2005). Results from this study indicated that participating students tended to simply post on the wiki rather than respond and contribute to their peers’ work; further, teachers tended to monitor student postings rather than prompt deeper thinking. That is, teachers “…didn’t attempt to model or facilitate an exchange of ideas, questions and feedback across school teams on the wiki pages” (Engstrom & Jewett, 2005, p. 14). The researchers surmised that teachers failed to model such activities on the wiki because “…this modeling was missing from the project’s professional development sessions” (Engstrom and Jewett, 2005, p. 14). That is, the teachers in this study utilized the wiki with their students precisely the same way they were instructed during their professional development session: as a knowledge-sharing tool that was instructor-monitored and instructor-directed. Modeling or participating in wiki construction alongside students was not included in these teachers' training. Yet, researchers believe such co-construction is a key step in helping teachers move beyond using the wiki as simply a tool for knowledge-sharing and instead using the wiki as a tool for knowledge-construction.

Additional scholars have recognized the importance of modeling when it comes to training teachers how to use technology in the classrooms. Concerning the preparation of teachers for using Web 2.0 tools, Kay (2006) recommended that “…every effort be made to model and construct authentic teaching activities” during the training process (p. 394). Similarly, Mindel and Verma (2006) noted that in-service teachers who use technology in their classrooms must provide “support and facilitation” to students; otherwise, students may simply use technology (such as wikis) to accumulate content rather than create new knowledge (p. 28). Next, NCTE (?) advocated that in-service teachers play an active role modeling and participating in appropriate technology usage among their students, stating, “Research shows that effective instruction in 21st-century literacies takes an integrated approach...Furthermore, as Web 2.0 demonstrates, participation is key, and effective teachers will find ways to encourage interaction with and among students” (p. 18).

Thus, scholars, practitioners, and educational organizations concur: 21st Century students and teachers alike need to be proficient in using technology for sharing information, analyzing concepts, and constructing new knowledge. Wikis, as collaborative online spaces, have the potential for promoting information sharing and construction within K-12 classroom settings. In order to support classroom technology implementation and usage, teachers need training and support. As NCTE (?) stated, such support, whether offered as workshops within schools and districts or offered as coursework at postsecondary institutions, must provide teachers with opportunities to gain hands-on experience in digital spaces. We believe collaborative writing assignments, and using the wiki as an idea-sharing and publication medium, may be one way to model constructivist learning among in-service and preservice teachers. In the following sections, we will describe a specific wiki project, used in a graduate-level education class, and how this project affected ideas of authorship, authority, and constructivist learning in digital spaces.
Wiki Project Context

Erinn will add this section briefly describing the class, the wiki project, and the students.

Our Perspectives

Bentley: Teacher Education, Constructivism and Wikis
In this section, I will start with a brief (1 paragraph) description of my background with using wikis in the classroom and describe why I decided to use a wiki for the Trends and Issues class. Then, I will talk about how (from a teaching perspective) I experienced the shared ownership of knowledge and classroom authority with my students through this project, resulting in a constructivist model of learning.

In the teaching and learning contexts, we find that the instructor’s role hinges on

facilitating information sharing among learners rather than simply transmitting

knowledge from themselves to their students as a one-way mechanism. From a

teaching perspective, the wiki model facilitates a cognitive information processing

model of learning. As an extension of the constructivist model, it stresses the

importance of individual learning styles. In addition, the versioning capability of

wikis to some extent provides instructors with the ability to monitor student

collaborations over time, and to step in and provide assistance as deemed

appropriate. Of course, the various methods of providing support and feedback

depend on the course and the teaching model being used. (Mindel & Verma, 2006, p. 27).

Pedagogically, the wiki project offered several opportunities for student-centered, constructivist learning.

Moore: The wiki as a research paper alternative

Unless one considers browsing Wikipedia as experience, my first “wiki foray” occurred during this education trends and issues course. Having no frame of reference for a class centered on student-created curricula via wikis, I immediately grew concerned that I had taken on more than I could handle: no script or handbook— just me, an idea, and a wiki page. Sounds like your traditional research paper, right? Not quite, but I adapted, and ultimately I learned just how much more user-friendly—from both a reader’s and a writer’s perspective—wikis are.

Almost immediately, I realized I would have to alter the presentation—that is, the format—of my research paper, a revamping of sorts. While maintaining academic integrity—a formal, detached tone; in-text citations; and a reference section—I proceeded with the goal of eliminating redundancy not only in my writing but also in the paper’s format, viewing the research project as an effort to condense the paper in such a manner that eliminates the need for a separate presentation—the ubiquitous PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, or the more innovative Prezi—to delineate the “highlights” to an audience that just wants the gist of my research. Experimenting with the use of bullets along with various font sizes and colors, I attempted to create a research project—an end product—with no theoretical audience in mind, but an actual audience of fellow educators, parents, and other stakeholders, keeping one question in mind: “How do I maximize the utility of my wiki and the information contained within it?”

One sacrifices utility to a significant degree with the conventional research paper, something for which using a wiki compensates. Permitting instant access to sources via provided links and encouraging a publishing mindset—with knowledge that innumerable people can view, use, and perhaps cite one’s work—the “wiki paper” is designed to essentially be a resource itself—of information, of insights, and of perspectives. Whether serving as a complete introduction to a topic or a springboard for further research, the wiki paper supplies the reader information that possesses three qualities: brevity, simplicity, and diligence—the latter attributed to an in-depth, keen revision process.

Ideally, one makes an initial draft of a research paper, seeks peer feedback, revises repeatedly, and ultimately submits that final copy. However, I can still edit my wiki paper at this very moment. In fact, during the initial composition, I quickly realized that the wiki is closely allied with the recursive nature of the writing process. Not only does the wiki tabulate the number of revisions, but also the wiki stores and allows one to view every saved insertion and deletion, thus facilitating comparisons between the most up-to-date version and any previous edit. The wiki’s built-in progress monitoring definitely increased my cognizance of revision and ultimately improved my “final” draft.

Both active and passive collaboration occurred throughout the creation of my wiki paper. Paired with classmates at several points throughout the course, I realized how helpful the immediate application of feedback was. If a classmate suggested a change, I could implement it immediately, and then together we could decide if the modification really improved the paper—a back-and-forth exchange, a true collaboration. When not directly involved in peer review, I often looked to my classmates’ wiki pages as sources of a variety of information. Borrowing some of their ideas about formatting, exploring their resources where appropriate, and even reviewing their revising processes—their edits—increased both the breadth and depth of my knowledge about both my topic and composition in general. In sum, the wiki redefines collaboration: not just sharing ideas or an experience, but growing from it both personally and professionally.

Exactly one year later, I reflect on the implications of that three-week course in which I learned so many things: from the writing process itself to technology integration. The more I think, the more certain I become that we accomplished our goal: To combine academia and practicality in as novel and seamless a manner as possible. One thing’s for sure: I find new uses for wikis everyday; presently, I am compiling an online wiki portfolio for prospective employers not only to view but also to interact with.

--1st Draft (feedback welcomed)

Harris: Learning from others writers' pages
In this section, Karla-Renae, I'd like you to begin by briefly describing your background with technology and wikis in particular. Then, I'd love for you to talk about your experiences with the wiki project, and how having the "off days" to work on your individual page, was helpful. I'd also love for you to talk about how you "secretly" visited everyone else's pages to get ideas (e.g., content and formatting) for your own page. Also, feel free to change the subtitle of your section as you see fit. Or, if you have a different topic you'd like to discuss, just let me know.

Redmond: Wikis in the “real” classroom
In this section, Matt, I'd like you to begin by briefly describing your background with technology and wikis in particular. Then, I'd love for you to talk about how this wiki project differed from other ways you have utilized wikis in the past (and/or present). Also, if you'd like to talk about why you think wikis work well with your engineering students, that's fine too. Feel free to change the subtitle of your section as you see fit. Or, if you have a different topic you'd like to discuss, then just let me know.

Final Discussion:
I’m not sure yet what this section will look like. I was thinking we might summarize our perspectives here and offer advice to other teachers who are interested in using wikis.
I will begin a reference page. If you cite any sources, please add them to the list.