Why Use a Wiki in the Classroom?


I chose to use a wiki for this EAP writing project as a way to integrate the Constructivist, learner-centred pedagogy of my classroom with the digital technology of a flexible and collaborative wiki in order to promote group interactions and expand on my learners' technological knowledge and abilities.

Social Constructivism

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Source: www.marxists.org


Lev Vygotsky presented a new theory of learning in Russia in the 1930's which shifted the focus from the individual as a passive receptacle of knowledge to the notion that the social group that the individual is a part of influences and facilitates learning (Kozulin, 2003, p. 15). Vygotsky's theory of people learning by constructing meaning through their interactions with others is relevant to collaborative group work such as this wiki project. Social constructivism also provides support for learning in a multicultural classroom such the EAP class in the this project (Kozulin, 2003, p. 16).

Vygotsky's sociocultural learning theory also promoted dynamic assessment, where the focus on the learner achievement is not what they can individually produce after instruction, as in a traditional end-of-semester-test essay, but rather the process which learners go through as they work together (Yildrom, 2008, p. 302). Since wikis provide the ability to review past page contribution and updates they excel as a tool for assessing process versus product. The wiki used for this project, Wikispaces, also provides an assessment tool for the organizer (presumably the instructor) so that they can see who is reading, writing and saving page edits and contributions (see the bottom of this page for a sample of what this may look like). The instructor can also view the amount of time learners spend on the wiki and which pages they are working on. This easy-to-use real-time feature allows the instructor to not only assess learners, but also to provide ongoing support throughout the project to those who may need it.

Technology in the Classroom


Today's young adult learners are exposed to many forms of electronic writing such as emails, texting, and word processing, to name only a few. Clark (2010) emphasizes the importance of situating our learners within this new digital world and adjusting our pedagogical assumptions about how learning takes place to incorporate not only what these new technologies can do, but what that means to our learners. Wikis transform the traditional writing assignment in an EAP classroom from a lone learner producing an essay in a closed environment to a collaborative online writing task where the learner is constantly interacting with their peers in the digital wiki space.

Keeping in mind that just because "a technology is innovative and popular does not make it an educational technology", research on the use of wikis in the EAL classroom was reviewed (Mishra & Koehler, 2009, p. 15). Many studies reported the pros and cons of using wikis which were considered when this project was designed. For example, one of the frustrations mentioned by learners using wikis in the classroom was the slow speed of the asynchronous communication on wikis (Lee & Wang, 2013; Xie & Wang, 2011). This project attempts to circumnavigate this potential issue by encouraging group members to establish a preferred method of communication at the beginning of the project in order to best facilitate the exchange of information, questions, and ideas. See the Theoretical Background for more detailed information on wiki pros and cons, and the References page for a full list of sources reviewed for this project.

This leads to the importance of not just being aware of the various features contained within a wiki such as pages, hyperlinks, and images, but how to best integrate the entire site most effectively within the specific teaching context (Mishra, Koehler & Kereluik, 2009). Blending technical knowledge (wiki features), content knowledge (academic writing in English), and pedagogical knowledge (engaging learners collaboratively) allows for a useful framework to guide students' learning (Mishra, Koehler & Kereluik, 2009). See TPACK.org for more information on this topic.


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A Sample TPACK framework.Source: Shannon Ballance, 2015.


Collaboration


Searching the words "wiki" and "collaboration" in the University of Calgary library site yields over 16,500 results. Using Google for the same search returns well over 36 million results, ranging from popular wiki products such as PB Works and Zoho Wiki, to blog posts about how useful wikis can be for allowing anyone and everyone to collaborate in both educational and professional settings. Needless to say, various industries have figured out that wikis are useful for online collaboration and the popularity of wikis is growing. There are specific implications here for the teaching of EAL as Hewege and Perera (2013) found that the use of wikis in the classroom enriches collaborative learning by encouraging effective communication "with students having different language and cultural backgrounds" (p. 61).

From a social constructivist point of view, collaboration is an important aspect of the classroom as learners work together to create meaning. Vygotsky "argued that learning is a social and collaborative activity where people create meaning through their interactions with one another" (Schreiber & Valle, 2013, p. 396). As this wiki project assigns learners to work together in groups of three or four, learners are engaging with each other to create meaning together. However, the use of a wiki does not guarantee all learners will participate and collaborate together in meaningful ways (Kwan & Yunus, 2015, p. 61). The Engagement tool in Wikispaces which allows the instructor to observe how learners are engaging with the site gives the opportunity for the instructor to continually check in on learners' progress and to also encourage collaboration and interaction if necessary.



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Screenshot of my engagement with this wiki in the past 30 minutes