Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Wikis @ ALT-C

This is a short report on some of the presentations I attended at the recent ALT-C 2008 elearning conference. This year I mostly listened to people who had attempted to use wikis or Web2.0 software to enhance learning. Some successful, some not so. Read on...

The first presentation I attended was a summary of a massive (thousands of students) programme to roll out distance learning across vast swathes of rural USA. This was very interesting to see how mentors and students had been trained up to use the distance learning tools. It was early days, but results were looking favourable. One thing I noted was the use of a pre-online survey tool. This tool : http://www.cma.charysma-online.com/nlst/core/main.htm is promoted to gauge the online "readiness" of prospective students, and also by the look of it as a training tool for online mentors and facilitators to alter their pedagogy to much more of a student centred approach. I've only come across this type of tool once before to gauge suitability of potential online learners. No idea where, but someone could leave a comment if they know of one.

The second presentation I attended was given by some HE academics from Australia, who had attempted and failed to get staff to collaboratively edit a wiki. FAIL. Nice idea, but poorly executed.

I then watched a researcher from the OU discuss how he used a wiki to get engineering students to collaborate. The authentic task that was also assessed. The task was created to replicate the way industry uses wiki tools to create product documents. Overall a useful experiment, with some interesting results gleaned;

  • attach a discussion area to a wiki, to enable true collaboration.
  • Students requirement of initial training,
  • the need to keep a wiki structure simple,
  • assessed tasks help galvanise and focus principles (should have seen this one comming!)
  • all students liked using a wiki & the associated learning experience, with examples of deeper learning taking place.

The last workshop I attended on the subject of wikis was conducted by Oxford Brookes Uni business school academic staff. They had tried a number of different methods to get their biz students to collaborate on text and presentations. After analysing the result of the wiki use, all they [students] did was cooperate using a wiki. i.e. they met up F2F , discussed the nature of the task , then went away to compose their individual bit of the report, then pasted it into the wiki. This was recognised as an issue for improper instructional design. They needed to design out methods for meeting F2F and ensure collaboration was done online (they should speak to the OU man above). Another idea the academic staff tried was to allow student to create presentations using as wiki. The results of this were again not so good. I'd guess is that they are using the wrong tool for the job, here. It sounded like a case of "ohh look , we've discovered wikis" now let's use them for anything we can think of". After analysing the results of these two types of wiki use , they concluded some fairly useful observations;

  • Most group work was not collaborative, just cooperative,
  • Don't use a wiki for online presentations, especially if you are unfamiliar with the basic features (read staff!!),
  • Add a discussion board to a wiki to allow collaboration,
  • Heavy scaffolding (read training ) required, in a blended context,
  • Construct a task that cannot be done F2F (to ensure online collaboration) – or at least reduce F2F contact.

Overall an interesting set of presentations, but again what I find astounding at some of these presentations is that some basic level research has been omitted from the process of implementing these tools. If only they had taken note (for example) of the basic Gilly Salmon 5 stage model to help scaffold and orientate the use of wikis, I'm sure the results would have been better. The myth of digital natives as expert users of the "web" again takes another beating!

You can now use an itneractive version of this popualr 5 stage model : http://www.atimod.com/e-moderating/fivestepflash.htm

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