Tuesday, September 20, 2011

71_More on Wikis

Wading Through the World of Wikis: An Analysis of Three Wikis Projects
L. C. Ducate, L.L. Andreson, N. Moreno
Foreign Language Annals - Vol. 44 No. 3 (pages 495 - 524)

As readers of this blog may have realized by now, we have been moving the attention slightly towards more practical thoughts in the readings around the online ESL world, as far s education matters go. This means simply that we are trying to balance the paradigm complexity of moving to teaching online with examples, mainly from the Action Research world, that put those ideas to the test in practice.

This article is fresh from the press. I receive the Language Annals at work and I am always on the look for research that challenges my assumptions to online learning or, at times, provides solid basis to what I am beginning to think may actually work in teaching a second language online, or with the use of online technologies in blended settings. The article refers to the analysis of three wiki projects completed y students of different languages, in public schools in the US. The study set out to investigate the collaborative nature of wikis and how that impacted students' perceptions. Of course motivation is a result of students' feeling satisfied with the use of the tool for the specific projects, so it was also part of the observation in the study.

A few important reflections (some of which we have already encountered in previous research) around the use of the technology include:

  • Web 2.0 technologies can foster critical thinking and creativity through collaboration (p.495) - the potential is there but it needs to be cultivated with the right strategies.
  • Web 2.0 technology uses seem to be connected to a number of factors in the programs, including perceived usefulness, ease of use, administration support and teachers' preferences.
  • Best practices seem to be one way to affect positive uses of technology
  • A way to categorize technologies is proposed as communicative, collaborative, documentative, generative, and interactive 
  • Consideration around the inherent promotion of collaboration that wikis can provide to education (p.496)
  • In wiki-based collaborative projects students become authors and audience at the same time - this affect in part, that shift about the perspective of completing tasks using wikis. The author indicated the fact that some students found this very notion of duality in the writing process as a challenge and had a hard time seeing the value of it.
  • Group work using wikis truly helps students realize the collaborative and cooperative nature of group work.
  • When the instructor allows for some guidance on editing steps and ways to be engaged through the tool and in the online environment
The article contributes to practice with some suggestions on how to ease the use of wikis for collaborative projects (see page 500) - ultimately the key element remains the idea that the instructor can be present (social presence) in the process through planning, structures, scaffolding activities and a lot of feedback and support. 

The three example tasks the study observed include a micropedia (student-let small version of an encyclopaedia); a branching story project (project with different endings and pathways to endings); and a pre-reading project in three different second languages.

Additional implications from the study that bring relevant points to our discussion (ESL and adult learning online) also include the idea of allowing learners to try things out as sample tasks before completing official school tasks. ensuring there is a balance between giving structure and giving freedom for creativity and self-organization, relinquish power (from the instructor' side - this is truly a piece of the paradigm shift that comes to play a key role in the challenges of adopting online tools for education).

Important notice comes from the idea that the "only negative perception regarding wikis involved work distribution and time management - two difficulties that are not so much a problem of the wikis themselves but address the issue of how carefully the instructor should plan the preparatory stages of a wiki project. (p.515)

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