Monday, February 8, 2010

5.3.2: Student behaviour in wikis

Article: Meishar-Tal, H., and Gorsky, P. (2010). Wikis: what students do and do not do when writing collaboratively. Open Learning 25(1), 25-35.

The article describes the editing behaviour of n=60 graduate students required to contribute to a wiki containing course concepts. The article demonstrates good practice in wiki design:
  • A compulsory task
  • A clear objective (building a glossary of key terms)
  • Beginning with an existing set of definitions
  • Recognition of the complexity of the task
  • Specific instructions.
The article cites previous findings indicating that students have a reluctance to edit one another's work or even to criticise; one study reported that a completed collaborative wiki resembled a threaded discussion "that lacked integration and unity" more than a polished document.

The authors constructed a taxonomy of actions that would be useful for further studies into categorising wiki use by students. All 60 students edited the wiki, with 2986 editorial changes made. The most common activity was adding sentences: "Additions occurred three times more than deletions and 4.3 times more than moving entire sentences" (p.31). However, findings indicated an uneven level of activity:
  • About two-thirds of all sentence deletions were carried out by two students.
  • 33% of all grammatical changes were made by one student.
  • One student carried out 478 of the total editorial actions (16% of the total).
  • About 10% of students were "extremely dominant" (p.32) in the activity.
These dominant students are further described:
The dominant students were ‘specialists’ who created near ‘monopolies’ on certain kinds of editorial actions: one ‘mover’, two ‘deleters’, one ‘stylist’ as well as one student who served as ‘formatter’ and ‘linker’. These roles and behaviours were assumed without any direct instruction, apparently quite spontaneously.
The authors suggest that editing behaviour might be correlated with student traits... far more interesting to me is how they graded the exercise, and whether the 'dominance' of some students served to alienate their peers and shape the overall outcome so that it was, perhaps, less representative of the class. It is interesting to note that these findings relate to graduate students... I wonder how editorial behaviour might change among undergraduate students?

A very interesting study... it's great to see some primary analysis. However the findings are, for me, a bit disturbing. Participation was far from equal... was the outcome, then, far from optimal? Might a better level of student activity resulted had the assignment required students to prepare (say) a set of short-answer definitions individually, marked by the lecturer and returned with individualised feedback?

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