A Qualitative Study of Public Wiki Use in a Teacher Education Program

 
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A Qualitative Study of Public Wiki Use in a Teacher Education Program

                                                Vanessa Joy Every
                                 Educational Technology, University of Connecticut
                                                   United States
                                             vanessa.every@uconn.edu

                                                   GNA Garcia
                                 Cognition & Instruction, University of Connecticut
                                                   United States
                                              gna.garcia@gmail.com

                                                Michael F. Young
                                 Educational Technology, University of Connecticut
                                               myoung@uconn.edu

            Abstract: This study reports on students’ perceptions and behaviors regarding the use of Wikipedia
            and EduTechWiki (public wikis) for a collaborative assignment in a graduate level technology and
            literacy course. The results demonstrated that initial perceptions of public wikis were mostly
            negative and apprehensive, with students’ expressing anxiety and fear at the thought of contributing
            to a public document. During the assignment, students commonly reported frustration and difficulty
            with the wiki interface. After completing the assignment, students’ reactions were overwhelmingly
            positive, with many recognizing the benefits of public wikis in the K-12 classroom as either a
            resource or collaborative tool. Pedagogical practices are recommended for successful
            implementation of teaching training learning activities using public wikis.

Introduction
         Wiki technology emerged in higher education teaching and learning experiences as early as 1999
(Konieczny, 2007) and is integrated into many courses for its ability to provide a collaborative workspace for
students, thus supporting both face-to-face and distance learning courses (Parker & Chao, 2007). Instructors
integrated wikis into their classroom with hopes of increasing test scores, improving writing and collaborative
skills, and providing more effective and efficient methods for distance learning (Al-Khalifa, 2008; Forte &
Bruckman, 2006; Minocha & Thomas, 2007; Parker & Chao, 2007). It appears that universities and colleges
around the nation are slow to adopt this technology, questioning its value and impact on critical thinking skills
(Parker & Chao, 2007). Therefore, it is imperative that wiki technology be investigated in the higher education
classroom in order to determine how it can best be utilized to maximize the teaching and learning experience. It is
equally important to identify and share best practice applications that provide insights into the affordances of wikis
to enhance the enterprise of teaching and learning.

Purpose of this Study
        This qualitative study focused on student and instructor reactions to a public wiki assignment given at the
end of a graduate teacher education course. The purpose was to explore the implementation of a public wiki
assignment in higher education and ascertain the value of public wikis as a pedagogical tool for teachers in training.
The research questions explored in this paper include, (1) What were student’s initial attitudes and perceptions of
public wiki participation? (2) What was the nature of student participation on public wikis during the public wiki
assignment? (3) What were student attitudes and perceptions of public wiki’s after adding and editing content
(contributing) to a public wiki? (4) What was the potential for students to integrate a public wiki into their future
K-12 classroom, following the public wiki assignment? and (5) What pedagogical practices can be suggested for
successful implementation of teacher training learning activities using public wikis?

Methods
Primary Artifact & Course Details

         The primary artifact analyzed in this research study was a “final assignment,” for a graduate teacher
preparation course. The purpose of this assignment was to expose educators to critical web 2.0 technologies that
could be used to promote positive and powerful learning experiences in their classroom. The Horizon Report
(Johnson, Levine, & Smith, 2008) predicted that collective intelligence, knowledge gathered and recorded by many
people, was an emerging technology trend that would have an enormous impact on education in the next four to
five years. Therefore, Wikipedia and EduTechWiki were selected for this assignment as two forms of collective
intelligence applications that would allow students to contribute to a larger community, outside of the classroom.
Wikipedia was a free encyclopedia with 2,902,065 English articles that could be viewed and edited by anyone from
the general public (Wikipedia, 2009a). EduTechWiki was similar to Wikipedia but on a much smaller scale, only
containing 867 articles, with all topics related to the field of Educational Technology (EduTechWiki, 2009).
Students were assigned the task to create or modify pages on either public wiki that were relevant to technology or
literacy in education. At the end of the assignment, each student was required to respond to eight reflection
questions and submit the reflection via e-mail. The purpose of this reflection was twofold: one to encourage
students' reflective practice, allowing them to reflect in action and on action (Schön, 1983); and two, to inform and
improve the instructor’s pedagogical practice. This study focused mainly on student responses to those reflections.

        The public wiki assignment investigated in this study was given at the end of a technology and literacy
graduate teacher education course taught at a small suburban northeastern liberal arts college with a strong focus on
teacher preparation. This course was designed to introduce educators to a variety of ways that technology could
promote the development of critical reading, effective writing, media literacy, conventions of Standard English,
and literacy assessment. It was taught during the 2009 spring semester and lasted for 16 weeks, conducted
primarily in a face-to-face computer laboratory setting. The course examined the introduction and integration of
relevant technologies into the K-12 classroom, with a concentration on new literacies (Leu, Leu & Coiro, 2004).

        Twelve graduate teacher education students from the College were recruited to participate in the study.
Nine students agreed to participate. The Nine participants were Caucasian, with only one male in the course. Ages
ranged from approximately 20-50. Of the nine students, seven were in the process of obtaining a Master of Arts in
Reading and Language Arts, one, a Master of Arts in Special Education, and one, a Master of Arts in Curriculum
and Instruction. About half of the participants were certified and currently teaching in some capacity in the K-12
U.S. educational system.

Data Collection & Analysis

        Students completed a researcher-designed online survey on the first day of class in order to assess current
technology skills and experience. All other data used for this study related to the public wiki assignment given at
the end of the course. These data were collected after all assignments were complete and final grades were
assigned. This study includes data collected from email correspondence, responses to pre- and post-course surveys,
student reflections at the middle and final point of the wiki assignment, and group rubric and rationales submitted
at the end of the wiki assignment. All data were collected and stored online with BlackBoard, SurveyMonkey,
pbWiki, Wikipedia, EduTechWiki, Microsoft Word, or email in the spring 2009 semester. Additional follow-up
emails were sent to students following the course if further clarification was needed for research.

        Data were analyzed using ethnographic research methods (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) to identify common
themes among student data and assignment reflections. Pseudonyms were used to maintain confidentiality. The
researcher used evidence from course data to develop preliminary conclusions for each of the five research
questions, and then went back and utilized open coding to categorize the qualitative data and develop common
themes. Analysis centered on the wiki assignment reflections in order to examine wiki potential for future teacher
training programs and its applicability to the K-12 classroom.
Results
Initial Attitudes & Perceptions

         Initial reactions to the wiki project were mostly negative and apprehensive, yet positive learning outcomes
prevailed. Findings suggested that these initial feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety, related to the thought of
contributing to a public online environment. Students were told that they needed to create and edit pages on
Wikipedia or EduTechWiki, but given no formal direction on how to proceed. They were not given instruction on
page creation, nor were they given instruction on how to format text in order to create content that would adhere to
the wiki’s requirements. This lack of instruction was intentional, as the instructor wanted students to teach
themselves how to navigate through, and use, the public wiki. It was possible that some initial apprehension and
fear may have been due to this lack of instruction as evidenced in the comments of Mary and Vicki. Mary stated,
“I, at first, was intimidated by the process. I was concerned that perhaps I did not know enough or would not be
able to post. Of course, that all proved to be worrying for no reason.” Vicki experienced similar feelings of anxiety
due to lack of prior knowledge, “At first, the whole idea of adding to/creating a wiki was very overwhelming
(mainly because I had no idea what a wiki was!), and seemed like such a huge task.” Many of the students had
minimal knowledge of wikis, neither public nor private. They may have heard of Wikipedia, or used it as a
resource, but did not know how to create and/or edit pages. Some students did not know that they could personally
contribute to Wikipedia, or other public wikis.

        The students were afraid of putting their work out on the Internet for all to see. It was commonly accepted
that thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people could potentially view the content that they added to
Wikipedia. This created a lot of perceived pressure on the quality of content posted, as Mary stated, “I can only
speak for myself in that I was a bit apprehensive about adding content to the Internet.” The idea of contributing to a
collective intelligence can sometimes be intimidating and apprehensive for students. In class, the instructor tried to
alleviate initial fears by explaining that the assignment was a chance for experimentation, and if content posted
online was not accepted by the community, and subsequently deleted, the instructor would still be able to see their
contributions by viewing the pages’ history. Overall, student fears and anxiety seemed to dissipate as the
assignment progressed, with Vicky’s comments summing up the collective feeling of the class at the end of the
project when she stated, “My reaction to the entire wiki process is that it was a lot easier than I had anticipated.”
What once seemed like an ‘overwhelming’ and ‘huge’ task turned into an easy and positive learning experience.

Characterizing Participation

         Findings suggested that student reactions to participation on the public wikis were mixed, with the majority
of participation issues arising from students’ ability to use the wiki interface. While some students had difficulty
formatting content and understanding the wiki’s markup language, others reported no problems. Vicky stated, “It
surprised me how user-friendly and simple it (the assignment) was to do.” The technical limitations of the wikis
created feelings of frustration and annoyance among the students. In fact, frustration levels were so high as to
decrease overall levels of enjoyment for the project. Diane expressed her formatting struggles with EduTechWiki
and its impact on the length of time to project completion,

       …The part that I found annoying was inputting the information on EduTechWiki. Formatting the

       information was terrible. Once we had it perfect on the draft, we would view the document and all of the

       spaces were all messed up. We just had to keep trying things and going into the ‘help’ area of EduTechWiki

       to find the correct way to do things. It took a long time to get the final product.

                Groups that opted to use Wikipedia also expressed frustration with the wiki interface. One group
attempted to create a new page on Wikipedia and was discouraged when another user (from the public) instantly
deleted the page. When the instructor spoke with the group about this initial attempt she discovered that the
members of the group failed to consult the Wikipedia help pages and did not know Wikipedia’s standards and
requirements for new page creation. Thus, the first two pages that they created were immediately rejected. It was
expected that students would need time to understand how to use the wiki’s markup language and would
experience initial difficulty. The majority of student frustration was the result of a lack of prior experience on using
the wiki interface, as some groups did not first consult the help pages before attempting to edit the pages.

Limited Public Collaboration

        The class had little to no interaction with the public through edits made to posted content. Only one group
experienced minor edits, which consisted of a grammatical change to format a heading. Vicky commented on the
revision made to her group’s page,

        Someone did do some editing on our EduTechWiki, but it was only some very minor format editing. His

        revisions were appropriate and acceptable. I actually laughed when I saw what he changed/reformatted…he

        must have a lot of time on his hands, or really lives to edit wikis! We did not make any additional changes

        after his edit [or] as a result of his edit.

Vicky’s partner, Kasey, also reflected on the edits made to the page,

        I thought I would be offended if someone edited my work. The creator of EduTechWiki made minor

        corrections, but I was not upset about that. Although I shouldn’t be offended if someone changed my work,

        I think a natural reaction is to be a little upset because I feel that I put quality work on the page.

Students in the class were initially hesitant to post information on the Internet, as they were afraid that others would
modify or delete their content, but in the end, few changes were made. This may have been due to the fact that the
assignment took place at the end of the semester, with the newly posted content online for only a few days before
reflections were due.

         At the beginning of the assignment, the class was told that content posted on either public wiki should be
free from bias and opinion. In the end, only one group’s page was flagged on Wikipedia as failing to adhere to the
Neutral point of view [NPOV] principle (Wikipedia, 2009b). This group attempted to fix the bias on the page, but
did not remove the tag. This was the only class instance of a page being flagged. The remaining groups did not
experience any interactions with wiki users outside of the classroom, which limited the potential global
collaborative nature of this project and the power of collective intelligence. The students expressed discontent with
this lack of collaboration. Mary, who posted content on EduTechWiki, stated,

        …I am disappointed that no one has edited our work and am interested to see the thoughts of others.

        Therefore, our group has plans in the future to modify our information in order to add it to Wikipedia.

        Considering this online resource is bigger, our page is more likely to be viewed and edited there.

Mary thought that content posted on Wikipedia was more likely to be modified by the general public than on a less
popular wiki such as EduTechWiki. However, in the case of our class, the only edits that were made from the
public were on EduTechWiki. Kim complained about her limited collaborative experience with Wikipedia when
she said,
Also, because we did not encounter any comments, edits, or contributions to the talk section from outside

       sources we did not get to fully experience those attributes of the site. I plan to check the page occasionally

       after the class is over, just to see if someone makes any changes and to try to learn more about how to

       operate within Wikipedia.

Other students in different groups reported that they would continue to check pages to see if future edits were made
by the general public. Students were naturally curious to see if their pages were changed, and would continue to
monitor their pages after the course ended. In addition to the minimal participation related to content, none of the
participants contributed to conversations on the discussion pages.

Overall Attitudes and Perceptions

        Findings suggested that the majority of student’s attitudes and perceptions towards contributing to a
collective intelligence were positive. Students discovered that collaborative writing on a wiki differed from
previous classroom writing projects, be they individual or group work. Jane elaborated on this fact when she said,

       In most individual projects, the research, writing, and presentation is completed by one person. This often

       results in a large time investment and a single interpretation of the subject. While developing this wiki

       project, we were able to incorporate each of the group members’ perspectives on Internet Workshop by

       building on each persons’ strengths…This group work results in a better final product.

Other positive reactions related to the act of contributing to the public wiki and overall project experience. Kim
stated, “The final group project of creating or editing an EduTechWiki or Wikipedia page was fun and interesting,”
Kasey also agreed stating that, “…the wiki project was very interesting and [I] appreciated learning something new
about the Internet.”

       Not all student reactions to this assignment were positive, with John indicating that he could do without the
assignment altogether. He failed to derive practical experience from the project, stating,

       I was somewhat familiar with Wikipedia, but I didn’t know how data was posted to this site and I had no

       knowledge of EduTechWiki. I now have a better understanding of these sites and will use them in the

       future as additional sources of information, but I got very little practical experience from completing this

       project.

Student perception of the wiki’s practical nature for both personal and professional benefit had the potential to
influence overall level of enjoyment of the assignment.

Applicability to the K-12 Classroom

        Findings suggested that the majority of students would consider using Wikipedia or EduTechWiki in some
capacity in their K-12 classroom in the future. Some recognized multiple features and benefits to wiki instruction,
as Jane stated, “I do plan on using Wikipedia or EduTechWiki in my future classroom. I would use these resources
to teach students how to research, collaborate, edit, and use this technology. This teaching will help prepare
students for their futures.” Other students only saw the public wiki as a resource, which would only be viewed, not
edited. Mary stated, “I would consider using a generic wiki in my classroom. I am comfortable with the operations.
I do not know how I would use Wikipedia or EduTechWiki other than for reference.” Kasey felt similarly in that
her students would only use Wikipedia or EduTechWiki for research purposes.

Barriers to K-12 Classroom Implementation

        A common barrier to public wiki use in the K-12 classroom was the readability level and mature content
presented on these two wikis. Many of the students commented on the wiki’s reading level, indicating that it would
be inappropriate for students in their early elementary (K-1) or special education classroom. However, they all
recognized its benefits for other educators in different grade levels and circumstances. Diane, a special education
teacher stated,

        Using wikis in my current classroom would be very difficult since the readability level [of the wiki] is

        usually at a high school level or college level, it would be near impossible for the children in my class to be

        able to read and comprehend the information. Is there a child wiki? If not, classrooms would love to use

        that one!

Vicky also acknowledged the educational value of public wikis but found it hard to incorporate Wikipedia or
EduTechWiki in her classroom due to the age of her students,

        Well, being that I teach kindergarten, I wouldn’t really incorporate a wiki in my classroom, but I definitely

        see the educational value of incorporating wikis into education. I think it would be really neat to do with

        high school students, or perhaps middle school students that would enjoy a challenge. Like I said above, I

        like the interactivity of it, and the fact that it belongs to those that create it. I would probably choose to do

        EduTechWiki instead of Wikipedia, too.

Kim taught high school students, who could understand and read the content posted on Wikipedia and
EduTechWiki, but was concerned with their maturity level,

        I would consider using a similar assignment with Wikipedia in a future class. It was a valuable experience

        and high school student should be familiar with how Wikipedia really works seeing how so many of them

        use it as a resource. My only concern would be that students are mature enough to do such an assignment

        and not utilize access to the site to do foolish things. Of course the ability to track the history and who is

        posting what information should hopefully be enough of a deterrent from such behavior.

A few of the students had negative reactions to the assignment, with one in particular who failed to recognize the
public wiki’s applicability to his classroom, “I’m not sure how posting information on Wikipedia or EduTechWiki
will help me integrate technology into my classroom” (John). This negative response could be related to the
instructor’s lack of formal instruction on wiki use in the classroom, or simply due to the student’s dislike of public
wiki’s in general.

         Overall, the majority of students’ reactions indicated that public wikis could be used in the classroom either
as a resource or collaborative tool. Public wikis have the potential to be useful in most, if not all K-12 classrooms,
if the content and readability level are age-appropriate.
Discussion
Collaborative Practice

        Based on the findings from this study, three recommendations are suggested for the use of public wikis in a
teacher education course. First, there must be a shift of focus from individual to community. Students should be
introduced to activities that convince them of the utility of collaborative, not cooperative work. A public wiki can
be used both cooperatively and collaboratively in teacher training programs. Ideally, the wiki would be used
collaboratively, with multiple users editing one or more documents, provide intertwining content, and modifying
each other’s work until a desired result was achieved. That is the power of collective intelligence (Johnson et al.,
2008). A cooperative wiki, on the other hand, would be one in which the users individually created their own piece
of the content, and then added it to the document as a separate, but cohesive, component. In a cooperative wiki,
users do not modify another’s content. For the wiki assignment in this class, the instructor publicly announced
many times that collaboration, not cooperation was preferred. However, this form of collaboration does not always
come easy to students (Guth, 2007). It is likely that students will be afraid of editing another person’s work and
have limited experience with creating a document in a collaborative manner. The instructor must monitor, prompt,
and foster contributions, working towards reducing fears and negative perceptions related to adding and editing
work on a public document (Guth, 2007; Ioannou & Artino, 2007).

Technical Instruction

        Student fear and anxiety can naturally arise at the beginning of unknown and new course assignments. If
students have little or no experience contributing to public wikis, it may be appropriate to provide wiki instruction
prior to its implementation in order to decrease the potential for initial fear and anxiety (Da Lio et al., 2004; de
Pedro et al., 2006; Ioannou & Artino, 2007; Liu et al., 2008; Robertson, 2008). The instructor should provide
adequate time for students to master the wiki language, and recognize that additional time will be needed in order
to experience the power of collective intelligence, as the public may not identify modifications made to the wiki.

Instructor Role

        It is recommended that instructors do not select a wiki for the sake of using technology, but should first
determine if it aligns appropriately with course goals and objectives. Is group work required or recommended in the
course? How will the use of a collective intelligence impact student learning outcomes? The instructor must take
student’s prior knowledge and experience with wikis into account, and anticipate initial fear, anxiety, and negative
perceptions. The instructor may need to provide time for students to learn how to use the wiki tool and incorporate
strategies related to group dynamics (e.g. how to work successfully with others). Groups must be created in
meaningful ways as the success of the group often determines the success of the wiki (Robertson, 2008). In
essence, the instructor is responsible for the success of the wiki (Robertson, 2008), with success being measured by
effective collaboration, improved writing skills, and increased knowledge. As wiki use proliferates in teacher
training programs, instructors must utilize wiki practices that are appropriate for their unique classroom
environment and the goals of their course, in order to promote positive learning experiences and improved
performance.

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