Singing the Praises of Wikis in Teaching Writing

written student-to-student interaction on stilts
Wikis permit not only chatting but working together to create multi-page projects. The trick here is to develop projects that open to instruction.

places instructor as guide on the side
As in moderating a discussion, the instructor's role shifts to setting up situations in which students learn. The instructor still has to structure moments, interactions, events. But the students now work within their writing space. More of a burden for them.

enacts, dramatizes, reifies writing processes
What hypertext is to post-structuralism wikis are to composition.

drafting and revision with bells on
Wiki is inherently text and inherently drafted and revised repeatedly. Writers develop pages by moving between ThreadMode and DocumentMode by way of ReFactoring. This writing process, which wiki users have developed over the past 9 years or so, is both well-suited to the media (the wiki fosters ThreadMode into DocumentMode), and just different enough from traditional paper process as to be intriguing or exotic. The exoticism motivates new learning. At the same time, the process draws on well-established language competencies.

The wiki has been design specifically as a writing space - not a presentation space, not PowerPoint?, not a course management system. And so the design goes to supporting writing. Wikis are straightforward to use: no bells, no whistles. They allow getting text down even while the writers are not sure where it will go.

However, the instructor provides a procedure for working on the projects: setting up pages, assigning roles and interactions - based on pedagogical principles. Doing so will help students get the most out of the writing on wiki as the instructor takes on the structuring and scaffolding burden.

encourages a full sense of composing
Once we consider writing as more than generating words to suit, once we consider it forming meaning, relating pieces, connecting, establishing relations... Once we consider composing more dynamic than the page, it becomes clear that a wiki can encourage this fuller sense of what writing entails.

Pages are not static but invite change. The PageIsAnActiveDocument?.

Even if we are purely practical, using a wiki gives writers the opportunity to work and think in hypertext. Those in power tell me this is What Students Need For Success. Maybe. I know that knowing how to think in hypertext can make life richer.

has composing management capabilities built in
Part of composing (whether a shopping list, essay, report, or hypertext) is managing not only the text as it emerges but keeping track of the support structures:

Usually, management is done with slips of paper, 3 X 5 cards, notebooks, outlines.

Wikis make it possible - and necessary - to create a composing scaffolding to suit the emerging text - something broader, more open than outlines, more searchable and more readily manipulated than note cards and notebooks.

available much of the time when near a computer
This is not a virtue in itself - and can be more marketing hype than pedagogical virtue - but it extends the classroom walls by making access relatively easy.

More to the point of practice: The kinds of interactions and composing the wiki encourages are well-fed by contributers being able to work late at night and early in the morning - as well as during daylight hours. This is to say, the evolving wiki text is there when contributers are ready for it.

emphasis on creating rather than consuming
The wiki (right now; this might change) stands out as something other than the typical web. The typical web is to find stuff and use it. Wiki invites creation as There's nothing there until we write it.

off the mainstream
Online courses are more and more being moved into IMS: WebCT?, et al. But WebCT? et al do not support creating and re-creating text so much as they re-create the traditional classroom interactions and roles. Write a paper, post a paper, teacher grades a paper. Read a chapter, take a test on a chapter, get a grade on the chapter. Teacher points to stuff to look at, to read, to consider. Students talk to one another in small groups, then post another paper...

Wiki provides no IMS: too free form. That might make it less (or more?) satisfactory for DE, but it makes it good for f2f. The structure of the wiki grows from within, shaped by people working with content. Instructors structure their instruction to suit: they set up the task, oversee, guide, prompt, promote, reward.

no flash: no chrome
Here's hoping the marketing people don't see wiki as a cash cow. There's hope because wiki is not flashy, and wiki is free form. On wiki, there is no spectacle, just content, and it's hard to sell content without spectacle: witness academic journals. And free form - no templates, no value-added stuff to hawk - means there's nothing really to sell.

as in free speech and free beer. The code is free, and runs on free web servers. But wikis also invite open speech, open exchange.

Open source also makes it likely that content people rather than marketing people will develop wiki ideas.Wiki emphasizes people over systems.

Dec 2002. Moved 2004. Moved again 2007.
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