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HeatherJames's Failure?

HeatherJames describes "failure" using wiki in the classroom.


The problem I see is that people don't really know what wikis are for.

Wikis are group text (or hypertext) authoring tools. They're great for letting people collate a bunch of information; for extracting information from a group. Or for structuring that information into some kind of document.

But I'm not sure what you should expect from them when people don't have a lot of information that needs collating.

For example, what I'd really like to understand about Heather's use in the class-room was the purpose of her classes. If they were to transmit knowledge from her (or sources selected by her) to the students, then I don't see that wiki would help much. Except, as she used it, as a kind of basic coursework management system where each student should submit / publish their work.

But I don't see any opportunity there for each student to interact with, contribute to, criticise or otherwise modify the work of the next. And I suspect that most students didn't come with a lot of information to share with the others.

Lost in Transmission

teacher –> student != teacher <–> student

Heya, thanks for having a read of my reflections. Sorry it's taken me ages to find this reference to it. Please tap on my shoulder next time (er... drop a comment at my site even, heh.) I see what you're saying about not having alot of information that needs collating... but I want to clarify one point- about transmission from teacher –> student.

  • A classical model of learning was : open up someone's brain and pour in required amounts facts- close, simmer, and presto! knowledge would be created. (okay, maybe not the cooking bit; the pouring-in bit) But, more research into how we learn shows it's not much like that at all. The idea of 'constructivism' uses a metaphor of building, as if in each person's brain, we're building our own connections and understanding. Teaching then is a matter of facilitating this process; that you can't 'teach' anyone things, but only facilitate their learning experience. This debases the genius lecturer a bit, but it allows for learners to make contributions to the learning experience, without threatening the role of the teacher. It's not entirely radical, but it is changing the way we organize formal education.
  • Learning materials are created by 'experts' for the learners to refer to- but some researchers find that the ones who learn most are those who create the learning materials (like simulations, where the people who build it learn more than the end-users)... As Jonassen's research suggests- why not put this into the hands of the learners? So was my thinking, start with a blank slate, and let the participants build their own resource. My idea, I think, was on the mark, but the exceution was all wrong. I didn't actually change the way I delivered my workshops, I just slapped the wiki onto it. It was fun, but very un-wiki like. I recognized that, and that's what I wrote about.
  • You mention the idea that people come without alot of information to share, but in another way we can consider how people come to every situation with a great wealth of experience- even children. There are many ways that a learner can contribute, without seeming to know 'anything' about a subject. Maybe much of teaching is helping people look at what they already know from different perspectives. Vygotsky thinks that a learner's preconceptions and prior knowledge play a vital role in any new learning experience. Perhaps there is something to Plato's idea that learning is like remembering- like those 'a-ha' moments, where it all clicks.


For such ocassions I like to imagine I am on the other side. So I am the learner and you give me a wiki to collaborate with you in the teaching process. Then I feel following problems: first I don't know what I can put there - what is appriopriate, second I don't see any point in doing it, it is an additiona effort but I don't have any incentives to to it. The first point can be easily covered with some discussion. The second is trickier - should the learners fill the wiki for better grades, or perhaps for peer esteem? Or should they do it as a mean of note taking? I think you as a teacher should all that arrange for them.


I have a wiki for my students. And at the moment, I use it in two ways.

  • a) as a place they can submit the exercices they do in the lab. In other words, after they have done an exercise and want to show it to me, they paste it on their personal page. I can then look at it and try it out. Yesterday I found one of the students who had a problem looking at someone else's answer and trying to figure out what was different about it. Which was exactly what I wanted to see happen.
  • b) I have a Useful****Links page where the students can post links they've found for resources. This hasn't been used much but in both my classes at least one student has spontaneously posted a link there. This is particularly valuable for me as the students need resources in Portuguese, and it's hard for me to recognise good Portuguese language sites and distinguish them from bad ones.

Heather, I do agree with the "get the students to construct their own learning process as much as possible" approach. And I also agree we still need to figure out how to get the best out of wiki in the class-room. Here are a couple more thoughts.

1) Wiki is oriented towards the collaborative authoring of documents. But not all social interactions are like that. In particular, there are fine-grained (OnGranularity) question / answer interactions where someone asks a question which is highly specific to a particular situation? (eg. "does this loop look right to you?") The person sitting next to you will answer because they want to be helpful and the cost of answering is very low.

Now, you can use wiki for this kind of Q and A, but it's actually not that suitable. The main reason it is because if I want to ask Lucas a question, I can post it on his home page, or on a public page, and wait for him to find it. But unless he's continuously polling the wiki he's not going to discover that question. And it's not in his interest to continuously poll the wiki in order to find questions. So I can shout at him across the room. Or go and talk to him. But if I'm talking to him and showing him my problem on paper anyway, neither of us has an incentive to move the conversation to the wiki simply for the benefit of third-parties (Zbigniew is right about this.)

Something like IM, which interupts, might be more suitable for this fine-grained Q and A. But won't leave a record unless integrated with the wiki.

2) In my class, the students are producing paragraph-length answers to questions, or short programs (maybe 10-15 lines long). These easily afford posting on the wiki and can usefully be read there. On the other hand, in Heather's creative multimedia software class, I suspect it's harder for students to post their work in a way which "shows the working". If they upload a multimedia production it doesn't necessarily explain much to another student working on the same problem. What a student who wants help needs is a HOWTO or tutorial-style document (Clicked on this menu and then chose the Y option.)

And that strikes me as a lot more work for someone to produce. And it isn't so clear what the incentive is for someone to produce it. Do you make it the answer to an exercise? I guess I think some kinds of knowledge afford learning by shared document creation more than others.


To ZBY and Phil: Yep and Yep! No, I fully agree, I mean, I wrote that after a brief experiment using it in a classroom. It wasn't formal research, I began without a literature review. I just threw it in the mix, and saw what happened. I mean, that's why I wrote about it. And I think I did a pretty good job of saying I was wrong. So, okay guys! I was wrong. sniff. But I think my wrongness is not unusual, and many other people may have it wrong too. So hopefully what I contributed dispelled some notions for others. I have another opportunity where a wiki might be applicable, not sure yet, but it might. I'm going to be VERY careful before I apply it again. ;)

ps- to ZBY, see ref below re: more about peer-to-peer learning — HeatherJames

::ABSTRACT: "In spite of advances in educational technology, most Web-based computer science courses rely on costly pre-made learning materials. By shifting the emphasis to peer-to-peer learning and other student-centred learning principles, more meaningful learning process can be accomplished, without preparing stand-alone Web-courses. A course applying these principles is presented along with a tool built for the purpose. The tool offers the possibility to build a joint information pool and publish new work while constructing knowledge by collaborative annotation of the information or published work. According to our experince, transparency in the learning process is also well-accepted and viewed beneficial by the students."

Also discussed :

See also :

  • ActionLearningEnvironment