Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Developing Online Learning Communities with Wikis

Example Wiki from Lucy's slidesEarlier this month Birkbeck received a visit from Dr Lucy Mathers, Senior Lecturer in Media Technology at De Montfort University. Lucy presented some outcomes of an e-learning project in which student assignments were developed and submitted via wikis (this was done using the Learning Objects wiki tool within a Blackboard VLE). The goals of this project were to encourage deep learning and enrich the student learning experience.

Lucy's session was entitled Facilitators and Barriers to Developing Online Learning Communities, and highlighted both staff and student perspectives. Please have a look at Lucy's slides (or this much more detailed conference paper) for more information than I provide here - I just wanted to summarise what I found to be some of the interesting points to come out of this project.

Previous studies have examined the use of discussion boards to foster online learning communities. While building on that work, in this case the use of wikis allowed students to produce their own individual pieces of work while sharing and collaborating with peers.

Barriers to this type of teaching, according to staff, included a perceived lack of technical skills, concern about time needed to set it up and train the students, as well as some concern around pedagogy/assessment. Issues with student participation included the fact that students are primarily motivated by marks. They also tend to perceive themselves to have good peer evaluation skills, but don't always.

Facilitators included students agreeing ground rules for collaboration at the beginning, and therefore having a sense of ownership. Showing examples of good practice in class was useful. Students who are very engaged with their learning tended to participate more enthusiastically.