Collaborative Learning and Wikis
- Memorial University of Newfoundland
Web 2.0 and Wikis
Web 2.0 applications, specifically Wikis, are web-based media that have the characteristics that allow learners to meet in the virtual world and provide them opportunities to partake in authentic, collaborative tasks (Laurason & Alterman, 2009). A Wiki is a Web 2.0 tool that allows users to create rich (Evans, 2006), collaborative learning environments where users, either in a private or public forum, can come together and collaborate on tasks assigned in educational contexts (Chao & Parker, 2007). Collaborative learning, according to Smith and MacGregor (1992), is often linked to experiential learning, in that students are allowed to explore topics on their own and within groups. In this way, knowledge is created and not simply absorbed based on information given by the instructor. Kahn (2009) posits that Wikis promote interaction between students and instructors. Therefore, instructors can provide guidance to help direct learning, not just relate information. Smith and MacGregor stress that traditional teaching methods may still exist in collaborative environments; however, these methods are used in tandem with discussions and group work, which are both widely associated with collaboration. Wikis allow learners to engage in collaborative tasks, for example group discussions, in either a synchronous or an asynchronous manner (Peterson, 2009).
Collaborative learning in the classroom and Wikis
Smith and MacGregor (1992) identify four main reasons for the use of collaborative learning in classrooms. Firstly, learners must be able to integrate new material into their existing body of knowledge in an active way. Active approaches are considered to be a constructive process, whereby learners are constructing, or building upon prior knowledge (Casey, 2008; Gijlers, Saab, Van Joolingen, De Jong, & Van Hout-Wolters, 2009). Secondly, for information to be valuable to learners, it must be presented in authentic and believable contexts, often linked to problem-based learning (Smith & MacGregor). Once learners are in control of their learning, they can more easily adapt new knowledge to more varied contexts. Wikis allow students to engage in collaborative, and thus meaningful discussions with their peers (Schaffert, Gruber, & Westenthaler, 2006). Therefore, learners learn from one another. Smith and MacGregor also found that student diversity and each learner’s unique background help to increase the learning. To ensure that each student finds value in new material, teachers must allow learners to bring previous experiences into discussions and solutions (Smith & MacGregor). Smith and MacGregor state that, without the collaborative approach, students who do not fit into traditional learning models would be greatly disadvantaged. However, Howe (2009) argues that collaborative work does not work well when individuals within a group have a more similar outlook on the problem. In areas where diversity of experience is not wide-ranging, the collaborative approach cannot reach its full potential (Howe). Furthermore, Gijlers, Saab, Van Joolingen, De Jong and Van Hout-Wolters demonstrate the necessity of consensus building before students move on with the task. When there are different approaches to solving the problem, the group must agree on the path that will be taken, otherwise the task becomes frustrating.
An interesting aspect of Wikis is that, while they can be made private, if learners do have similar beliefs regarding a topic, Wikis can be made public. With a public wiki, students can connect with external users. These connections can lead the new, larger group to discover a greater variety of ideas, which will allow for the collaborative process to reach its full potential (Alexander, 2006). Smith and MacGregor(1992) posit that humans are social beings; sharing knowledge and information is a bonding experience where the group is working towards a single ultimate goal. Group work necessitates that students work on several tasks that, when combined, lead to achieving the main goal. Similar to Smith and MacGregor's point about social connections, Lund (2008) argues that Wikis facilitate social interactions of their users. In order to use a Wiki, students must connect with the other members who are participating in the online environment, encouraging the social connectedness of the group. Combining social interaction with this type of collaboration makes understanding of complex problems more challenging, without being overwhelming, due to the support of the rest of the group.
Asynchronous collaborative learning
According to Kimpulainen and Kaartinen (2003), the ability to resolve conflicts in collaborative environments promotes more enhanced learning. The authors state that one type of collaborative learning, called Joint Construction, requires much less work than the consensus building method described above (Kimpulainen & Kaartinen). In the Joint Construction process, only one person needs to present a feasible solution and the rest of the group need only accept it (Howe, 2009). According to Howe, this is a much easier task, because comparison of different perspectives is not necessary to arrive at a solution. Wikis can potentially promote this type of interaction by allowing learners the opportunity to collaborate on a project where each learner’s ideas are valued; however, it is in the process that learning occurs (Mac & Coninum 2008). Howe states that students who work in collaborative settings are often able to provide solutions or responses far above what was achieved during the group task. This finding might indicate that collaborative environments stimulate something within learners that allows them to continue processing information and adding to it based on their individual interpretation of the discussion (Chan, 2001). As Chao and Parker (2007) posit, these discussions can broaden those that might occur in the classroom and lead to a deeper learning experience. Wikis, when used effectively in conjunction with best practices, create learning environments where learners work together with peers and instructors to facilitate learning through a collaborative approach (Chao & Parker).
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