Wikis: A Different Form of Interaction in Online Courses

In education, interaction matters. If you want your students to remember what they are supposed to learn and if you want them to be able to use what you teach them in other situation, then they must think about it with you and with other students. This idea has been featured in this blog previously.

The ICAP framework which posits interactive learning > constructive learning > active learning > passive learning was described in September 2019.

When students are engaged in interactive learning, they are:

  • Summarizing and explaining what they are learning (as opposed to simply recognizing what thye are learning);
  • Integrating new ideas and others’ understanding of the knowledge they are building together (as opposed to simply restating an authority’s concept);
  • Taking turns as they build knowledge.

The importance of adding novelty to courses was described in December 2017.

When faculty introduce moderate levels of novelty into their courses, they become more interested in the activities which is associated with greater learning.

For instructors who are planning for online and remote teaching, they can combine these two characteristics of increased learning by incorporating different type of interactive activities in their virtual classrooms. Forums or discussion boards are a common activity in online classrooms. The activity is familiar (maybe too familiar): the teacher posts an artifact and a prompt, then students compose a response to that prompt, then reply to each others’ responses.

I often recommend faculty consider adding wikis to their virtual classrooms. This brings the “Wikipedia” model into their courses. When collaborating on a wiki, students are composing and editing a single document. Faculty may find wikis are:

  • Useful when a single “answer” is best and they seek to develop deeper and broader understanding of a question. (When I teach a course for those who are entering IT service positions, I often will have them create a wiki focusing on where to recycle computer in the county where the college is located. This allows students to add and reorganize their collective answer as they work.)
  • Most effective once the class has become comfortable with each other. (Before the group has developed some rapport, individual may be uncomfortable with changing others’ contributions.)
  • Infinitely saved.” Whenever a user saves a new wiki contribution, it becomes a version. Faculty can compare versions to see exactly what changes each made and even restore an earlier version. Of course, many faculty who use wikis choose to participate in the wiki by adding comments while leaving the text of the wiki to the students.