Wikis, Blogs, and Collaboration – Oh My!! CrossTalk Features Technology Enabled Collaboration

By Phil Long, Associate Director, Office of Educational Innovation and Technology

CrossTalk, the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology (OEIT) seminar series on Educational Change where faculty, staff and students share strategies, solutions, and issues related to transformation in educational practice through the use of information technology, held its last session of the spring term May 22nd, 2007. More than 70 people gathered in the active learning environment of the TEAL 1 classroom to hear faculty share their experiences using and teaching with blogs and wikis in their courses at MIT. The session, moderated by Carter Snowden (OEIT), Sanjoy Mahajan (TLL) and Phillip Long (OEIT), explored how faculty are using these web 2.0 tools in their courses.

The faculty recounting their experiences included, Prof. Donald Lessard, Epoch Foundation Professor of International Management, Sloan School, Dr. Amanda Graham, Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, Jennifer Craig, Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies/Dept. of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Dr. Natalie H. Kuldell, Instructor, Biological Engineering.

Blogs, personal publishing to the web, often in the form of individual narratives, were used to ‘pre-process’ course material, discussion of which used was then extended in class. Prof. Lessard, for example, teaching in the Sloan School selected student blog entries in class to highlight student ideas and facilitate their elaboration by the student blog post authors. Drawing on things around which students had already given thought made it easier and more comfortable to bring them into the face-to-face class discussion. It also helped to actively connect the course content with the student’s discussions. Wikis, software that allows for collaborative writing of web pages while retaining a revision history of changes made by the authors, were used in a variety of ways, from supporting freshman project-based courses to sharing research protocols in biological engineering (http://openwetware.org/wiki/Main_Page). While questions were raised about security and participation in such an open authoring environment, the experiences of the faculty teaching in this medium suggests that, while always a concern, the benefits were compelling, Indeed, the MIT Confluence wiki service used by many of the presenters, allows for granular access
and editing from open to the world to open to members of specified groups, and variants in between.1

Teaching effectively with wikis does require applying good teaching practice to this new medium. Jennifer Craig highlighted student constraints on productive wiki use. She provided telltale symptoms for unproductive patterns of student use of wikis and strategies for faculty who want the wiki to contribute to project success.

Dr. Amanda Graham, using a combination of Stellar and wikis described what worked well in both environments, and what didn’t. For example, wikis seemed to enhance the clarity and organization of student work and facilitated collaborative exchange of documents. However, she found that wikis were less able to provide a sense of workflow or chronology to the students’ work.

The inclusion of online collaboration tools like wikis brings the ‘read-write web’ to MIT classes, supporting discussion, group collaboration and public sharing of ideas. These are central attributes to the culture of critical study, investigation, and sharing that underlie the MIT undergraduate education. For more information about the Collaboration Crosstalk see the Crosstalk wiki site: https://wikis.mit.edu/confluence/display/CROSSTALK

1 MIT Confluence Wiki is provided in by the OEIT with support from IS&T’s Office of Infrastructure Software Development and Architecture.