Learning from a Wiki Way of Learning is the title of a study I’ve been working on over the past two years in collaboration with Professor Nina Reynolds (Southampton University). The study explores the design, use and effect of Wiki technology for collaborative learning in postgraduate management education.
Collaborative learning has a diverse meaning, from group or team-based working, to peer-to-peer interaction on shared tasks. With the rise in dynamic ubiquitous digital technologies has provided another rich layer to collaborative learning as the need to learn how to collaborate now coexists with the need to learn how to use digital technologies.
Digital Mediated Collaborative Learning
Given the growth in digital media and its functionality to support and mediate team-based activities, we are seeing a rise in the interest in the use of digital tools to support and mediate collaborative learning, called digital mediated collaborative learning (hereafter DMCL). This study explores the use of Wiki technology for DMCL.
Commonly termed a Wiki, like Blogs and RSS, Wiki’s have been dubbed ‘social software’ because they facilitate social connections allowing users to develop digital content, collaboratively and open to a public. The term became synonymous with collaborative website design after programmer Ward Cunningham pioneered it in 1995 to discuss software design that enabled community content co-creation. However, wiki use for/in collaborative learning is no easy task. It requires the unlearning of old models socialized in a mindset of ‘I learn’ to the learning of new norms, processes and mindsets of ‘we learn’. Couple this with complex digital tools and the landscape for learning becomes quite complicated for the even the most digitally literate.
Limited past research exists on the use of Wiki’s in the contexts of management higher education or management learning and professional development. In this study we therefore reviewed the literature of two relevant situated contexts for the use of Wiki’s to our research study, the use of Wiki’s in management practice and the use of Wiki’s education.
The dominant discourse in management practice is the use of Wiki technology for productivity gains in the achievement of organizational goals (e.g., reduce cost, time, increase security, access) in project management and information sharing. In contrast in education, the focus is on the people and group learning. In this, the evolving paradigm around Wiki’s in education is focused on ‘learning to write and/or collaborate’, on text and interaction and the promotion of deep learning experiences, both in and outside the classroom, not just on technology and/or productivity’.
Drawing from these studies, we devised A Wiki Way of Learning to curricular design and trialed it’s use in two cohorts of postgraduate management education students.
A Wiki Way of Learning Trial
In the academic year 2008/2009 I introduced Wiki’s into my 8-week MBA Marketing Research class of 52 students to trial their use as the students worked on research projects in groups of 8-10. I designed the entire learning experience to work with the Wiki’s, from the class room activities, the group project, my involvement as module coordinator and the Wiki’s functional design in coexistence. I didn’t just tack on Wiki’s to a group project and tell the students to go off and use it, I designed the learning objectives and the project around weekly Wiki tasks, monitored student progress each week, provided weekly feedback and offered incentives. The Wiki was not just part of the group project, it was part of every class lecture and discussion.
The feedback from the students was very positive receiving the highest student ratings across all modules on the MBA (i.e., 4.7/5), and qualitative student insights into how it contributed to their learning experience. However, what I couldn’t report was insight to two very important questions:
- Did the use of Wiki’s have a positive or negative impact on their learning of the module content?
- What role did student levels of digital literacy play in their learning and Wiki experience?
With this first years learning of how to design and integrate Wiki’s into a management class environment, in the 2nd year I empirically explored these questions.
A Wiki Way of Learning Study
In the academic year 2009/2010 I continued the use of Wiki’s in my 8-week MBA Marketing Research class of 62 students, but this year I explored the interplay of student digital literacy, knowledge and Wiki use on domain learning and the quality of the student learning experience.
Findings from this study indicate a significant positive relationship between Wiki use and student domain learning as evidence by student performance in a multiple choice revision quiz (in class) and essay examination. The more pages and lines students edited, the higher their overall performance during revision and examination.
Consistent with the literature on digital literacy and knowledge, the study also revealled significant differences in student digital literacy, knowledge and Wiki use between male and female students. Female MBA students self-reported lower levels of digital literacy and knowledge than their male peers, however from log-file data female report significantly higher levels of Wiki use during the project. So even though the female students might under report or have less confidence in their perception of their skills and knowledge with digital technology, doesn’t necessarily mean they will use them any less than their male peers. This poses an interesting question for how we measure and evaluate digital literacy.
My Final Thoughts …
This was a great study to conduct with my students, one of great learning for them about using Wiki’s to collaborate to cocreate a project, and for me on how we integrate technology into learning contexts. I think this is important to inspire not just the learning of a domain or module content, but the learning of and about digital technology through the situated practice of ‘doing’, as opposed to telling.
Digital literacy, knowledge and learning is increasingly critical for management students and professionals of today and tomorrow. As management educators in higher education, it is imperative that we explore, study and adopt new and differing methods for digital mediated learning in our curricular, designing the learning experience with digital media as part of it, not separate to it or an add on, to ensure our students have the neccessary knowledge and skills to participate effectively in a world of dynamic ubiquitous digital mediation.
Many thanks to Shashank Garg and Jennifer Smith, postgraduate students at Cardiff University for their research assistance in data collection; and the MBA Marketing Research Classes of 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 at Cardiff Business School for their participation. We’d also like to thank Professor Emmanuel Ogbonna, Lisa L’Homme and Neil Wellard who direct and manage the Cardiff MBA for their ongoing support and assistance during these studies.
p.s. for a copy of the draft manuscript currently under review, please don’t hesitate to contact me.