Wikis as Individual Student Learning Tools: The Limitations of Technology

Wikis as Individual Student Learning Tools: The Limitations of Technology

Matthew Allen (Curtin University, Australia) and Elaine Tay (Murdoch University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/jicte.2012040105
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This paper presents research into the attitudes and behaviours of students using wikis for individual writing tasks. The wiki-based assignment differs from the use of wikis normally researched because it was an individual task, not involving collaborative writing. This activity provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about how wikis are actually used by students in higher education. The research finds there is no compelling evidence that the wiki on its own improves performance over and above the general aptitude of students. It also finds that students generally did not utilise the wikis for high-intensity editing and revision. However, students did report that the wiki was valuable as a way of aiding them to review and develop their ideas. We conclude that using wikis for individual writing tasks can, where appropriate active instructions are given to support development of cognitive abilities, lead to improved outcomes for students.
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Wikis are often promoted as a valuable technology for use in improving university learning, but there remains significant uncertainty as to the benefits they may provide, or the way in which their theoretical benefit can be practically realized. This paper explores two key research questions emerging from current literature on the use of wikis. What are the attitudes and behaviors of students when using a wiki for an individual writing task? Does the particular way in which students use wikis correlate with improved learning? Through these questions, the paper explores the way that students understand the possibilities that wikis provide for editing and improvement of work before submission for assessment and for collaborative readership while undertaking the writing task. These questions are critical because of the lack of detailed research into the actual practices of individual students when using wikis (Cole, 2009); nor have there been many substantive assessments of the value of wikis in terms of demonstrable improved learning. Since most wiki use involves groups, where the specific relationship of an individual to the wiki is less clear since their engagement is filtered through the group process, conducting research on individual student tasks provides the opportunity to know better how and why an individual might best integrate the use of a wiki into their learning process. The paper concludes by indicating the way that students must be assisted to learn how to use a wiki in a productive manner.

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