Education Opinion

Winging a Wiki

By Emmet Rosenfeld — January 05, 2008 9 min read
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Diane left a comment last post asking for more information about the wikis my 9th graders are using to develop their science papers. (Check out “Workshop of the Gods” and a few previous posts for the nature of the assignment if you’re new here.)

I’ll try to flatten this thing into two dimensions in this post; you can’t get to my students’ work because it is based in blackboard, our school system’s online learning system. (I don’t have any great ideas about where to put your own class’s wikis if you want to try this at home and don’t happen to have blackboard or something like it, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t hard to find free and user-friendly wiki-hosting cites in cyberspace.)

Let me preface this how-to with the caveat that I’m winging it, and have asked the kids to help me along as we travel through this new-to-us territory. My basic plan, which seems to be working so far, is to use a class wiki as a model, instructing kids about new pages to add to their group wikis as we make our way through this evolving project.

There are 17 groups, by the way, so this structure is important to me from a management point of view. I want to be able to rapidly dip into each wiki and find what I’m looking for without navigating creative architecture for each group.

That said, and with my blessings, kids are adding pages to their wikis beyond the ones I require as they see fit. It’s a tool that they intuitively grasp and wield far more creatively than I—I’ll share an example of that adaptive use, but first, here’s the text from the no-frills home page so far from the model class wiki. (Material pulled from our wikis will be presented in italics).

This is a homepage that will serve as a template of sorts for your individual group wikis.
11-26-07 Experiment Proposal. This needs to be complete and submitted by___.
12-4-07 Literature Review Works Cited. Go here for a collection of articles that show the current state of the field we are researching. NOTE: This is the old “Literature Review” page. We changed the name and it is now going to serve as our works cited for the review itself, which has its own page below.
12-13-07 Literature Review. Here is our group’s lit review. See the assignment sheet under Assignments for further details.
12-20-07 Comments for revision of “Findings” section of literature review. 3 specific suggestions for revision from each group member should be posted here.

Each underlined assignment title is, of course, a link to a new page where I provide a format for that section. For example, here’s the text from the last one, “Comments for revision of ‘Findings’ section of literature review.” I asked them to create this page after a writing workshop during which the groups were “jig-sawed,” so each group member ended up getting feedback from different kids.

Group member #1’s name here.
1. First suggestion for revision.
2. Second suggestion for revision.
3. Third suggestion for revision.
Group member #2’s name here. ETC

Here’s an actual example from one of the groups where each member has posted three ideas for revision of their science paper based on the workshop. There’s an intro at the top of the page by the self-appointed leader in this task. (I’ve changed all student names).

This page holds the comments on our Summary of Findings from the workshop on Thursday December 20, 2007. Group members, don’t forget to add three comments that you received from the workshop. Check the example wiki for how to do it. ~kitty

<>1. We need more specific information, according to my workshop group, and numbers, like replacing “water with high or even moderate amounts of fecal coliform” with “Water with a fecal coliform count of some number% to some other number%.” Also, when we say “according to Bradly, Chidavaenzi, et al. (2002)” we look like we don’t know what to say. Perhaps “A scientific article written in 2002 by Bradly, Chidavaenzi, and others”
2. The writing style wasn’t big-wordy enough. We looked like morons. “The things that can affect fecal coliform” should be “Factors of fecal coliform” or something like that. Also, there were lots of places that I thought REALLY needed commas, but that may be just personal prefrence of writing style, not grammar problems.
3. It was choppy and unorganized, and we repeated ourselves a lot.

1. Our transistions (mostly from the section that I wrote :) could use improvement.
2. After reading other papers, I realized that the articles cited need a small “discussion” telling why/how it connects to our idea. I think that we should add a one to two sentence summary for it.
3. It was also suggested to add “signposting” to help the readers understand why this ties in to our topic in addition to the “discussion”.

1. I noticed that some of the findings were a little brief. In particular our second could use some expanding on.
2.The last sentence in the fourth finding is very badly constructed. It says: “Temperature and salinity also can have detrimental effects on coliform levels in a watershed.” I really don’t know what this means at all. High or low temperatures? High or low salinity? Also, what does detrimental effect mean? Does it mean and increase or decrease in coliform? It was just very ambiguous.
3.Also, in one of the findings a sentence reads: “The total coliform amount was much higher than the total fecal coliform amount”, which makes absolutely no sense. EDIT: Ok, I now understand what was meant by that, I’m just going to clarify it.
4. Not about the findings but in the introduction (which I wrote), our hypothesis says if fecal coliform increases, turbidity increases. Yet the title says effect of turbidity on fecal coliform. I think turbidity should be our IV so I’m going to change the hypothesis.

Bart especially did a good job of following my instructions to be specific about where changes need to be made instead of just saying vaguely, “Needs more evidence.” And for the most part, I think their comments capture meaningful student-generated feedback.

Here’s an example of another way the wiki is being used, this time by kids who didn’t follow my directions. I couldn’t find a section anywhere on their wiki for Comments for revision of “Findings”, but I did find this long strand of dialogue on a page they called “Discussion.”

wallace--I’m first to get here... so I’m going to do some research on possible topics and if I find anything I’ll put it here. We need a group leader. My email is -- and my aim is --. (note... I originally had this in the main part)
--I was thinking of doing the oysters experiment that was rejected but with a different organism... possibly a plant. Also wikipedia says oysters are macroinvertebrates, so half of mr. rosenfeld’s reason for rejecting it is gone. --wallace
-- I think it would be hard to find an organism we could buy... or collect... -- wallace
-- the other idea I thought was good was to measure water quality in streams with/without dams, but I have no idea how to find dams... -- wallace --we could always go with an impossible idea and change it later but I want to make sure no one else has something good-- wallace
Thanks for the source, Mike, but we need it cited and annotated, and where’s Arnie?? (Speaking of Arnie, and his “Wallace can slack off...”, I think I’ll go by that and say this: Wallace did our proposal originally, I did the final (a complete redo, so just as much work), so I think Arnie and Mike should do all the sources)
We only have one source so far. An acceptable one, but we need MORE! I’m turning in the proposal tomorrow. Arnie, Mike: bring whatever you have, annotated.
As for the group leader, I’ll volunteer for the role: you’ll get a testimony from 3 Kilmer students last year that they would have failed eCybermission were it not for me :) We can talk in school tomorrow.
My email’s --
I have 1 article and am getting a second... need 2 per person I think...
oh and you can delete pages... on right menu... I can’t post 1st source I got , turned it in...
I can’t beleive I missed that...
Still looking for any word from Mike...
Arnie - What are you asking about? (format and who wrote it)

So where are the articles? If you just post the links I’ll take a look at them before you post the summaries.

If we want accurate measurements of light exposure we can buy a lux meter on ebay for around $10. Assuming it’s not broken, any brand should be good to 3-5%.
I already posted my summaries on the link from Home >> empty page.
I think all of the articles are supposed to be on one page, so if we could move those...yeah.
By the way, light intensity is measured with “uEinst. m-2 s-1". So far, no luck on finding out what that is.
uhh... I’m not going to pretend I know what that is and argue with you, but it seems like that’s a formula for something about light. What concerns us is very simple: lux is a measure of light intensity at one point. (There are many related terms: I beleive luminous flux is the same, and lumens, or total luminous flux, is the total amount of light from a source. But all that matters to us is simple lux)
again...if you write on this page, put your name after it so i know who you are.
and no, it is a measurement. There aren’t any variables in that little blurb...the ‘u’ denotes ‘micro’ and m (meter) and s (seconds) are pretty easy. The Einst. and negative numbers are confusing though. (/wallace/ the negative numbers are negative powers. like m^3 for area but in reverse. wierd to think about s^-1 though /wallace/)
By the way, props to Mike for sticking my summaries on separate pages.
Sure, but what I’m saying is that we don’t need to know - we already have an answer. Maybe it’s the definition of lux, or candlepower, or a like measurement?
Arnie, what’s your email?
I’m 100% sure it’s on the intranet, but I already put it up on the home page, so no worries.
one more thing: Click here...yes? I think it’s useful for general knowledge.
Yes, useful for general knowledge... can you find an “einstein” meter for $10 or less? I’m not saying its not useful or incorrect, just that it’s now unnecessary.
Hey! I’ll let you guys know the progress of the tech proposal (which I’ll be heading). Mike’ll be heading the lit reviews, so if you have anything, please run it by us first instead of working all independently. After all, you’ll want to leave some work for us? Thanks.
So basically since the findings are due tomorrow, it’s your last chance (not really) to tell me that you don’t like them. Longer, shorter, better grammar, whatever you tell me to fix will be fixed.

What I see here is ownership and problem-solving. Kids are working seriously at a task, and communicating effectively in part because of the medium itself. I wonder how many of you out there are also using wikis in your classrooms, and how. Drop Eduholic a note, and let’s figure out together how to best make these work in our (ready or not) 21st century classrooms.

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