Rethinking a Wiki vs LMS for Course Design

CC0 Public Domain image by kaboompics on Pixabay.
CC0 Public Domain image by kaboompics on Pixabay.

Last year, when I first taught EDU 807, “Learning Tools in Education Technology,” one of my goals was to employ a wiki as a learning management system (LMS) so the doctoral students involved in the course could participate in a more open, collaborative form of social scholarship. I have long been an advocate of using wikis as an organizational space for my face-to-face classes and in professional development workshops, and it made sense to me that students involved in a doctoral program about educational technology tools would be able to adapt the wiki for their own uses as individuals and in small groups, and to collaborate in innovative ways.

One of the other elements of this course was that I asked students – both individually and in small groups – to regularly move across a variety of educational technology tools. For instance, we used at least a dozen different technologies including the wiki, Google Docs, VoiceThread, Vialogues, and (the now defunct) Zaption. There was also an attempt to integrate Twitter as a back channel conversation throughout the semester.

The ideal, however, met the reality of teaching an online course to busy professionals, and the struggle to move between spaces began to cause confusion and frustration. For all of us, the management of so many different tools was a challenge: Where are we discussing the readings this week? What is due next? Where is the link for that article?

My end-of-semester course evaluations reflected the types of concerns that students felt as they moved across so many tools in such quick succession. While they generally enjoyed and appreciated the course, it was clear that using the wiki in the way that I envisioned was one step too many, even for students in a doctoral program exploring ed tech. Sadly, our attempts to make use of the wiki on a regular basis quickly fell to the wayside. Also, as an instructor, I struggled to keep a balance with students turning in their work, providing feedback, updating the online gradebook in our normal LMS, Blackboard, and – on top of that – managing revisions and late assignments.

In short, my best efforts at using the wiki as an open, collaborative space for students to generate their own shared understandings of the course material and to create social scholarship became an unnecessary burden. In rethinking the course for this spring, then, I struggled to figure out how I would push back against the practices and discourses of the standard course management system while, at the same time, updating my course for this spring so as to avoid massive confusion on behalf of my students.

Hence, I am returning to our university’s LMS as the “hub” of our course activities. I struggle with this for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I’m trying to teach doctoral students how to employ a variety of educational technology tools – building on collaborative, open source ethos – and yet I must return to an LMS that has a decidedly centered to the tool. I also struggle because I want students to know that social scholarship (openness, collaboration, messiness) does not always work on distinct the context of “taking” a course (modules, assignments, grades).

However, I will keep the idea of being “open” moving forward by asking students to blog on a regular basis, as well as to post additional course assignments as artifacts on their own digital portfolios. Also, we will use Twitter as a way to comment upon one another’s work, as well as to share ideas from other scholars.

I am not particularly pleased about having to give up on using a wiki, and yet at the same time I think by centralizing and streamlining many of the more mundane class activities in the LMS, I will be better able to help my students focus on broader goals of social scholarship and critically evaluating educational technologies. So, wish me luck as I reboot EDU 807 this semester!


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Social Network “Fail” Leads to A Renewed Approach to ENG 315

Another semester began this week, and I have been updating my syllabus and wiki site for ENG 315. Last semester, I was quite surprised and delighted by the number of you who asked me about my Wikispaces to Edmodo shift. Well, we learn from our failures, right? This is one that taught me a great deal about digital writing and teaching, and I share a few thoughts here.

First, I realized how dependent I had become on using a wiki, both to prepare for class as well as in class. Each week, I would create a new agenda page and share that with my students. While I could share links in Edmodo, I switched to a Google Doc for the agenda, and that was confusing to many students. In other words, I didn’t find an easy way to put a weekly agenda up and — while I had placed a link to the agenda in Edmodo, asked them to save the doc in their own Google Drive, and sent a link out each week — the document itself became overwhelming. There may have been an easy workaround for this, however that was not the major concern that students had.

Second, I populated our course’s feed with two RSS feeds so they could get updates on educational news and events. There were so few posts from class members in between our regular class meetings each week, that these syndicated RSS feeds would essentially “fill” the front page for the class. Students were not interested in or easily able to search for assignments or posts from their classmates. Again, I could’ve turned off the RSS, and I’m sure that some simple tagging and searching skills would’ve made this a moot point, that it was something that bothered students in a way I had set up our Edmodo course.

Finally, when I would go to use Edmodo in class as a way to take notes on course discussions, or invite them to post a piece of writing, again there seemed to be no convenient way to do this. I could take notes in the Google talk and make a link, or in a post, but that seemed to get lost. Also, when I had students write in class and then post to the wall of the Edmodo course, again became quickly filled with posts and made it difficult to see everything directly.

For each of these problems, I’m sure that I could’ve figured out a way around them, and I know that Edmodo recently released an update as well, so perhaps on these issues would be less of a concern. However, for me and the preservice teachers with whom I work, it just wasn’t the right fit. So, this semester I am definitely going back to a wiki and I will be more intentional about the times we use the wiki as compared to when we choose Google docs.

The other good thing about my “fail” is that it has coincided nicely, or at lease given me a great deal of material for, my experience in the High Impact Teaching Academy that I have then participating in at CMU. Once a month, a group of about 10 faculty, graduate students, and a facilitator from our faculty development center have been meeting to discuss issues related to syllabus design, assignments, implementing writing, assessment, integrating technology, flipping the classroom, and a variety of other topics.

The chance to talk with like-minded colleagues from disciplines across the university has been very valuable. Part of the work that we are doing this year is to create a product that demonstrates substantive change in our teaching practice. I am approaching ENG 315 with a renewed focus the semester, and have created two artifacts over the break that I shared during our first week of class: a “visual syllabus” and this Prezi that outlines my vision for the course. And, I will be moving back to a wiki… so I will share more about thinking later in the semester.

http://prezi.com/embed/c4ld5qdv_vf7/?bgcolor=ffffff&lock_to_path=0&autoplay=no&autohide_ctrls=0 Good luck with the new semester and thanks again for sharing your feedback. A number of readers have told me that the comment features on the blog have not been working properly, and I ever moved a number of plug-ins so hopefully commenting will be much easier.

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Making a Change: From Wikis to Social Networking in ENG 315

For the first time in five years, I am starting an ENG 315 course without using a wiki and, instead, will be relying on Edmodo as the primary space for communicating with my students. This is a big pedagogical shift for me, one that (to be honest) invoked a little bit of healthy anxiety when I started teaching a few weeks ago.

Healthy anxiety is good for me as an educator, and since I want to use Edmodo (or educational social networking tools) in smart, creative ways — as well as think carefully about why I have made the shift away from the wiki — I am capturing some of my thinking here.

Wiki Teaching

ENG 315 Wiki Screen Shot
ENG 315 Wiki Screen Shot

My ENG 315 wiki has served many purposes including weekly agendas and assignments, writer’s profile pages, and discussion forums. I appreciate the flexibility that the wiki allows, inviting students to create, share, and comment on work. Also, I encourage students to go back and look at the work submitted in earlier semesters, including a gallery of exceptional work. I would use the wiki to take notes in class, invite responses to discussion prompts, and serve as a space to organize links and other resources. They are able to create links to their Google Docs, but that sometimes works and sometimes (when they forget to make the Docs public) doesn’t work.

The main downfall of the wiki — despite the amount of time that I spend in class to show students how to create new pages, upload files, and find information that I have posted — is that students (at least a few) report that they get “lost” on the wiki. In short, they don’t really know how the architecture of the site works, and they sometimes write over the pages and files of other students, let alone just having trouble getting things posted in the first place. Now, granted, these concerns are usually allayed by the end of the semester, but the general feelings of angst at the beginning of the semester still haunt some of our activities, and I hear about it in my evaluations. They like the wiki, and the integration of technology, but I get the feeling that things could be better.

Switching to Social Networking

ENG 315 Edmodo Screen Shot
ENG 315 Edmodo Screen Shot

So, this past summer I have been thinking quite a bit about how social networks, specifically Edmodo could work as a new pedagogical space. In particular, because it has a mobile app and we can integrate files from other web sources (namely, Google Docs) with ease, I wanted to give it a try. Of course, there is the whole “it looks like FB” approach, and that is something that my students noticed right away as we began last night. Also, their requirements as a part of their teacher ed program have shifted so that they are putting a portfolio online using Mahara, and I think that they could make a link to that easily, too.

I am a bit hesitant, however, because I don’t want to be seen as simply jumping on the social networking bandwagon, nor do I want to give up the viable collaborative features of the wiki so easily. I do worry that the scrolling home screen, with posts disappearing, could cause some difficulty in trying to keep things organized. But, I also think that I will be able to see student work laid out more efficiently by clicking on their name, knowing that they will have attached assignments from their own library to the posts (rather than potentially forgetting links or writing over other files on the wiki). Also, I think that they will be able to share their writing, especially their field notes, in a space that is more comfortable which will, I hope, prompt them to read and respond to one another’s work.

Questions Remaining

So, as I go into this mini teacher-research experiment, I wonder:

  • Will the switch from wikis to social networking have a positive effect on my students’ sense of themselves as technology users?
  • Given my initial nervousness and limited understanding of the Edmodo interface, will I be able to do everything that I have done in the past with wikis in a similar, or at least compatible, manner?
  • Will students feel as invested in creating and maintaining their own “writer’s profile” given that it won’t be as accessible in Edmodo as it is on the wiki (or, at least not as accessible as I imagine it could be)?
  • Will the social network provide more “authentic” opportunities for reading and responding to one another’s work, or will it still be seen as “school” space, only to be used for purposes of class?

Anyone else using Edmodo? Got some tips? Pitfalls to avoid?

Let me know what you are thinking and I will keep coming back to this topic over the course of the semester.

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