Monday, February 16, 2009

Wikis in collaborative writing

I haven’t created a wiki yet (hopefully will, as soon as possible) although  I have contributed to the wikis other people have done. According to all that I have seen so far, wikis are obviously a great tool which can really help students not only to learn, make progress and see the progress,  but in this way wikis can  assist  them to become more aware of their own learning. This is, I think, very important and in this regard  I see a huge role of wikis: it is their contribution to the process of enabling students to become independent learners.

However, I don’t believe that wikis alone will ‘push’ our learners into the deep sea of learning: in order for that to happen the content  should be good,  too. Wikis certainly will be more motivating a tool than a traditional text-book or work-book, for example, but in my opinion it is also very important to use the wikis for activities that are motivating, engaging and worthwhile. So, what matters, as much as the tool itself, would be  the  activities/tasks suggested, the topics suggested/chosen, the instructions/guidelines and help provided by useful references, etc  (apparently, the same as in a f2f classroom).

Having said that, I return to our weekly assignment in Collaborative writing workshop: adding up our sentences in order to make up five stories. They all turned out to be  a kind of “creative writing” pieces, deliberately or not, I don’t know. I agree that collaborative writing may have the potential to produce fantastic results in creative writing, and so have the wikis in providing the platform for collaboration. However,  I think that something was missing there.

I may be wrong and I would not like this to sound as criticism but rather as a lesson to learn from (at the end of the day, we are all learners, aren’t we?): I think that  we should have done something before we started adding our sentences. What kind of writing are we going to produce? What are our preferences (creative? formal/transactional? which topics would be interesting to explore in such a task? etc.)  Or, we could have been given pictures or a thought provoking article as a starting point.  These are just some suggestions (they can be suggestions for the use of wikis in a language class as well).

Creative writing is usually preceded by extensive brainstorming, and so is the formal essay writing. It may seem difficult to induce brainstorming among people in such a diverse  group from all different parts of the world, but wikis might be just an ideal tool for the kind of brainstorming needed in collaborative writing. So, this would be my suggestion for some future collaborative writing group task: use wikis to brainstorm the topics, ideas, negotiate them, select the best or the most inspirational ones, group them, decide on the ones suited to most participants, etc. And only then start the actual activity of  (collaborative) writing. I am quite sure that the results would be much more interesting and the activity itself enjoyable. 

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