PLN Day 34.5: My Definition of a “Good” Wiki Inquiry Project

15 02 2010

So I added my class’s five wikis onto Google Reader.  Who knew I could do that?  I read the wikis and explored some of the links, many of which are amazingly helpful.  I have not given explicit instructions or expectations for how the groups should go about their wikis, largely because this is so new to me that I didn’t know what instructions to give or what I should expect.  I think I have a better idea now after seeing the five groups go about things in different ways.

To review, my class generated questions they had about reading, organized them into headings according to their own powers of discretion, and then went about using their PLNs to get those questions answered.  It could be called a webquest, except that in addition to the web they could use people, books, and anything else to help bring light to their area of inquiry, so it should be properly called a “PLN wikiinquiry.”  Kudos to the whole class for hitting the ground running, and I am happy with all of your progress in this area of great experimentation.

Here is what makes a good wiki inquiry project, in my opinion:

1.   I like how Amber Henry, Brianna Rafferty, Brittany McHale, Laura Young and Rae Thiesen’s Wiki found many resources to explore their questions, as did all the groups, but when you go to their wiki they help you get oriented.  Whenever possible, they give an overview of the important information, and then they might guide you to a link and give you some sense of whether it’s useful or not. Some other wikis just had lots of links, but this gets rather dreary after awhile.  Sometimes I clicked the link and it was a link to NCTE’S homepage, which is the equivalent of asking, how do you solve a differential equation, only to go onto a wiki and having someone put a link to a math textbook.  The information is buried.  Wouldn’t it be better if someone defined what a differential occasion was, maybe gave some examples, maybe something about how to teach differential equations, and then said, it’s all there and more in this link to an online math textbook, if you go to these pages.

2.  None of the groups did a good job of this in my opinion, but a good inquiry should be exploding with new questions, subquestions, problems, related areas of interest, and so on.  The more you know, the more questions you should have.  I would venture that a good inquiry is defined not by the answers it provides, but by the increasing complexity of its questions.

3.  Jessie Bindrim, Colin Hill, Elizabeth Bartles and Lisa Angelucci’s wiki had their categories in the left margin, which aided in navigation.

4.  A wiki should have a specific impossible-to-be-confused-about-what-it-is-about title with your names in an obvious place.

5.  An inquiry should be thorough and rather dogged in its pursuit of resources related to the topic.  (“What is a dog?” should not be accompanied with a link to clip art featuring a dog.  Whew, that was easy, that question is answered.  Of course that’s an exaggeration — or is it? Some of these questions have fifty books written about them and a single blog post is meant to answer the question in its entirety.)  That’s too superficial.  Also, we set up these PLNS and when all of your answers come from about.com you might not be calling on the sorts of experts you need.  Use your resources, and post questions.  In the next ten minutes, you could put all of your ten questions on the English Companion Ning.  In days you would get a dozen great responses.

6.  Mainly, is the wiki useful to you?  To your classmates?  To a teacher you’ve never met? Meaning, can I build on what you’ve done?  If I feel I have to start over and cover the terrain all over again on my own, then your guidance has not been especially helpful. Please remember to leave lots of breadcrumbs and signposts and even reflections so that we know where you’ve been and where best to concentrate our energies. Even moments when you are not sure about something is worth mentioning.  Also, you can say “this question is terrible, it should be phrased as “_____.”

7.  A wiki needs teamwork and communication.

8.  A wiki needs a fair division of labor.  There are ways for an assessor to track participation and involvement.

9.  An inquiry needs a termination date, where you post what you have so far.

10.  A wiki needs a small group (four or five is ideal).

11.  All five wikis can be combined later to make a custom textbook on the subject of reading.

12.  In general, the wiki should be a document worth reading even before the reader clicks any links.  This means you should be doing everything in your power to make things smoother for your reader.

I welcome any additions or amendments in the comments below.

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4 responses

16 02 2010
jessiebindrim

I see a lot of your disappointment in our wikis being due to an overload of work. Many people are struggling to find new ways to expand their PLN so they can have something to blog about. I’m even reaching a point where I’m running out of steam on it. But this primary focus is putting the wikispaces on a back-burner. There is a copious amount of reading that goes into the wiki and into the PLN (blogs especially) and that’s on top of our reading for the class and the reading for the rest of our classes (which are generally all English classes!) I think for future semesters you may want to stagger the “assignments” or give the details you did above at the beginning, with a given due date- it ups the priority of the task on everyone’s “to do” list.

16 02 2010
Jason Whitney

Those are all very good suggestions. First, I want to be sure to clarify that I am not disappointed in the wikis in the slightest — in fact, the class has turned in some really strong efforts that have instructed me as to how to properly go about things, for which I am grateful. Thanks to your suggestions, this term I will now add the wikispaces projects into the course as scheduled homework assignments, and not as something freeform and arbitrary, something additional — though I believe that the Blogs will still need regular care and service. I mostly see the frustration as a case of students who want to do everything that’s required, but the demands of the various projects are heavy and a little too open-ended. So I’ll take some of the load off and clarify timelines and expectations, because I respect your concerns and am willing to alter LLED 420 because I feel that to address them will improve the course.
As far as the many who are struggling to find new ways to expand a PLN so they “can have something to Blog about” — that is disappointing.
This course had previously been about as organized and procedural a course as you can find at the 400 level, and students loved that about it. The reason I went into this very experimental mode, and the reason I adopted technology is that I saw the potential in PLNs to get students to do something that in my opinion most weren’t doing in a meaningful way — which is to activate and develop their own independent network of resources and people, instead of (half, or incompletely, or blithely, half-heartedly, in a whiny way) adopting my own.
Of course I knew from the beginning that I’d be figuring this out right beside you all. From the beginning I’ve asked for input about how to negotiate that process, and so if the class is grumbling, by all means let them speak if they have something to say, just as forthrightly as you have. As long as they have as impressive a record as you have, with your good Blog, and it is apparent that they are acting in good faith and have made an honest effort, instead of just expressing contempt for the whole process — I’ll be more than accomodating.
I always have this competing impulse — the first is the desire to have a class gel and come together and love the whole process (and let’s be honest here — to like me), and the other is to be damn sure that I am satisfied with my students’ progress. Of late I’ve been willing to trade the former for the latter.

16 02 2010
what to do about the rubric? « Mysteries and Meaning in Education

[…] from where I’ve started. I don’t have any alternatives, but I have new ideas (and my professor, Jason Whitney, will be glad to hear this — new […]

16 02 2010
lisaangelucci

So you’re like the Machiavelli of education?

I read this entry after I wrote my most recent blog post (published tonight, 2/16) and I have some thoughts on #2 — about the questions. I actually mentioned this in my post tonight, because what you describe is exactly what happened to me when I set out to find answers to the most recent question I had.

I’ve started keeping a word document where I write all of the questions I have that I want to explore on my blog, and any links or bits and pieces I’ve found that are relevant, so that when I have time to write a blog (cause, wow, so time-consuming. I’m still working on getting my blog to be something I am proud of, but the writing I have that I’m truly satisfied with takes hours to put together) I have a file of ideas that I can refer to for material. The more I look into those questions, the less I have answers. I’m ending up with more questions. It’s disconcerting, almost, but I’m getting into it.

For me, the difference between the blog questions and the wiki questions is that the wiki is less organic. The blog questions I’ve come up with and explored on my own, while I am taking a more task-oriented approach to the wiki (which, truthfully, I’ve completely neglected for about two weeks). With the wiki, I’m focused on just finding answers to the questions that are there and getting on with my life. With my blog, I am approaching it as a more open-ended process and letting the questions come on their own.

Um so I don’t know that I have any particular purpose in explaining that because I don’t think it’s the project that needs to change but my own thinking. But maybe it’s helpful for you to know where we are with this. I don’t know. I’m sleepy and shouldn’t do schoolwork so late at night.

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