Monday, 10 September 2007

Betty Collis Seminar - "Wikis: Flavour of the month or the tool that can change learning.

Heather and i attended this seminar which was organised by Leicester University as they come to the end of their first year of the Phase 1 Academy e-learning pathfinder HEI's.

Betty explained the build up to the seminar by recapping her two previous seminars related to the subject matter. These were I) the identification of a pedagogical approach that could be classified as a "Contributing Pedagogy" (which was not necessarily about any specific technology) and ii) six different surges of technology which all had claims to be the surge (technology) to 'make a fundamental change' to the way we learn. Betty explained how she has over the years used the 4E model to predict whether these new technologies would have a significant impact.

This lead to the main purpose of the seminar, which was to use the 4e Model to predict whether wiki's could make a significant impact. Using the 4E Model Betty was optimistic that wikis could play a significant part in the way people learned. The 'rider' however is that it all depends on the context and she suggests applying the 4e model to your own situation and organisation will have a bearing on how successful wiki implementation can be.

The thrust of the model is that the practitioner should rate the new technology ( in this case) the wiki, for it's educational effectiveness, ease of use and user engagement ( no rating scheme was suggested). If the sum total has a high rating this is a good start, but the next factor is whether the environmental factors, such as technical support, institutional enthusiasm, innovative culture, leadership etc etc also have a high rating to facilitate the successful introduction of wiki technology.

She cited as a very good example was the wiki at 'Shell' the petroleum company, which has over 40,000 workers/users that contribute enthusiastically and voluntary in a number of different ways to make effective use of the wiki resource. Betty also run through many different examples of successful wiki implementations in a teaching and learning context.


For me the seminar highlighted two main points.

  1. Academic Staff are getting advice and encouragement to use wikis for teaching and learning activities, which is fine, but there is great value in the wiki as a professional development tool. This probably needs a lead from the top and a cultural change in the way things are done - If an academic group has the opportunity to step back and re-assess the way they could share work, share knowledge and share tasks in a collaborative, contributing, learning ethos there may be an opportunity to benefit from the power of the group.
  2. Apart from the value of any learning that takes place in a wiki learning task, for students the use of wiki's could well be an important transferable skill for use in their own professional development and future work collaborations.

Leaving the learning aspect aside another point to ponder and was reinforced from some of Betty's examples is that:

  • Wiki's are a good organisational/ administrative tool.

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