Wikis should be great tools for building student-project documentation, right? They should also be great tools within businesses. But they aren't getting used as much as the proponents think they should.
A reader asked me a question about using wikis for student group projects. I have some ideas, but I'd love to hear from my readers with suggestions as well.
[I am working on a Senior Design* course in chemical engineering.] We have encouraged the students to post their work on wikis created for each project. The quality of these postings is generally not very good. Are there some papers, etc that might help the next years students do a better job of collaboration via this (or other) computer technique?
The question isn't "how to make it work better" but step bask and ask, "What is going to be different if the team uses Tool X (wiki, blog, Blackboard or some other tool)?" Or maybe, "What problem are you solving?" Then check out the tools to see whether they actually solve the problem at hand.
My basic view on this is that, while they may be interesting, wikis aren't that much different from any other mechanism for a team to share information with one another. Without the web, it is sitting in a room together and doling out responsibilities for who does what: reports, research, experiments, etc. Now, of course, some of this can be done online -- and you can start sharing it with others: the team, the professor, classmates and even other schools. As I've observed it, most teams don't get why this would be valuable to their result criteria: getting the project out the door / getting the grade at the end of the semester. So the job of the manager (professor) is to set out expectations on using the tools at hand.
Wikis or blogs can be very nice project reporting tools. Give the students / team some structure (and requirements) around how to report their project progress, and they should be able to succeed. Blogs could work this way too, if you are expecting more personal status updates.
- My summary of a forced blogging experiment in a class I taught two years ago: Blogging in a KM class - summary.
- Stewart Mader has a good summary of The State of Wikis in Education. It has several ideas around how to use wikis, but it's missing the "how to make it work better" that the original question asked. He generally writes on the topic on Future Changes and might be a good resource.
- Summary of using a wiki as part of an English class at Bowdoin: How a Wiki affected this class.
- Tom Johnson wrote Using Wikis as Project Documentation Tools two years ago that provides some ideas focused on technical writers.
* For those that don't know, a Senior Design course might be anything from several weeks to a semester to an entire year, depending on the school. It's similar to Capstone projects or a senior thesis, but clearly done as a group project. The idea is to integrate several years of education into a project that highlights many of the aspects of typical engineering problems. Some schools approach this with one, massive project and others do it with many, smaller projects. Sometimes they will use industry experts to help facilitate the process.