Wiki-workshopping: using Wikispaces for peer writing workshops
This project uses the Wikispaces Web platform to facilitate peer writing workshops. Over the course of the semester, students will post drafts of their papers to Wikispaces. Then, students will use the wiki editing tools to revise and comment on peer drafts. Because Wikispaces tracks all revisions, it is possible to view a revised document and also identify which revisions were made by which students. Ultimately, revised documents can be stored as a Web page, allowing each student to use Wikispaces to create an electronic portfolio of her/his writing from the semester.
Since Moffett and Wagner (1968) first suggested the use of peer writing workshops, such activities have come to be viewed as an established and effective classroom practice (Karegianes et al., 1980; Macrorie, 1976). Such workshops provide students the opportunity to receive suggestions from their peers regarding how to improve the quality of their writing. Additionally, the process of editing a peer’s writing leads to reflection and learning on the part of the student editor. However, such processes can be very time consuming. When conducted as an in-class activity, they can use up valuable instructional time. When conducted outside of class, the logistics of printing and distributing copies of student drafts to other group members can be challenging, and incur additional, burdensome, printing costs for students and faculty.
The use of social media such as Wikispaces solves both of these problems, and offers other benefits as well. First, Wikispaces can be used outside of class, thus freeing up valuable instructional time. Second, it allows for drafts to be electronically shared and edited, thus eliminating the need for excessive printing and providing both environmental and financial benefits. Third, Wikispaces tracks the revisions made to the document, allowing the instructor to view which suggestion and edits were made by which students. This tracking feature provides a helpful summary so that the instructor can easily and accurately gauge student involvement in the editing and revising process. Finally, because this activity involves the use of a new media platform, it also has the added benefit of exposing students to the power of Web 2.0 technologies. As such, while this activity primarily serves the purpose of helping students become better writers, it also helps students to develop basic media literacy competencies which are very important to twenty-first century life (Jenkins, 2006).
2. Spend a class period demonstrating how the peer writing workshop process works, and explaining specific issues that students should address after reading their peers’ papers. Students are instructed to
3. Spend approximately half of a class period demonstrating how to access and use Wikispaces, and teaching students how to post their own paper, and revise and comment on a peer’s paper (see below). While this Web platform is very easy to use, students may be intimidated by the technology and require specific instructions.
To include comments or suggestions, highlight the word or sentence about which you would like to comment, then click on the “Comment” icon. This will open a new box in which you can type your comment. After you are finished, click “Save” in the comment box.
After you are finished correcting the paper and providing relevant comments, click “Save” in the menu bar. This will save a revised version of the paper, but mark all changes as highlighted text so that the author can identify areas that you have edited.
After opening the first revised version of your paper, you will notice that all changes are highlighted. Now, compare the revisions against your original draft to determine if these changes should be adopted in the final version of your paper.
Respond to each change or correction made by your peers by highlighting the word or sentence about which you would like to comment, then clicking on the “Comment” icon. This will open a new box in which you can type your reply. After you are finished, click “Save” in the comment box.
Wikispaces is a powerful, yet easy-to-use platform that allows multiple users to edit and refine a document or Web page. As such, it is an excellent tool for collaborative work, and provides an easy platform for students to access, edit, revise, or provide comments regarding peer writing. Further, because Wikispaces will track all revisions made by all users, it is possible for the instructor to have a summary of which students were most actively involved in the online workshop. Additionally, Wikispaces can be used to create an electronic writing portfolio. After the revision and rewriting process is complete, students can post a final version of their essay and save this as a separate Web page that can be accessed by either specific users or the general public.
Admittedly, Wikispaces is not the only technology that can make Web-based, out-of-class writing workshops possible. For instance, Google Docs could be used, and students could be provided with passwords to access the documents that contain their peers’ writing assignments. Or, files could be distributed by email, and the “track changes” feature of Microsoft Word could be used to provide comments and suggestions.
Nevertheless, because Wikispaces is extremely easy to use, accessible from any computer with an Internet connection, does not require the sharing of documents via email or discussion boards, and can be used to create a Web-based writing portfolio, it is an ideal platform to use for out-of-class writing workshops.
Such an activity could be adapted for other writing projects as well. Because Wikispaces facilitates collaboration, it could be used to help students complete group writing assignments in a wide variety of disciplines. Or, wiki technologies could be used by student newspaper editors and faculty advisors who need to collaborate with student reporters during the writing process.
Typically, students are very hesitant to provide constructive criticism to their peers, and what criticism is provided is often very superficial in nature (Beaven, 1977; Nilson, 2003; Pianko & Radzik, 1980). This is, at least in part, due to two reasons: insufficient experience, which makes it difficult to identify problems, and the fear of offending a peer. Simply moving the activity online does not instantly resolve those issues. Additionally, students are sometimes intimidated by the thought of using Web-based tools, and instinctively resist learning to use a new technology.
However, all of these challenges can be addressed by the instructor. Skillful classroom instruction can minimize or eliminate these problems. As such, a critical component of this exercise is to make sure that adequate time is spent teaching students about how the peer-writing workshop works, and explaining the type of issues to look for when reading and editing their peers’ writing (Lam, 2010).
Additionally, instructing students how to use Wikispaces is also necessary. It is easy for instructors to assume that students—many of whom were born into the “Net Generation”—are digital natives, and naturally comfortable with Web-based technologies such as Wikispaces. This is not, however, the case. Research has shown that students are frequently involved in basic Web-based activities, like using email or streaming video, yet only rarely engage in more involved activities such as blogging or Web design (Kennedy et al., 2007). As such, it is important to spend class time explaining how Wikispaces works, helping students create their account, and make initial postings.
Thus, an investment of time is needed prior to initiating wiki-workshops. However, after students understand the process, wiki-workshops ultimately become a time-saver over the course of the semester. Students can effectively and efficiently engage in peer workshop activities outside of class, and the instructor can easily monitor student involvement without using valuable class time.
Beaven, M. Individualized goal setting, self-evaluation, and peer evaluation. In: Cooper C., Odell L., eds. Evaluating Writing: Describing, Measuring, Judging. Urbana, IL: National Council for Teachers of English; 1977:135–156.
Kennedy, G., Krause, K., Judd, T., Churchward, A., Gray, K., Digital Natives + Others = First Year Students. Educause, Boulder, CO, 2007. Available from www.caudit.edu.au/educauseaustralasia07/authors.papers/kennedy.ppt