Wikis for Collaborative Student Writing  

The students in Janice Lawrence’s third year Virology class collectively work to create a bank of online definitions using a kind of website called a ‘wiki’. Lawrence said she was inspired to foster collaborative student writing after discovering that the textbook for her UNB Fredericton course came without a glossary.

‘Wikis’ are collaborative websites that allow users to freely modify the site’s content. For Lawrence’s virology class, her students each submit and edit four definitions worth ‘small stakes points.’ Each student has a unique login which allows her to monitor a participation list and see the activity of each user. Through the term her students work collectively to create a bank of definitions they think are important to know. They make what Lawrence describes as a “comprehensive, living breathing glossary.”

Giving her students the opportunity to work together provides benefits that extend far beyond the classroom: “With the internet, there is too much information for one student to handle… and especially in science, people don’t work in isolation. Collaboration is the direction of the future.”Students planning to meet on the wiki's discussion forum

Lawrence initially tried suggesting to her students that they independently write their own glossaries of definitions. However, these soon proved impractical; she had around a dozen students asking her to review several hundred terms each. Because of the self directed nature of the platform Lawrence can now see concepts students are struggling to understand without being ‘pushy.’ She says content editing also helps her students to develop critical thinking skills and become familiar with using on online sharing platform. 

The wikis have been a success with Lawrence’s classes. “Some students even request continued access to the wikis after they have finished the course,” she says. And since the success of using wikis in her own class, other instructors are also beginning to use the technology. One of Lawrence’s colleagues is currently using wikis and another has implemented a wiki to facilitate the development of new curricula for the Biology Department.

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