pedagogical wiki

This is an extract of the project that I submitted to West Chester University (my University).
Friday 26 March 2010. Click on the picture to download the document.
Limited_Open_Collaborative_Active_Learning.pdf

TECHNOLOGY BEYOND BORDERS

PROPOSAL: LOCAL

for Limited Open Collaborative Active Learning.

Author: Jean-Pierre Redonnet
Date: March 26, 2010

Abstract

Local is a learning solution where instructors of the same teaching field and same university and students of the concerned universities join their efforts to create a common pedagogical knowledge base.

The foundation is a wiki application where the authorized contributors can submit texts, photos, audios, videos, flash animation (interactive exercises created with Adobe Flash CS4) and any other kind of files. The quality of each contribution is guaranteed through peer and instructors-students reviews and comments, a rating system (level of difficulty, of interest, of relevance, of quality), and the display of the contributor names.

The advantages of this academic wiki are that the students are actively involved in the learning process because they create their own teaching materials, they make them evolve in the direction of their desires, of their needs. They can add new topics, new exercises, explanations, examples, change the presentation (students can be graded & rewarded upon their contributions).

Another interesting point is that the instructors can share easily their course materials.

1. INTRODUCTION

This project is based on wiki applications that are the most convenient tool for collaborative work. The attractiveness of wikis is the possibility to create or edit web pages collaboratively and easily by any visitor [1] at any place, without special knowledge of html codes [2] and without specific software needs other than a web browser.

Because wikis are both a source of knowledge and a tool for collaborative authoring where visitors and contributors are freely engaged in dialogs and information sharing, wikis can be considered as a constructivism learning environment. Furthermore, the record of each individual changes that occurs over time, and the possibility to revert these changes to a previous state assure a pretty good protection against vandalism attempts.

The qualities of Wikis attract more and more instructors, particularly in order to engage the students in an active and collaborative learning. Blackboard like other LMS/LMCS integrate a wiki but with some inherent limitation due to their integration.

The goal is to overcome the current limitation of wikis and particularly wikis integrated in learning management softwares. A new wiki named here ACCADEMIC WIKI will keep a simple markups language but will integrate all the multimedia possibilities, will have a users and groups permission management [3], will be able to track the contributions of each visitor and group, will have a rating system, a peer or student-instructor review and approving [4], these are for the main possibilities.

Furthermore, this wiki will be a common pedagogical knowledge base where the contributions will be cumulative. It is intended to be shared between the faculty members and the students over an indefinite period of time.

Finally, the wiki should be viewable on handheld devices.

2. ACCADEMIC WIKI

2.1 TECHNICAL ASPECTS

The choice of a wiki is especially important for the perenity of the information and its usability for a long period of time. This wiki will be based on an existing open source free wiki engine. The reasons are the code will need to be modified to implement the new functionalities. The modification will be done progressively and ideally the wiki should get the new features by plugins. The number of open source wikis is important, currently there are more than 40 free and open source wikis using a database to store the pages. For instance jspwiki already includes an access control list (ACL) [5] , accepts embedded flash and video through plugins and is written is java. TikiWiki offers the same features as jspwiki but is written in php by a large community of developers (~400). Twiki is a structured wiki. In another hand, mediawiki [6] offers less possibilities than the two others but is proven robust as engine of wikipedia. The choice of a wiki engine will be conditioned by its ability to embed easily the flash, video, audio players, to manage the users and groups permissions, to attach file to entries, to be mobile friendly.

The main drawback of current wikis is that they have their own lightweight markup language; it makes the migration to another wiki engine difficult. This is another reason that makes the choice of the right wiki important.

The last technical point is to decide where the wiki will be hosted. The data will grow up quickly, particularly because the wiki will accept the video files. If we estimate 500 MB per hr [7], a pretty common 1TB HD can just store approx. 1500 hrs of video that is not very impressive. In consequence, it will be required to add regularly some new storage capacity. Fortunately, the storage cost per MB will continue drop, some discipline will required to not store faster than the storage increase. The project will start in the foreign languages department, and we could start with a server exclusively devoted to the Wiki. Wikis are easier to install and maintain on Linux server [8] but Microsoft Server is perfectly possible too. The server could be installed next the Langlabserver for instance. During the first step, only students on the campus will have access to this server, but the goal is to make the wiki accessible from the public internet as soon as it will be possible to do it.

2.2 PEDAGOGICAL ASPECTS

Based on a contructivism and collaborative approach, the students will have a large liberty to structure the information, the instructors playing the role of advisor or guide.

To avoid the stress of the white page, outlines and templates will be available (created by the instructors). Collaboratively, students and instructors will work together in the building of a pedagogical knowledge base. The strength of a Wiki is there is not a predefined schema in representation in the knowledge and furthermore many can run concurrently. For instance, for the French department (I'm currently teaching French :-) we can imagine a some course structures like these one:

French tourism & geography ---> Guide ---> 
    !
    ! --> Useful & basic sentences  ----> sentence constructions ---> grammar rules
    !                                              !---> vocabulary    
    !                                                                                 
French culture & arts ----> Literature ---> Fairy tales ---> sentence constructions
     !                           !                         !                              !----> vocabulary
     !                           !                         !---> Poetry -->
     !                           !------> Culinary art ---> Recipes ---> sentence constructions
                                 !                                                    !----> vocabulary
                                 !-------> Cinematographic art ---> Dialogues ---->

The hypertext is another possibility of the Wiki allowing to navigate from to topic to topics, to discover new subjects and finally to enjoy learning. For instance, a page concerning the life of the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier will have links to pages concerning the chemistry, life of Louis Pasteur will have links with health sciences…

The most important difference of this pedagogical wiki with 'traditional wikis' will be the training exercises and learning games (developed in flash for instance) embedded in the pages. So pages will contain texts, hyper-links and pictures or drawing of course (classic), but short video and audio too (less common) and interactive exercises or games (original). Finally, the possibility to attach file to some entries will be used to provide the course documents or any documents of reference.

3. CONCLUSION

This pedagogical wiki will be based on existing open source wiki engines (for a fast implementation).
The originality is in the interactive and funny exercises (embedded flash animation).
The students will construct their own courses guided by their instructors.
It will promote the French department and the university because the wiki will be referenced in the search engines.
It will progressively cover all the departments because the easiness the instructors will have to share their course documents (files repository), their ideas (pages brainstorms).
These wikis will replace all these boring and too linear textbooks.

Note:
[1] creation and edition can be limited to group of users. : full source reference
[2] wikis use a simplified markup languages and some wikis propose a basic wysiwyg editor.
[3] ACL Access control lists (permission to read, write, delete pages, files for each user or group)
[4] articles approved like for Citizendium.
[5] An ACL gives a fine-grained permissioning control. You can set up lists of users (perhaps in groups or roles) who are allowed to access to certain parts of your wiki, for operations such as viewing, editing, creating new pages, etc.
[6] http://www.wikihow.com is powered by Mediawiki and allows embedded video.
[7] low resolution, low frame rate, H.264 video codec.
[8] LAMP (Linux-Apache-MySQL-PHP) server
[9] Files can be stored in a shared folders (an internal files repository in the server) and they will be linked to the pages of the wiki.

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