Wiki Woes

After a recent triumph in which many members of the class leapt at the wiki that we’d been introduced to, a second lesson in which we used it fell very flat. I’m trying to work out exactly why, and I think I may have hit upon the reason. The lesson was designed to use the mind-map / wiki interface to encourage students to make ‘links’ between factors and events to do with solving three main problems of the development of surgery, pain, blood-loss and infection.

Frankly, I was so amazed at the possibilities of the tool that Jane has introduced me to that I fell into the trap that we all do with computers from time to time; namely that if I put the children in front of a PC, give them some textbooks and a ‘task’ to carry out, they will learn. So we made a lovely mind map, in which the factors and the problems were set out. We then ushered in the students, acted out an amputation to illustrate the problems faced by 19th century surgery patients and plonked them in front of the PCs with the phrase ‘go for it’ ringing in their ears.

They didn’t go for it. Though, to be fair, they struggled on willingly, asking ‘so, are we learning about the problems or about the factors?’, or ‘why are we looking at links?’, or even ‘what do I type’. So, why had it not worked?

  1. We had created a very concrete set of problems (pain, blood loss and infection) – which they were emotionally engaged with, having seen an amputation performed on a classmate. Yet, when we asked them to work, it was at a very abstract level (‘how did the factor ‘war’ affect the development of surgery’);
  2. They didn’t know very much at all about the development of surgery, having never studied it before; and
  3. I hadn’t thought carefully about what I wanted the students to be able to do, or to know by the end of the lesson. Instead I hoped that the ‘coolness’ of the wiki would help them to learn ‘about factors and the development of medicine’.

So where do we go from here? I think that we use the same class, and we give them a very concrete task, each, one per individual pupil. This will give them knowledge about one aspect of the development of surgery. We then ask them to write about their piece of knowledge on the wiki, and to think carefully if it links with any of the factors. If it does then they should make an explanation of that link on their page, and to hyperlink to the relevant factor from within that explanation. This will

  1. give them a concerete area of knowledge to work on;
  2. ask them to think about factors in relation to something that they know about;
  3. require them to think about why they want to make a link.

There might also be scope for them to use the wiki as a guide to who they might speak to in the class about other topics in order to be able to clarify their thoughts on something – so they could collaborate on each other’s pages – perhaps some time set aside for wandering around the class to do this. Still thinking about this, will post more if I have any bright ideas!

Ps. I wonder if I’m the only person blogging about technology in education that writes ‘why didn’t that work?’ posts?! Pps anyone out there want to code an interface between a web-based mind mapping application and a wiki that automatically creates a wiki-page when a node or link is created on the mind-map?!

4 thoughts on “Wiki Woes

  1. I’m sure there are people out there writing ‘why it didn’t work’ posts! I bet there are a few writing ‘why it didn’t work’ doctorates!
    We do indeed need to give them something more concrete to work on. Also – how about we draw a ‘target’ map before class (i.e. imagining what the students will put on the map) – that may clarify issues to us that we would (demonstrably) otherwise overlook. That may help with the planning.
    It really takes a lot of figuring out before you can use a tool like this for something it actually supports! But I think we might just get there.

Leave a Reply