Wikis supporting authentic, collaborative activities: lessons from distance education

Thomas, Pete; King, David; Minocha, Shailey and Taylor, Josie (2008). Wikis supporting authentic, collaborative activities: lessons from distance education. In: Proceedings of the 15th Association for Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C 2008): Rethinking the digital divide, 9-11 Sep 2008, University of Leeds, England, UK, pp. 74–83.



The Open University delivers distance learning to its students. Traditionally, its students work independently of each other. Looking to enhance their students learning, two postgraduate courses have introduced authentic, collaborative activities. This is easier to achieve now because of the availability of wikis: a lightweight, web-based collaborative authoring environment. This paper examines the effect of the wikis’ functionality on the students’ use of the tool, and the consequences for the students’ engagement with the activities and learning opportunities. This is a relatively large scale study involving 56 wikis produced by over 250 students. The data was drawn from the two courses using a variety of methods. A qualitative inductive analysis was used to look for emergent themes. These were validated by cross referencing, to match recorded comments with wiki content. We found that the limited functionality of wikis influenced how students engaged with the collaborative activities. While all groups were able to collaboratively author the documents required for assessment, they were not always produced in the way intended by the course teams. This meant the expected benefits of collaborative learning were not always realised. This paper will be of interest to academics aspiring to employ wikis on their courses and to practitioners who wish to realise the potential of wikis in facilitating information sharing and fostering collaboration within teams.

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