Models for Activities, Collaboration and Assessment in Wiki in Academic Courses

Edna Tal-Elhasid and Hagit Meishar-Tal, The Open University of Israel


In the academic year 2005/2006, the Open University launched a pilot project for the integration of Wiki environments into course instruction. Teaching coordinators who expressed an interest in integrating Wiki into their courses were identified. Coordinators were given the freedom to design learning activities in the Wiki environment based on their individual understanding and approach. In this paper, we present the models developed at the Open University in the course of the pilot, and analyze the differences between the models and the nature of activities that took place in these courses.


In recent years, different technologies have emerged on the Internet that enable self-creation of content by Internet users. One of these technologies is Wiki, a system and a method for building and managing databases and websites in which content is written and edited by users. This technology has great potential for implementing collaborative learning processes in online learning environments (Tal-Elhasid & Meishar-Tal, 2006).

In the academic year 2005/2006, the Open University set out to examine the potential of using Wiki for teaching needs, with the aim of cultivating new models for online collaborative learning. At the outset, teaching coordinators who expressed an interest in integrating a Wiki environment into their course were identified. The coordinators received training for operating Wiki, and pedagogic consulting in designing and tutoring online activities in Wiki. Thirteen course coordinators from different disciplines enrolled in the project, and sixteen Wiki environments were opened over the course of two semesters in the 2005/2006 academic year.

Work models in Wiki

The first signs of Wiki integration in academia are emerging in different academic institutions. Wiki is being used by the teaching faculty for course development, as a means of documenting lectures given in courses, as a tool for conducting ongoing communication between students, as a substitute for a course website, etc. (Bruns & Hamphreys, 2005; Rick et al, 2002; Schwartz et. al, 2004). Various types of activities have been developed following the integration of Wiki in teaching and learning; for example, collaborative writing intended to improve writing skills (Forte & Bruckman, 2006), joint editing of coursebooks (Ravid & Rephaeli, 2006) and the creation of an environment for writing collaborative assignments (Bruns & Hamphreys, 2005). Varied learning activities were developed at Georgia College (A Catalog of CoWeb uses, 2000).

In examining the first year of the pilot at the Open University, four main models for Wiki integration, developed in various courses, can be identified (diagram 1):

Diagram 1: Distribution of Wiki use models

Wiki-glossary: students were asked to suggest terms that appear in study topics, to write definitions for these terms and to improve and enhance the definitions suggested by the other students in the course.

Text analysis: in courses that used this model, students split into work teams comprised of 2-4 students, with each group responsible for analyzing a specific article based on pre-defined criteria. At the end of the process, the students benefited from a database of analyzed articles, the product of their collaborative efforts.

Inquiry-based learning: students prepared inquiry studies on various topics and published them in the Wiki environment.

Solutions to questions: in several courses students were invited to collaborate in answering tutor assignment questions or solving questions from "example tests" in preparation for the final exam.

Collaborative models

One of the major advantages of working in a Wiki environment is the ability to work together on the material. Pedagogically, this platform can be used for different models of online collaborative learning. Three Wiki collaboration models emerged in the pilot (diagram 2):

Diagram 2: Wiki collaboration models

Cooperation (1): the simplest collaborative model (Dillenbourg, 1999; Schneider et. al, 2003) and the basis for all the other models. In this model, most of the work is performed individually. Every student creates a Wiki page, writing and editing only his/her page and share his/her product with his peers.

Collaboration and Cooperation (2): in this model, the degree of collaboration is higher than in the previous model, because all students are required to work together on the same content, in groups or as one group, and to edit and improve it together (Dillenbourg, 1999; Schneider et. al, 2003). This model is the most suitable for work in a Wiki environment, taking advantage of the uniqueness of the environment - the ability to jointly edit documents. Creating a glossary is a good example of this model. Students must enter definitions of the terms in the database and the other students are asked to edit the definition. The full glossary serves the students as a source of additional knowledge, and supports their course studies.

Cooperation, Collaboration and Peer-Assessment (3): in the final model, the most complex of all, collaboration is implemented with respect to all dimensions: product, process and assessment. Students work in groups or alone, upload information to Wiki, edit each other's products and provide peer feedback about the parts that they did not write (Dominick, Reilly & McGourty, 1997; Morgan & O'reilly, 1999).

Experience gained in planning and teaching assignments, using the above-mentioned models, leads to the conclusion that the greater the collaboration complexity, the more detailed planning of the assignment is required. It is mainly important to take into consideration the number of students in the course, the scope of the assignment and the method of assessment of the students' work. The topic of the assignments should be sufficiently broad and varied to enable each student to contribute and offer something new, and to prevent the possibility of a student "monopolizing" the assignment, so that all students can contribute. It is vital to find ways to encourage collaboration between students such that they will benefit from collaboration and in order to prevent competition.

Mandatory or optional?

One of the characteristics distinguishing the various activities developed in Wiki was the designation of an activity as mandatory, optional or enriching.

Many teaching coordinators were reluctant to ask students to participate in assignments that demanded extensive computer access and an unfamiliar work method. Consequently, these teaching coordinators preferred non-mandatory activities. In six of the sixteen courses in the pilot project (37%), Wiki activities were mandatory, compared to optional or enrichment activities in the remaining courses.

A comparison of Wiki activity participation rates in the courses, with respect to the three types of activities – showed the highest participation rate in courses with mandatory activities (diagram 3):

Diagram 3: Distribution of percentage of students participating in Wiki by activity type

We can conclude from these findings that choosing an online collaborative activity is not a natural choice for students. If the assignment is not mandatory, students will not choose to participate of their own free will. Nevertheless, an examination of student satisfaction in courses with mandatory assignments in a Wiki environment indicated that the satisfaction level from the assignment was significantly high, and that students even recommended integrating Wiki assignments into other courses. (Tal & Tal, 2006).

Assessment models

The process of assessing student participation in Wiki requires advance planning because of the complexity of the activity, and must address both the content goals and the collaboration model defined by the teaching planner. Three axes can be identified, with each axis representing a continuum of an activity assessment component: group/individual assessment axis, product/process assessment axis and quantitative/qualitative assessment axis.

Group assessment versus assessing individual contribution: in an activity that involves collaboration, it is customary to provide group assessment, in which all activity participants are assessed as one entity and receive an identical grade. One of the advantages of the Wiki environment for assessment purposes is that it allows the option of isolating the individual contribution of every participant to the final product. By generating a "User contributions" report, it is possible to trace back all actions of individual participants and track their activities. Increased use of individual assessment, and ignoring group assessment, may create a situation in which an assignment intended to be collaborative will be perceived by the students as competitive. To prevent such a situation, measures of both individual and group assessment should be used in determining the final grade.

Product assessment versus work process assessment: assessing an online collaborative activity can refer to assessing the quality of the final product and/or assessing the work process. Assessing the product quality is relatively simple and clear. The written text must be assessed as if it was written by one individual, using accepted methods for assessing individual assignments. Assessing a process is more complex, and must address issues such as: how was the product created, how many individuals were involved in creating the product and who are those individuals, what was the level of collaboration between them, at what rate and in what sequence was the product created, etc – all depending on the activity goals and the collaboration model selected in advance.

For example, in activities based on the cooperation model, product assessment may be emphasized because in this model, process collaboration is not required. On the other hand, in the collaboration model, in which close collaboration is required at the assignment writing stage, giving weight to process assessment and to the level of collaboration between the participants should be considered.

To increase collaboration, it is recommended to give weight to the process collaboration level in grading the assignment and to encourage students to edit texts created by other users.

Quantitative assessment versus qualitative assessment: an activity performed in a computer environment can be assessed in two ways: quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitative measurement pertains to the volume of activities, the number of items created by users, the number of items edited and the editing frequency. Quantitative measurement is very important in defining the framework of the activities required by students and as an instrument for administering and managing Wiki assignments. One of the problems that may develop in collaborative work is the monopolization of the activity by a small number of students. By defining the minimum and maximum activities expected of students, such behaviour can be prevented, ensuring personal expression to every participant. Wiki offers the capability to generate reports that present the volume of activities according to various cross-sections (contents, dates and users) and to use them as the basis for quantitative assessment.

Summary and conclusions

The Wiki project implemented at the Open University in the 2005/2006 academic year revealed several interesting online collaborative learning work models, various collaboration models, several commitment levels of students with respect to Wiki activities and a number of issues to be considered in assessing the activity. These four characteristics can serve as tools for developing a learning activity in a Wiki environment.

Individuals planning teaching activities must define in advance the type of final product the students must produce, the work process, the collaboration level involved and the way in which student activities in the Wiki environment will be assessed. The planning process must also take into consideration the students' commitment level to the activity, in other words whether the activity is mandatory or optional.

Thus, it is important to specify an indicator (system of criteria) for the assignment, which the students receives in advance and which the individual checking the assignment will use to identify, assess and grade each student's unique contribution to the joint product. In designing an assignment, the following recommendations should be taken into consideration:

  • To ensure student participation in the activity, planners should not be apprehensive of mandatory activities. In the eyes of the students, optional activities are not perceived to be as "attractive" as mandatory activities.
  • To increase the participation rate on the one hand, and to limit "monopolizing" students on the other hand, it is important to define the minimum and maximum number of new information items each student can upload to the system.
  • To encourage student collaboration, the mutual editing activity should be defined as part of the assignment requirements and should comprise a component of the grade for the activity.
  • To ensure that all students receive a grade corresponding to their relative contribution to the final product, while being committed to the group product and not functioning only on an individual basis, it is recommended to include the students' individual contribution, as well as the quality of the group product, as components of the final grade.


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