Depending on the software used, the particular students enrolled in a course, the course content, and the extent to which the wiki is used (as in a single assignment, or integral to the entire course), the challenges may vary.

Assessment

  • A wiki can be used as a vehicle for group work, and as with all student groups, members are likely to put uneven amounts of effort into the project. This has to be accounted for in some when in grading, but even if it is, it may lead to unhappiness when students realize everyone can tell they are not working (the positive side to this is that it may also lead to peer pressure to do more!).
    • While this is true, the history will denote who has and hasn't contributed and how much. Through the use of a rubric there are many aspects that contribute to a grade. One may be the pure accuracy of content contributed whereas another might be creativity. Someone might contribute very little but be very accurate or very creative in their contributions. Another student may contribute a great deal but not be accurate at all. Who should get the better grade? A rubric allows you to sum up these aspects for all students. It can also allow for students to peer grade within their groups.
  • Wiki projects often require a clearly articulated assessment plan and many times encourage alternative approaches to assessment. For example, to address concerns about uneven distribution of workload, some instructors ask each group member to (privately) assess the contributions of their classmates. Another useful strategy is to ask students to use the history feature to identify a few of their most significant contributions. Providing a space (either within the wiki or elsewhere) for students to document the progress of the collaboration can be helpful as well.
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Audience

  • There is a fine balance to walk between making everything public (so everyone has access to all data, for example), and keeping it private (as with data that includes human subjects). This is most easily solved by either setting up the entire site so passwords are required (which has its own implications of working within a given campus system to link to campus-wide IDs and passwords, and a need for someone to be system administrator to keep up with changes in student enrollments), or using a software that permits page permissions (many apparently do not - this enables the site organizer to identify groups and determine which pages members of each group can access, or can edit).
  • Wikis (and other Web 2.0 technologies) often make it easy to require students to work in a public space. There is continual debate, however, about the student privacy issues involved when making students work in a public space.
  • And there is a similar fine balance to walk between what material should be accessible to the entire group (for examle, data -such as fieldnotes, videotapes, transcripts, and resources - bibliographies and students' notes on readings) and what should not be shared (it may be appropriate for students to not post their analyses of the data, but turn those in as term papers for individual grades). In theory, a wiki permits everyone to see everything, but since we still assign individual grades, some work presumably will normally remain private. Similarly, while it is possible, and perhaps helpful for instructors to provide grade-related feedback within the wiki, there are significant privacy concerns about putting this information in a (semi) public area on a wiki
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Technical Challenges

  • Since it requires a new technology, some class time that might otherwise be spent on content will be spent on teaching how to use the technology (and repairing problems students cause, when they don't follow instructions).
    • Instructors need sufficient time to learn to use the wiki and be comfortable enough with it in order to have successful projects with their students using a wiki. This time is often greater than the time lost in class, which can be regained when considering the amount that students are working in the discipline outside of class as a result of wiki access as compared to the time students not using a wiki are dedicating to the discipline outside of class.
  • Students do have to spend a little time learning the software program and how to get around the site, learning how to upload documents if that is to be done, and learning the significance of a common set of naming conventions for the documents uploaded. All of these can prove to be more time-consuming and difficult for students than expected, especially understanding that it was important to follow the naming conventions established (which campus IT staff say is typically a problem, but with fewer consequences in some software programs than others).
  • Taking students into a lab where they all work on the site together at the beginning of the course may crash the site because they are all working on it at the same time.
    • This challenge may be particular to the software/server involved. However, it is important when planning in-class wiki activities to note how different wikis handle two editors attempting to work on the same page at the same time. While wikis more or less manage this (by notifying the user when others are editing the same page), others do not. (some more technical information might be helpful here ....)
  • Similarly, the amount of space needed to support a particular course wiki needs to be negotiated with computer networking, particularly if students will be uploading multimedia.
  • In addition to using the wiki itself, there may be training on other, peripheral computer skills implicit in the wiki tasks. For example, if students are asked to upload pictures to a wiki, they may need help with a number of "non-wiki" computer skills - finding and downloading images, cropping, resizing and resampling images to meet upload-size requirements, etc.
  • Some software programs permit different people to work on the same pages at the same time, which causes conflicts when they try to post their changes. Some system for "checking out" a page would be helpful. (Some wikis handle this better than others - does anyone have a favorite with respect to this issue?)
  • With regard to languages, the issue of accents and other keyboard related items can be a challenge. MediaWiki is unicode compliant (meaning it allows extensive foreign language characters), but students often need training on entering these characters. On a related note, some language classes would like an immersive environment in which all navigation buttons and help documents are in the target language. MediaWiki allows for this, but server administrators must be conversant in the "localization" process.
  • Depending on the administrator rights given to instructors for the wiki, levels of access for the instructor to manipulate the navigation, look, etc. of the wiki may be limited.
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Challenges for students

  • A surprising number of students are technophobic, despite the general reputation of the Millenial generation to be better at technology than the faculty and staff. At least some students are very good at very specialized uses of technology (such as their cell phones) but less competent at learning new forms as quickly or easily as would be expected.
  • For students, at least initially, it is often a challenge to follow the instructions, as direct and sufficient as they may be (see challenges for instructors below). At times it may be helpful to include written set of instructions as well as instructions which may be posted on the wiki itself to help them along.
  • In some cases they have multiple logins for different tools that are being implemented and they become frustrated as they can't remember what login they need where since different tools may have different "requirements" with password or login creation.
  • Wikis give students a place to collaborate, but wikis don't teach collaboration skills.
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Other Challenges for instructors

  • Organizing the assignment with direct and sufficient instructions for the students to minimize problems and confusion.
  • The time it takes to teach students to use a wiki properly and the follow up problems and concerns that come up during the assignment, especially if it is a longer, semester project.
  • Making sure the first use of the wiki by the students is a positive learning experience for the student, so making it short and sweet initially can help ensure long term success.
  • Making sure students understand the purpose/rationale of the wiki project and why the wiki is the tool being used. Students with web development experience may feel frustrated by the limited design palate offered by wikis if they don't understand that the focus is primarily on content and collaboration.
  • The time it takes to create good wiki projects and appropriate assessment tools for the project. A good wiki project is something that is not only collaborative but appropriate for a written medium or combined written and media content. It is something that can be interpersonally communicated and/or presentational in nature. However, something better done exclusively orally, for example, is not an appropriate project for a wiki. So, in short, what is the right tool for the job.
  • Figuring out what aspects of their current curriculum would be enhanced by using a wiki instead. There isn't a new space in a curriculum or extra time to add another project so it needs to flow in with the current course and replace an existing component.
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