Reflecting on wiki affordances: Do we need to shift our thinking in humanities education?

In ETEC 510 we experimented with wiki construction – ETEC 510 Design Wiki was created in collaboration with all students who took this course over the years. Having had the opportunity for the first time to experiment with wiki affordances led me to the following deductions about wikis and humanities education.

Link to ETEC 510 Design Wiki

Land et al. (2002) contend that based on constructivist principles, comparing, discussing, and disputing information make up the core of knowledge construction. Caverly & Ward (2008) explain that wikis afford learners the opportunities essential to knowledge construction because they “allow a group to collaboratively construct a document online by subscribing and then editing multimedia using simple text editors”. Moreover, they suggest that through perception and idea sharing, learners are able to derive an agreed upon truth and understanding. Working with wikis situates learners at the center of the vastest database available today: the World Wide Web. The Web in turn affords learners ‘access to information and materials that were previously unavailable [and] that can allow students to evaluate and substantiate differing points of view on a particular topic (Heafner & Friedman, 2008). This particular assignment allowed me to experience first-hand the true riches of working with a wiki…

Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to use wikis to their full potential in education, especially in the senior years, because learning is content driven. Wikis are a great way to meet many of the K-12 information technology curriculum goals – one thing that they do not afford however, is a focus on particular content. Wikis are designed to allow an indefinite number of authors to create and manipulate unforeseeable content. Of course they can be used in other ways, but that’s what they were designed to do: harness the wisdom of the crowd.

Content is critical in some disciplines, especially in the sciences, but how is content relevant in a field of study such as history, a discipline which rests on perception and construct? The most invaluable skills that can be acquired by studying history / society are those which facilitate the manipulation, reorganization and critical review of data. Nevertheless, educators teaching these humanities’ courses are still enslaved by the necessity to teach to the exam.

When pedagogy relies solely on textbooks, learners loose the opportunity to process information because editors and writers have already done the work for them. Thus, to foster a constructivist approach to learning, students should be given as many opportunities to process and construct their own knowledge (Land et al., 2002). Maybe then, it’s time we should rethink pedagogies and assessment in the humanities? After all, not all disciplines need to be content driven, right? Rethinking how humanities’ courses are taught and how students are assessed could open the doors to fostering individuality and skills that are more relevant in today’s society.

Works Cited:

Caverly, D., & Ward, A. (2008). Techtalk: Wikis and collaborative knowledge construction. Journal of Developmental Education, 32(2), 36-37.

Heafner, T., & Friedman, A. (2008). Wikis and Constructivism in Secondary Social Studies: Fostering a Deeper Understanding. Computers in the Schools, 25(3-4), 288-302.

Land, M., Redmon, R., Hartzler, S., Burger, M., Bailey, B. & Coe, M. (2002). A Vygotskian Viewpoint: Technology and Constructivism. In C. Crawford et al. (Eds.). Proceedings of Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education International Conference 2002, Chesapeake, VA: AACE, 1288-1289.