Comparing Traditional and Wiki Primary Writing Programs

Comparing Traditional and Wiki Primary
Writing Programs
Jonathan Tang
Student # 39164025
ETEC 500 – 65B
Dr. Stephen Carey
This research proposal examines whether a traditional writing program
using pen and paper can be as effective as a writing program that uses a wiki in a
Vancouver primary classroom. This paper introduces the collaborative benefits that
wikis when used within classrooms have produced. A review of the literature
summarizes the following themes: collaborative writing, writing process, and
technology. The study proposed includes a six-week study to examine two
classrooms that complete the writing program: one that uses traditional methods
and the other that uses a wiki. Findings in this research may highlight the
importance of studying the benefits that wikis can afford students and how they can
be best replicated in other educational contexts.
Wikis promote collaboration when used in a group context. Educators have
viewed wikis as an opportunity to integrate writing programs for primary students
together with technology. Research has indicated that the combination of wikis and
writing programs can be successfully used within a classroom. But, it is unclear
whether the positive feedback from students and educators is a consequence of the
increased collaborative effort involved in wiki writing (i.e. the process), or whether
it is actually the wiki tool itself (i.e. computational support for writing).Are there
characteristics of wiki based writing program that can be implemented into a
writing program outside of a computer system? This paper will review the current
literature that pertains to wikis within the classroom from the past ten years. This
review will be followed by a research proposal that seeks to answer the following
1) Do students produce stronger compositions when using a collaborative
wiki compared to a traditional format (pencil and paper?)
2) Are students more motivated to write in a wiki than a traditional format
(pencil and paper?)
3) What implications do wiki based writing programs have for educators?
The related work will show that primary students and wikis have been successful
when used within classrooms. Even when primary students’ keyboarding skills
have not been fully developed, they remained motivated to spend extra time to type
up compositions. In addition, collaboration on the wikis occur in many forms, which
allows for many students to excel in a group or classroom situation. Furthermore,
different types of discussions occurr within the wikis that allow for constructive
idea building. Finally, potential student drawbacks about wikis are presented in the
form of ownership and social issues that can occur in a wiki environment. As before
though, no work has examined whether it is the technology of the wikis themselves
that is effective, or the writing process encouraged by wikis that is making this
I propose a research proposal where two classes complete a writing unit. One class
will be encouraged to collaborate using wiki, while the other will work together in
using pen and paper but will engage in a more collaborative writing process that
mimics what we might find in a wiki. I expect to find that students in the wiki group
will produce stronger compositions that are more elaborate and detailed due to the
collaborative tools that a wiki inherently has.
It is important to embrace technologies like wikis because of the potential they offer
educators and students. However, the infrastructure required to setup a wiki is
often cost prohibitive for many educational contexts. It is important as a result to
understand the full the potential of collaborative tools like wikis in an attempt to
abstract the benefits for uses in less privileged classrooms. Writing is a fundamental
part of education and as new technologies are creating different ways to visualize
and participate in the process, it is imperative that these ideas be shared amongst all
educators and students.
Review of the Literature
Primary students that are learning to write need to be able to contend with
keyboarding before information computer technologies (ICT) can be deemed useful.
Young writers are often dealing with basic mechanics of writing like neatness issues
and grammar. The use of ICT can severely hinder this process if “hunting and
pecking” for keys on the keyboard takes too much time. Beck and Fetherston
(2003) explored the effects of word processing use on attitudes and writing
development. Seven students aged 8-9 participated in a 6-week study that
compared their standard writing program using pencil and paper to one that
involved a word processor program called Story Book Weaver. The students were
instructed to compose 4 writing samples: 2 hand-written and 2 typed. The students
were provided with a sentence starter and instructed to complete a story in the
hand written compositions. In the typed compositions, students were provided
several story starters and allowed to use pictures and story frames to build from
within the program. Student compositions were graded and attitudes were
surveyed throughout the process.
Despite the activities being unevenly constructed (consequently producing
some issues with the validity of the study), it was noted that the students preferred
the typed compositions more. The flexibility to include a variety of images within a
program outweighs the potential of having a physical copy of a picture book for the
hand written samples. This study also presented a strong bias from the students
towards the computers due to their teacher’s emphasis on neatness. Students
responded in surveys that they naturally preferred typing as it eliminated tedious
tasks in the writing process. The writing process as opposed to distinct steps are
blended together seamlessly in one process. The students mentioned no issues
about the lengthier composition times, in fact many stayed during lunch and recess
in order to spend more time on their work. Student motivation can be increased
through the use of ICT as alluded, however, a drawback can be that students may
rush their work as the writing process is sped up by the seamless flow between
edits and drafts. Beck and Festherston (2003) study confirms that lack of
keyboarding skills does not hinder student’s ability to be motivated by ICT tools.
Students became quite motivated at the different tools available to inspire them to
write compositions.
The traditional writing process includes a pre-writing phase followed by a
series of drafts and a final product. Wiki writing has allowed for writers to progress
through these stages in a fluid manner. Pifarre & Fisher (2011) were able to
demonstrate that with explicit instruction, students can use wikis effectively to
develop strategies for composition and revision skills. Twenty-five primary
students aged 9-10 from Lledia, Spain were selected. The students met with both
their teacher and a researcher twice a week to complete lessons and the
assignments for six weeks. Students were divided into groups of six and asked to
explore the feasibility of setting up a colony on the planet Mars. Students were first
given multiple face-to-face class sessions to develop collaboration skills. Next the
students completed a web-based inquiry session and provided with basic
instructions on using the wiki. The groups were allowed to explore other resources
and conducted a web-based approach to critically evaluate information that group
members found. Each group recorded information on the wiki and deliberated the
information before writing one composition about their findings. Researchers
collected data from the wikis and analyzed the types of edits that occurred online
and used data from the discussions section regarding negotiations to inform the
Pifarre & Fisher (2011) categorized the revisions types based on Faigley and
Witte’s (1981) taxonomy of revisions and Dix’s (2006) adaptations based on the age
of the participants in this study. By analyzing the edits and categorizing them into
text-based changes, the researchers were able to analyze the depth of student
revisions. The most frequent edits were in the form of additions, as this indicated
that students were contributing to the knowledge base. The type of edits occurring
least frequently were macro structure changes that included, for example,
rewording a phrase to make it more succinct. This was expected, as this type of edit
requires students with more experience in writing. Students demonstrated that
they were eager to edit the work. Wikis made editing other student’s work easy and
non-confrontational. While there is a running record of changes, students need to
explicitly view the page to determine the specific edits. Unless large changes are
made, the wiki merely presents the latest edits. Students were cautious in their
edits and were certain to confer with their group members before large changes
were made. Editing on a wiki also allows for students of different levels to progress.
Beginning writers are able to view many examples and have constant feedback by
their peers. Experienced writers are able to hone their editing skills by helping their
peers. Pifarre and Fisher (2011) demonstrate that not only can students become
aware of the revision process, they can become active participants in the process.
Collaboration in wikis is evident. Allsop (2011) further confirms that
primary students can collaborate with one another in an educational context when
using wikis. During a six-week study, twenty-nine primary students aged 9-10 from
London were selected to contribute towards a wiki by creating a ‘WOW’ words
dictionary for use in their imaginative stories. Allsop used a content analysis
approach and all collaboration sessions were video recorded and coded.
Allsop (2011) observed three visible types of help skills and two different
types of collaboration. Allsop classified help skills into content-related, technology
related, and random help categories. Content-related occurred when students
helped each other write out the words the students researched. Technology related
occurred relatively frequently as students required help in how to use and navigate
the wiki properly. Finally there were random help skills when students volunteered
to help others. There were also two modes of collaboration, which included
collocated synchronous mode (students working directly with one another) and
collocated semi-synchronous mode (students working on the same task). Allsop’s
contribution to identifying different types of collaboration is important as it
produces a classroom full of “experts”. Students willing to contribute their
“expertise” to the group, whether it is in the form of technological or content help,
can raise the confidence of many students. This produces a classroom that is less
reliant on the instructor and more eager to engage with peers as a resource. This
research is limited when a classroom is within physical proximity of one another.
Wikis on the internet expand beyond the borders of the classroom and allow for
students to collaborate in their homes were learning can be extended across
geographic boundaries. Allsop’s (2011) classification diversifies collaboration from
simply content related to include technology content as well.
Building a collaborative dictionary is useful, however fostering student
collaboration across a writing project is a far more complicated process. Woo, Chu,
Ho, and Li (2011) were able to demonstrate that effective collaborative writing
occurs even amongst students with only a working level of the English language.
The researchers selected thirty-eight primary students from Hong Kong that were
nine years old. The preliminary requirements was that the students had to be able
to write a minimum of 100 words. Over a period of six-weeks, students in groups of
five needed to produce six non-fiction texts together. The researchers used
questionnaires, teacher interviews, focus group discussion and student edited
information on the wiki as data for their work.
Woo et al. (2011) revise Mak & Conian’s (2008) categorizations of revisions
to include the following: adding ideas, expanding ideas, reorganizing ideas, and
correcting ideas. The researchers noted that there was an improvement in the
students’ reading abilities due to the strict evaluation that the study imposed, along
with the increased amount of reading the students completed while editing their
peers’ work. In addition, the wiki-based peer commenting acted as scaffolding tool
that helped students build confidence. The teacher noted that while the wiki
provided many positive social collaborative aspects, the social nature also dissuaded
many students from participating due to the lack of confidence in their
contributions. This could be in part due to the rigid nature and strictly monitored
nature of the wiki that the teacher imposed. Students in their surveys mentioned
they were often uncertain as to which posts were graded. This undoubtedly speaks
to the necessity of fostering a positive learning environment where experimentation
is allowed. Woo et al. (2011) demonstrate that a writing unit can be successful on a
wiki, but that setting up an appropriate learning climate is just as important.
Instructors play an important role in setting up the climate of wiki, however,
it is also important to validate the social impacts between peers. Wheeler, Yeomans,
and Dawns (2008) expose some tensions between thirty-five undergrad students in
a voluntary discussion board regarding their wiki experience. The students enrolled
in various stages of the Bachelor of Education with Honors program participate
anonymously. The discussion board gathered feedback regarding ownership of
content, confusion about using the wiki, grading issues, and when contributions
were made.
Wheeler et al. (2008) gathered a lot of negative feedback regarding wiki
usage from the students. Students worried about how posts were being perceived
by their peers and instructors were often hesitant to contribute. This speaks to
competitive environment that is inadvertently presented by participation grades
given by instructors. This emphasizes the need for a constructive learning
environment to be established as opposed to a competitive one. In addition, student
were often very defensive about having their work altered, even if it was improved
upon, as this could be seen as a deficiency in their own analysis. Students
conditioned to produce material for the mark, may lose focus on the overall
learning. This may speak to the problems in an education system based on marks.
It is as a consequence important to view wikis as a “work in progress” as opposed to
a final product.
Despite student attitudes that can affect wikis, online interactions can be
positive. Pifarre & Staarman (2011) found that by analyzing the dialogue of Pifarre
and Fisher’s (2011) study, different forms of collaboration were possible. Pifarre &
Staarman (2011) used a dialogic approach to examine the wiki logs. Mercer’s threepart typology that includes Disputational Talk, Cumulative Talk and Exploratory
Talk (Mercer 1994) were central in examining the students’ discussion threads.
Disputational talk occurred when students were discussing how to best reword a
section or which sections to eliminate. Cumulative talk primary occurred in the
beginning phases as students were contributing information to the wiki.
Exploratory talk was frequent when the facts were examined and categorized based
on importance. By using both qualitative and quantitative measures in the analysis,
key words were identified and sorted to determine which type was more frequent.
Pifarre & Staarman (2011) examination into the wiki logs using a dialogic
approach highlights the importance of communication in a writing program.
Communication in schools come from an instructor to a student, however, verbal or
written communication in the form of collaboration amongst peers is also vital. This
type of talk can act as a scaffolding measure that aids students in unpacking difficult
concept or building on ideas. Peers can often act as an instructor that doesn’t
evaluate but instead a co-learner. Collaboration brings the many benefits to
bridging gaps in material for students.
Who am I?
As a teacher in the BC Public Education system, the government has recently
initiated a 21st Century Learning approach into the schools. While this has yet to be
clearly defined, the emphasis was on more personal learning with the increased use
of technology to facilitate this. Over the past 5 years, I have experimented heavily
with wikis in my classrooms from primary to intermediate grades within the
elementary school system. Students have generally enjoyed being able quickly
publish their work or make instant edits and while I have been able to foster an
immediate love for writing, it hasn’t been clear whether there have been measurable
gains in their writing. This requires a more longitudinal view as improvement in an
individual’s writing skill is a gradual process. This research aims to compare
traditional writing programs with a wiki based writing program and assess the
benefits and drawbacks of each.
Within the review of the literature the areas of discussion centered around (1)
writing process (2) collaborative learning process (3) technology use focusing on
wiki usage. The works focused on constructivism that includes sociocultural aspects
as well (Pifarre & Staarman, 2011; Pifarre & Fisher 2011). Learning to write is a
continuous and fluid process that benefits from communities of practice. Often it is
the community within the classroom that can provide the most assistance in the
form of collaboration. Within the context of primary student learning to write, only
the teacher can provide so much modeling, reflection and collaboration with peers
can accelerate the process naturally and within a risk-free environment.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to investigate whether there is a difference
between a writing program that is wiki based compared to a traditional program for
Grade Two students. This investigation will focus on quality of the compositions
and on the attitudes of both students and teachers.
Young writers are often presented with monotonous procedures when
presented with the writing process. This investigation will modify a traditional
writing program to include more collaborative aspects and explore the differences
when deployed in a paper manner compared to the wiki. This study will attempt to
answer the following questions:
1) Do students produce stronger compositions when using a collaborative
wiki compared to a traditional format (pencil and paper?)
2) Are students more motivated to write in a wiki than a traditional format
(pencil and paper?)
3) What implications do wiki based writing programs have for educators?
Classroom teachers that have Grade 2 students within the Greater Vancouver
Regional District (GVRD) will be targeted in a two-classroom experiment.
Classrooms will be selected based on the following criteria: classroom teachers that
are currently using Reading/Writing Power literacy program by Adrienne Gear in
their classrooms, classrooms with similar social economic status (SES) and from
within the same school district. Reading/Writing Power has been selected as it
provides a literacy program that has been widely used in the Vancouver school
districts and had clearly defined goals for students. Preliminary writing samples
will be taken in an attempt to ensure a minimal variation in between the two
classes. BC writing performances standards of assessment for Grade Two students
will be used to determine student levels. While there are some variations within
school districts, the learning environments will be more similar if students are from
the same region and are balanced based on SES as well.
The two classrooms will be given one of the following designations: control
and experimental group. During a 6-week period both groups will be receiving an
identical writing curriculum with respect to the lessons delivered and tasks
assigned. The curriculum will be drawn from Adrienne Gear’s Reading/Writing
Power as it is familiar amongst teachers within the Vancouver area. Students will be
responsible for completing two individually written or typed compositions along
with two group compositions. The fictional stories with a focus on basic story
elements: characters and character development, setting, problem, beginning,
middle and end. Teachers along with the researchers will construct the groups to
ensure that experienced writers are distributed evenly amongst the groups. In
addition to the teacher, an observer will be on hand in each group to take notes
about the types of collaboration occurring.
Control Group: Traditional
This classroom will have opportunities during both individual and
group story writing, to share and collaborate on stories. Students will also be taught
to edit the work, while looking for common grammar mistakes and improving word
choice. All drafts will need to go through at least two peer edits before they can be
submitted. Students are free to have their paper edited by more than two peers. In
addition each peer must edit at least two papers. Within the group setting, peers
will need to maintain all drafts of their work and share with at least one other
group. All works will be posted on the bulletin board. Students will also be
encouraged to take their compositions home if they choose to.
Experimental Group: Wiki
This classroom will be provided lessons on how to use basic features
of the wiki. Usernames and passwords will be provided, students will be
encouraged to work on their stories at home. Students will be taught how to
provide feedback and edit one another’s work respectfully. Students will be
required to seek two editors for each one of their individual compositions.
Conversely, each student must edit at least two other compositions. Additional
editing is encouraged, but not required. In the group compositions, the final drafts
must be edited by at least one other group. The works will be posted on the wiki
and shared with other classrooms.
Data Collection and Analysis
Student and teacher survey will be given before the study and after the study.
These surveys will be based on a 5-point Likert scale with an opportunity to express
more information. Evaluation of student written compositions will occur using the
BC writing performance standards of assessment for Grade Two students. Each
piece will be evaluated by the researcher and the teacher individually and then
compared. Data will be collected on frequency of additional edits to a particular
paper and assessed for differences between wiki and paper edits.
Expected Results
After a six-week period, I would expect to see the experimental wiki group
with more peer edits and as a result stronger compositions. This mainly has to do
with the ease in the process compared to the paper format. The wiki group also has
the benefit of novelty aspect, which students may gravitate towards. I would expect
that keyboarding skills and technology issues would be overcome by a variety of
“experts” eager to help one another, which only further fosters a collaborative
group. The compositions in the traditional group, I would expect to be
strengthening by the teaching of editing skills and encouraging the process. I
anticipate that neatness may become a barrier to some students not receiving the
benefit of a patient editing partner. In general, I’d expect a stronger community
environment within the wiki group. I do not expect all students to be successful in
the wiki program. There will be a small handful of students who find the process
slow and would much prefer to write their stories as opposed to struggling with the
The findings from this research could further inform educators on the
development of future writing programs that include more collaboration. It’s clear
that programs such as wikis have facilitated a collaborative and interactive medium
for writers. If wikis do provide a platform that students are excited to engage in
writing then these aspects should be transferred to traditional methods as well. In
areas where technology is not readily available, more interactive and collaborative
sessions would benefit educators in providing a writing program that engages
young writers.
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