Writing & Reflection in the (Digital) Classroom

In “Wiki as a Teaching Tool,” Kevin R. Parker and Joseph T. Chao offer an overview of the potential pedagogical uses of wikis within the classroom. The use of wikis for education, they suggest, encourages both collaborative and constructivist learning paradigms (Chao and Parker 58). Talking specifically about the benefits of collaboration, Chao and Parker contend that:

Collaborative learning becomes even more powerful when it takes place in the context of a community of practice. A community of practice consists of people engaged in collective learning in a shared domain. Thus, learning becomes a collaborative process of a group. Wikis can serve as a knowledge platform for a community of practice where members of the community can share their knowledge with the group, put up interesting pieces of information, work together, discuss issues, etc. (Chao and Parker 58)

Described in this way, the use of the wiki within the classroom allows for the students to work not only collaboratively but also within a “community of practice” (Chao and Parker 58). Within this community, each individual student is afforded the agency to participate in the cultivation of knowledge within an ongoing class.

The pedagogical benefits of such a system appear to be numerous, and lend themselves to brainstorming methods of how best to incorporate the use of wikis into the classroom. I think the benefits of wikis in the classroom stem primarily from their emphasis on the inclusion and active engagement of the entirety of a class of students. Students who might not otherwise feel the desire to speak up are given the opportunity to non-verbally offer a contribution to the growing knowledge base of the classroom. Also, students who may have been forced to miss class due to illness or personal obligations will still be able to participate within online conversations from home or elsewhere. In thinking about future classes I might teach, I am wondering whether or not it would be possible to create a wiki to be used not only by a single class, but all of the individual sections of a course being taught in a given semester (e.g. multiple sections of WRT 102 being taught simultaneously in a Fall/Spring semester). Students could be encouraged to create a growing database for the course, including digitized versions of everything from expanded class notes, glossaries, FAQs, and informal class discussion forums, to name a few possibilities. Such a structure would, I think, allow students to feel like they were active agents in the ongoing development of the course they are currently taking. For example, allowing students to curate an ongoing database of FAQs would allow the instructor to become aware of and address frequent student problems as they develop and within the same semester (as opposed to waiting until end-of-semester course evaluations/asking for informal student feedback during individual student conferences).

Referring specifically to wikis within the writing classroom, Chao and Parker suggest that wikis are useful for teaching composition in that the wiki “maximizes the advantages of reflection, reviewing, publication, and of observing cumulative written results as they unfold” (Chao and Parker 61). Wikis thus emphasize the process rather than the product of writing, allowing students to view the development of their writing while simultaneously able to communicate with other students and/or the instructor. This type of collaborative effort would lead to student reflection on their writing in terms of how it was able to evolve.

Kelly A. Parkes, Katie S. Dredger, and David Hicks—“ePortfolio as a Measure of Reflective Practice”—take up the issue of student reflection through examining the benefits of using ePortfolios within graduate teaching programs. The ePortfolio as it is used in these programs is not a simple collection of documents: an ePortfolio “goes beyond simply collecting and storing artifacts toward leveraging digital technologies’ potential to make unique linkages, connections, and reflections among multiple experiences and artifacts in ways that would not otherwise be possible with a traditional paper portfolio” (Parks, Dredger, and Hicks 101). Students are required not to simply select a representative collection of their best work, but rather to showcase the development of their learning (and emotional engagement with and attitude toward that learning) throughout the course of their time in the program. Such a reflective model of ePortfolio inclusion seems particularly useful for undergraduate students, though I do wonder about whether or not students would engage enthusiastically with a model that requires such consistent personal (and public) reflection.

Reflecting, according to the authors, is the act of “being intentionally thoughtful about defining an experience, explaining that experience, and determining future implications and actions” (Parks, Dredger, and Hicks 102). Students are thus required to select a textual (or audio, visual, etc.) artifact for inclusion in the ePortfolio insofar as it represents some aspect of their learning process. I think that this aspect of the ePortfolio is particularly important in helping students to self-assess their progress within the course. I would certainly like to learn more about how best to incorporate this level of reflection within the ePortfolio process (particularly as it relates to WRT 102).


“Wiki as a Teaching Tool”

“ePortfolio as a Measure of Reflective Practice”