Thomas and Minocha (2007) reported student feedback on the introduction of a Moodle wiki in a Requirements Engineering (RE) course at the UK Open University. The authors proposed three questions to review the success of the wiki and the course (p. 2):
- Did the wiki activities facilitate collaborative learning as we intended?
- What other tools might support collaborative requirements development?
- What are the challenges in teaching collaborative RE using a wiki?
A number of issues arose during the course. The design of the original course was based upon independent learning by the students. The introduction of the wiki created a collaborative, group-based approach to fulfilling the assignments. The scoring system had to be revised to take into account both individual contributions and group activities. In addition, the andragogy moved from an independent learner to include numerous elements of social constructivism. Finally, one of the other issues revolved around motivation. In order to get the students to apply the wiki, numerous papers, and articles related to requirements engineering were used as the topics for discussion. Those outcomes suggest that traditional courses should not just be changed with the introduction of a wiki, but need to be completely redesigned, similar to problem discovered in moving traditional courses to online courses.
Mixed methods for deriving answers to survey questions were used by the authors to query up approximately 117 students. Qualitative feedback from many of the open-ended questions suggested:
the sharing of ideas, including constructive feedback, contributed to the students ability to reflect and modify their own views;
collaborative authoring contributes to the iterative requirements engineering process;
missed assumptions and inconsistent requirements were more easily identified.
In the next iteration of the RE course, Thomas and Minocha (2007) indicated that a number of initial problems encountered in the first offering had been overcome. A significant problem was the lack of discussion capabilities within the version of the Moodle wiki, and enhanced capabilities would be included in the future. In a five-month course, the logistical challenges of getting students together to self-organize for meetings requires the application of a scheduler augmented to the wiki. Finally, the inability of the students to meet face-to-face and carry out other online socialization activities diminished the trust among group members who were relative strangers. Again, the insights we gain from these findings are the need to significant functionality as part of a wiki platform.
Thomas, King, Mincoha, and Taylor (2008) followed up this initial study and expanded it to include 250 students in two courses at the UK Open University encompassing 56 wikis. The two courses included a post-graduate Computing course, Software Requirements for Business Systems, which emulated the original Requirements Engineering course in 2007; and a post-graduate course in the Business School entitled Current Issues in Public Management and Social Enterprise. A qualitative inductive analysis was applied to identify emergent themes. The wikis were strictly text based and designed to be exceptionally simple in the toolset. The goal was to concentrate on content, not presentation. Even simple changes to a wiki page were not being tracked, since any modification by a new author may be captured at the page level, but the author of the change cannot normally be associated with text changed within a wiki page.
Simple wikis were defined as “a pull, not push, technology, which means that contributions are unknown unless one deliberately looks for them” (Thomas, et al., 2008, p. 79). Constrained tools like a simple wiki exhibited many limitations. Simple wikis are strictly text-based, do not accommodate rich formatting, and cannot handle diagrams, images and photos. Richer, more complex wikis can accommodate multimedia material, provides alerts and subscriptions to modified pages, and has very rich features for formatting text and data on the page. In conclusion, an attempt to utilize simple wikis failed because the students anticipated very rich formatting of content as well as accurate presentation. Additionally, many of the logging and discussion forum features that would comprise function rich wikis were identified as very useful, again suggesting sophistication in the tools need to appropriately apply a wiki to a classroom situation.
Bruns and Humphreys (2007) stumbled upon a very insightful observation associated with user interface. After noting that a sparse MediaWiki environment hindered the learners in a course, the Bruns and Humphreys introduced Atlassian Confluence™, which had much richer functionality. The correct technology appeared to effect adoption as well as learning. Schroeder (2008) suggested that the use of a wiki by learners required the development of best practices that need to be conveyed in order to successfully overcome the challenges of using the wiki architecture by novice learners:
- Create a culture of trust among wiki participants;
- Set up conventions and require students to abide by these;
- Have a common goal for all participants;
- Assign meaningful, authentic activities;
- Include explicit instructions and provide time for practice;
- Remind students of course deadlines and schedules;
- Define and identify roles for collaborative activities;
- Provide clear and explicit course expectations;
- Model examples of collaborative activities; and
- Be patient with students and realize they may need help.
Bruns, A., & Humphreys, S. (2007). Building collaborative capacities in learners: The M/Cyclopedia Project, revisited. In Proceedings of the 2007 International Symposium on Wikis (WikiSym ’07). New York, NY: ACM.
Schroeder, B. (2008). Within the wiki: Best practices for educators. Presented at the Educause Western Regional Conference.
Thomas, P., King, D., Minocha, S., & Taylor, J. (2008). Wikis supporting authentic, collaborative activities: Lessons from distance education. In Rethinking the Digital Divide. University of Leeds, UK.
Thomas, P., & Minocha, S. (2007). Using a wiki to facilitate learning on a Requirements Engineering course. In Proceedings of the Higher Education Academy’s Eighth Annual Conference, August 2007. (pp. 28-30). University of Southampton.