Instructors are introducing online posting and editing for assignments

Instructors in a handful of courses at York University have been quietly replacing paper-based assignments and course materials with a potentially more powerful teaching tool.

That tool is “wiki”, a type of Web site that allows for collaborative posting and editing, best known in its iteration as the popular online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

“For some courses, it’s a good way to augment and even replace traditional essays,” says Mary-Louise Craven, a professor in the Communication Studies Program in York’s Faculty of Arts.

At least three instructors at York have formally introduced wikis into their classrooms. Understanding the technology is a mandatory requirement in Craven’s fourth-year social science course, Theoretical Perspectives on Interactive Media.

“For my students in particular, actually learning to use wikis is an integral part of the course material,” Craven says. “We’re dealing with the theoretical and social aspects of technological innovations like wikis, so it makes sense to learn the practical aspects that go along with this.”

This semester, 20 per cent of her students’ final mark will come from their contribution to a group wiki project which they will begin work on this week. So far, they’re extremely receptive to the idea, she says.

“They’ve all used Wikipedia, so they’re familiar with the concepts,” says Craven.

She notes that wikis have all the potential advantages of Web sites where students can input links and bring in different media. She points out that the biggest single plus of wikis is their capacity for peer review and group work.

“It’s an amazing tool for collaborative work,” she says. “You can view the history [of edits and postings], so you can easily keep track of who’s done what.”

But if wikis are the wave of the future, does that mean that we should all put aside our printers and start posting everything online?

“I’d hate to see a time when there are no print-based submissions,” Craven says. “We have to be very careful to use technology only where it makes sense and actually adds to the learning experience – not as an end in and of itself. For some kinds of course work, it would be like fitting a square plug into a round hole. But for this course, the medium and the message really do go hand in hand,” says Craven.

Unlike Wikipedia, Craven’s course wiki will be password-protected.

“This is important since the wiki is functioning in an academic environment where students will be marked on their work,” she says.