The availability of Web-based applications like wikis or Google Docs has reshaped the nature of collaborative writing. As a high school student way back in the late 90’s, a group writing assignment meant that each member would write a few paragraphs to be combined into a whole. Of course some editing and revision would take place in order to get the transitions to work and achieve a semblance of coherence for the piece. However, they usually turned out looking exactly like what they were: a patchwork of writing styles stitched together lacking cohesion and flow. They must have been a joy for the teachers to read.
Now, as a graduate student exploring the opportunities of Web 2.0, I’ve had some pretty cool new experiences using wikis for collaborative projects. As Peter Kittle and Troy Hicks observe in their article, “Transforming the Group Paper with Collaborative Online Writing,” the wiki is a really nice platform for doing that kind of work. Kittle and Hicks note the ease with which students can view, edit, revise, and discuss the work of the group, leading to a much more balanced and unified product than was the norm for the old-fashioned approach. The wiki isn’t perfect. There were times when another member and I were trying to make contributions at the same time, which causes problems trying to save changes that end up being different from what you thought they were when you started editing. That problem is easy to solve using the discussion forum to let your partner know what’s going on. One of you can go work on something else and just come back later. On the whole, the wiki is a great way to attack the group project.
Kittle and Hicks also make a good point about the potential for wiki usage in developing study guides. After setting up a class wiki, “the teacher can make an outline of the content to be covered by the examination and ask students to edit and expand the document” (535). I do not yet have any personal experience with this strategy of study guide creation, but it sounds like a great idea. Study guides have always been useful in helping students to prepare for exams, but having a central collaborative one developed as the course progresses actively involves the students and reinforces the subject matter. That is definitely a tool worth considering for any current or aspiring teacher.