2. Computer-Supported Collaborative Writing
2.2 Collaborative learning
2.3.3 Applications of computer-supported collaborative writing for professional development This section presents a review of studies investigating Computer-Supported Collaborative Writing
22.214.171.124 Teachers’ professional development and collaborative writing through wikis
Teachers’ education is an interesting field for the analysis of professional development, as it is often organised around the articulation of internships in which learners gain professional practice, as well as regular school lessons, providing them with the theoretical basis and fundamentals of teaching and learning. Moreover, in-service teachers are also subject to a growing demand for them to be involved in continuing education in order to review and refine their everyday practice. Therefore, the articulation of a formal educational context and of a real-life working experience accompanies teachers throughout their careers (see Ortoleva, Bétrancourt & Billett, 2015, and in particular contributions from Vanhulle & Perréard Vité; Alvares Pereira, Cardoso, & Pereira; and Woodard, treating of teachers’ professional development). In recent years, a series of studies have analysed the use of wiki platforms to support in-service and prospective teachers in developing their practice.
Wikis for professional development
A wiki is a Web-based environment allowing a group of people to collaborate asynchronously on the Web, building a corpus of knowledge organised in a series of interlinked pages, with an open and flexible structure (Franklin & Van Harmelen, 2007). Wikis are appropriate for community building purpose, since participants can create collective documents, discuss, and share information (Chao &
Lo, 2011; Wichmann & Rummel, 2013).
Wikis offer three main characteristics that support collaborative writing: a) the multi-users edition, as various users can create and modify texts and decide the connections and paths between the pages; b) the history function, thanks to which all modifications of the pages are saved, along with the identification of the user, and can be retrieved, if necessary; and c) the discussion page, where participants can discuss asynchronously and provide comments to each other (Hadjerrouit, 2014). In education, some studies showed that wiki-based activities, requiring collaborative writing and sharing, encouraged a higher level of cognitive engagement, as well as a deeper emotional commitment with others (Biasutti, 2011; Cole, 2009). Finally, wikis are relatively easy to operate and to sustain.
On the other hand, some characteristics of the wiki tool can be particularly challenging for its implementation in the educational context. More particularly, Donnelly and Boniface (2013) consider that one issue emerging from the use of wikis is associated with its design, which is completely open, while there is a need for a well-defined and functional structure for these environments to work efficiently. Individual characteristics of the participants can also represent an issue, as users need to feel confident enough to be able to overcome technical difficulties they may encounter and a lack of
55 interest or time to dedicate to this environment can also be detrimental for the activity. Finally, maintenance is to be addressed by ensuring someone, either a peer or an instructor, will take the role of the leader of the environment, encouraging participation.
The features of the wiki, namely multi-user edition, history functions, and its highly flexible and adaptable structure, make this tool particularly interesting for the development of professional communities (Cole 2009; Sigala, 2007). Wikis can be exploited as environments to create communities of practice, where users can discuss their everyday practice, share ideas, suggestions and documents, and ask questions to their colleagues. This type of use seeks to help novices to move from the periphery to the centre of a professional community (Wenger, 2000), contributing to their professional development. Communities of practice have been used as central constructs for teachers’
professional development (Schlager & Fusco, 2003). Below we analyse three examples of the use of wikis to encourage prospective and in-service teachers’ professional development (see Table 1).
Table 1. Examples of studies analysing wikis for teachers’ professional development Authors Participants Activity Research
Giulia Ortoleva Writing to Share, Sharing to Learn
56 Wikis for professional development, implementation examples
When implementing a wiki for teachers’ professional development, after having defined the specific target audience within the population concerned (in-service or prospective teachers), it is important to specify the role attributed to writing individually and collaboratively in the activity.
The role of writing
One important component of the learning situation is associated with the role that writing has in the activity, and this comprises the specific tasks that are given to students, whether they have to be done individually or collaboratively, and how the collaboration is orchestrated (when and for what purpose).
Kim et al. (2012), working with early-career science teachers, set up a wiki environment in which participants were encouraged to share and discuss their ideas on the use of inquiry in their lessons by creating new pages in the shared environment. Participants were therefore involved in community collaboration to build a shared knowledge repository on the use of inquiry in education. The authors were interested in observing professional development communities and the impact they have on participants’ conception of teaching science through inquiry, as well as the educational use of wiki technology.
Hadjerrouit (2014) conceived a wiki environment targeting students in a formal curriculum of pre-service teachers. Learners were asked to collaboratively investigate one specific topic related to their pedagogical practice. The task proposed to the learners consisted of collaborating in small groups (two to four participants) in the production of a wiki of several pages. The objective of this research was to evaluate the collaborative writing practice of prospective teachers and produce suggestions on how to encourage them in engaging in this sort of activity.
Donnelly and Boniface (2013) used a wiki to support the conception of collaborative e-portfolios by in-service science teachers with different levels of experience. The aim of this project was to reduce teachers’ isolation by providing them with an environment to share personal experiences lived in the classroom and to receive or provide suggestions and comments. The e-portfolio was organised around Content Representations (CoRes), pages dedicated to one specific science topic and created in collaboration by a group of teachers. The CoRe is composed of the answers to pedagogical questions (for example, limitations/difficulties connected to teaching this topic). Each CoRe is associated with a series of Pedagogical and Professional-experience Repertoires (PaP-eRs), written individually by the group’s participants in the form of narratives reflecting on particular aspects of the CoRe. In this sense, these e-porfolios are composed by both collaboratively (CoRes) and individually (PaP-eRs) written texts.
57 The three studies varied in their instructional design regarding the role of writing and collaboration, while pursuing the same global objective of professional development through the community. What is the impact of this variety on outcomes?
Kim and colleagues (2012) observed a positive effect of the use of wikis to create a community repository discussing the topic of inquiry learning, both on teachers’ ideas of teaching through inquiry (the topic treated in the community repository), and on their conceptions of the use of wikis in the classroom (the environment used for the activity). The authors conclude that wikis represent a good option to support teachers’ communities, as in this research teachers attributed significance and value to the community they participated in, and they perceived that the use of a wiki-based environment enhanced their interaction and collaboration experience.
On the other hand, Handjerrouit (2014) and Donnelly and Boniface (2013) observed a reluctance of students in truly collaborating. As Grant (2009) explained, the lack of collaboration is less a technological problem, since wikis offer the functionalities to support it, than it is an issue related to culture and pedagogy. Additionally, participants may consider writing as a non-authentic task, perceiving the lack of a real audience for their collaborative effort (Grant, 2009). This, together with the fact that writing collaboratively requires an additional cognitive effort, may explain the fact that participants of this type of activity show a tendency to work individually rather than collaboratively.
Building on the results mentioned above, Donnelly and Boniface (2013) analysed a series of cases to understand the factors affecting in-service teachers’ perceptions of wiki-supported e-portfolios and to identify ways to support them in engaging in knowledge-sharing activities. In the limited number of cases analysed (three), they observed that the issue of competence in technology was revealed as particularly important. Competence, in this sense, not only refers to the need for training in the use of technology, but also to the need for modifying teachers’ mind-sets about the use of technology in their practice and the effort associated with it (Glassman & Kang, 2011; Daele, 2013). In relation to this last point, it is interesting to notice how teachers, who thought wikis could represent a support to overcome the isolation in their practice, were, on the other hand, reluctant to the idea of collaborating with colleagues of other schools. This phenomenon is repeatedly observed in collaborative contexts, since exposing their knowledge could be face-threatening for individuals (Buchs & Butera, 2009).