Friday, February 15, 2008

Text-Focused Wiki = Contextualized Discussion = Better Online Learning

I came across an interesting article in First Monday this morning via Distance Educator presenting research on the increased engagement and focus elicited by a wiki solution for online discussion over a more typical threaded discussion forum.

Student Engagement In Distance Learning Environments: A Comparison Of Threaded Discussion Forums And Text-focused Wikis
The purpose of this study was to improve the quality of students' online discussion of assigned readings in an online course. To improve the focus, depth, and connectedness of online discussion, the first author designed a text-focused Wiki that simultaneously displayed the assigned reading and students' comments side by side in adjacent columns. In the text-focused Wiki, students were able to read the assigned text in the left column and type their comments or questions in the right column adjacent to the sentence or passage that sparked their interest. In post-participation surveys, data were gathered about students' experiences in the text-focused Wiki and prior experiences in threaded discussion forums. Students reported more focus, depth, flow, idea generation, and enjoyment in the text-focused Wiki.

Basically, the wiki solution/interface set the course readings and discussion space in a side-by-side format allowing comments and discussion to be far more contextualized and specificas they referred to reaings adjacent to the comments. Of course in a typical threaded discussion, I'd have my students do the readings, and then discuss them after the fact...usually from memory. Comments are always more vague, and it takes some work getting learners (myself included) to cite specific examples or ideas from the readings.

While I wasn't at all impressed with the layout and interface of their particular solution, I like the concept, and have heard of similar solutions which do not employ wikis, but do allow for embedded discussions within online documents. Many of these are simpler annotation tools, while others provide for a bit more in the way online discussion and dialogue. I've blogged a couple times recently about Viddler's feature which allows me and my students to engage in dialogue within the video file. I just like it when tool support the powerful principle of contexualized feedback--Where discussion and dialogue can occur very near to the actual experience or digital artifacts (video, text, images etc.) being studied. I've seen in my own teaching and learning experiences how dialogue and feedback is richer and more helpful when provided within context.

If you encountered other examples of learner-friendly annotation, contextualized feedback and discussion solutions, please share them here.
-Joel G.

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