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Wiki is a major component of Web 2.0, the emergent generation of web tools and applications (Adie, 2006). Social Web technologies offers a variety of unique and powerful information sharing and collaboration features, acting as cognitive reflection and amplification tools, and aiding the construction of meaning through the act of self-design of knowledge databases (Jonassen, Peck and Wilson, 1999). Wikis in particular actively involve learners in their own construction of knowledge (Boulos, Maramba and Wheeler, 2006). Social software helps to realise the original vision of the Web as a space in which anyone can participate (Schaffert, Gruber, and Westenthaler, 2006). Web 2.0 tools are characterised by ease of use and rapidity of deployment, making possible powerful information sharing and straightforward collaboration (Boulos, Maramba, and Wheeler, 2006). Further, these tools afford the added advantage of reducing the technical skills required to use their features, allowing users to focus on the information exchange and collaborative tasks themselves without the distraction of a difficult technological environment (Kirkpatrick, 2006). Such 'transparent technologies' (Wheeler, Kelly and Gale, 2005) let the user concentrate more on the learning task by 'seeing through' the technology with which they are interacting.
The term 'Wiki' is derived from the Hawaiian phrase, Wiki Wiki, which means quick. A wiki is a collaborative web site whose content can be edited by visitors to the site, allowing users to easily create and edit web pages collaboratively (Chao, 2007). In essence, a wiki is a simplification of the process of creating hypertext mark-up language (HTML) web pages in combination with a system that records each individual change that occurs over time, so that at any time a page can be forced to revert to any of its previous states. A wiki may also provide tools that allow the user community to monitor the constantly changing state of the wiki and discuss the issues that emerge. Some wikis restrict access to a group of members, allowing only members to edit page content although everyone may view it. Others allow completely unrestricted access, allowing anyone to both edit and view content (Olson, 2006). Wikis can be used as a source of information and knowledge, as well as a tool for collaborative authoring. Wikis allow visitors to engage in dialog and share information among participants in group projects, or to engage in learning with each other by using wikis as a collaborative environment in which to construct their knowledge (Boulos, Maramba, and Wheeler, 2006).
Project Aims and Objectives
The main purpose of this study is to conduct exploratory qualitative research to investigate whether Social Web, specifically wiki, use in the classrooms of secondary schools can enhance collaborative and project-based learning. Consequently, there are two aspects to this research that come together in significant way: Social Web in educational settings and project-based and collaborative learning.
The key questions this project will try to answer are:
- What new collaborative dimensions can Wikis add to the project-based learning in secondary schools for Key Stage 4 students?
- What factors influence successful wiki use in collaborative activities?
- How existing learning paradigms can be extended through Wiki use in and outside the classroom?
The practices of participating in wikis, and social software more generally, could potentially provide a structure supporting a community of practice model of learning as individuals come together, and develop a repertoire of shared practices, bringing new experiences to the group and learning from the group's existing practices. The wiki itself could be seen as both the site of participation, and the reified artefact that acts as a record of that community's practices.
The uses of Social Web technologies in educational settings reveals new practices and considers them against existing learning theories and paradigms. These technologies encourage learners' deeper engagement with learning materials, and the affordances of shared working spaces to improve collaboration between learners are desirable outcomes. It is generally held by many educators that students of all ages learn best when immersed within a culturally and socially rich environment in which scaffolding of learning can be achieved (Bruner and Haste, 1990 ). Further, where learners and peers are committed to achieving the same goals, they tend to regulate each other's performances (Jonassen, Peck and Wilson, 1999), a positive outcome that can be facilitated through the use of shared, digital learning environments such as wiki.
The project mainly builds up from the modules ED1014 Learning& ICT and ED2033 E-media in Education, Pedagogy & Practise and generally reflects major ICTED programme aspects.
In accordance with qualitative research tradition (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005; Merriam, 1998; Stake, 1995; Yin, 2003), multiple data sources for examining the research questions will be collected. This will include: background information collected via the pre-interview questionnaire, semi-structured observation and interviews with the participants that will comprise of students and teachers.
Data collection will occur in two stages. In stage one, participants will complete the online background questionnaire which will aim to define the prior knowledge and experience of using wikis and help to answer some aspects of the second research question. In stage two, structured observations will be carried out (a minimum of five, one-hour field-based observations) which will be triangulated by the following: 1) semi-structured interviews with participants, 2) analysing participants' artefacts that will be produced during the study (wiki-based collaborative projects, online personal reflection journals (blogs)).
The use of interviews and observations are commonplace in qualitative case study research, which will be mainly used to conduct the project and try to answer the key questions (Denzin and Lincoln, 2005; Fontana and Frey, 1994; Merriam, 1998; Stake, 1994, 1995; Yin, 2003). They are one manner of obtaining an insider or perspective regarding the issues being studied.
The interaction between researcher and participant through the interview is, "the establishment of human-to-human relation with the respondent and the desire to understand rather than to explain" (Fontana and Frey, 1994, p. 366). Interviews with the participants will be semi-structured; this will provide for consistent investigation of particular topics with the participant and basic introductory questions, but also will afford flexibility to engage in natural conversation that provides deeper insight.
Interviews will be recorded using digital Dictaphone and transcribed using digital media and provided to the participants for review and member checking. Member checking is generally considered an important method for verifying and validating information observed and /or transcribed by the researcher (Merriam, 1998; Mertens, 1998; Stake, 1995) and is meant as a check and critique of the data. Member checking also provides material for further investigation and triangulation, "They [the participants] also help triangulate the researcher's observations and interpretations....The actor [participant] is asked to review the material for accuracy and palatability" (Stake, 1995, p. 115).
Handwritten notes will be taken during the interviews for the purposes of extending questions or as the researcher's personal notes for further investigation. The anticipation is that the interviews will be conducted in the schools but accommodations will be made for participant's schedules and interviews may be conducted outside the schools as well.
Similar to interviews, observations must be conducted carefully with strict consideration for the research participants, as observations represent a "firsthand encounter with the phenomena of interest" (Merriam, 1998, p. 94). The role of the observer in this study will be an "observer-as-participant", where the researcher has a peripheral membership in the group / context being observed (Adler and Adler, 1994). No formal, intentional interaction between the researcher, the participant will take place, but that the observer will be a friendly, knowledgeable outsider. The observer will select the least obtrusive location in the classroom from which to operate and will take notes on the actions of the respondent, their interactions with wikis and their peers, lesson implementation, and other related contextual elements / events quietly on a laptop computer. Adler and Adler (1994) note that:
"One of the hallmarks of observation has traditionally been its non-interventionism. Observers neither manipulate nor stimulate their subjects....Qualitative observation is fundamentally naturalistic in essence: it occurs in the natural context of occurrence, among the actors who would naturally be participating in the interaction, and follows the natural stream of everyday life." (p. 378)
The observational techniques to be employed will provide further insight to the Wiki use for project-based learning and will help to answer the main research questions.
Artefact collection is a less intrusive method of collecting data and will provide detail and evidence of confirmation or contradiction as compared to other collected data
(Merriam, 1998), but Yin (2003) cautions that while gleaning material from artefacts, researchers must recall that these artefacts were designed for purposes other than research and, therefore, they should use these sources sensibly.
Consent will be obtained by requesting that all participants sign a consent form. Participants will be given their own reference copy to keep. This form will inform fully about the research, its purpose, methods and intended possible uses of it ,that is to say, what their participation in the research entails, what the aims and objective of the research; it will also explain who is conducting the research why and how they have been chosen to participate and how long participation will take. In addition, this form will cover issues regarding anonymity, which cannot be promised as researchers are aware who completed tests even though no name or identification number is recorded. Participants will be made aware of what would constitute sensitive information.
It will be clearly expressed that participation is voluntary, free from any coercion and withdrawal at any time will receive no penalty. Participants will be given instructions on how to withdraw from the study, along with other information, prior to study completion.
Strict ethical standards and guidlines will be maintained during the project at all times and project supervisor will be consulted if there any concerns occur about the way the research is developing. Lastly participants will have the opportunity to receive research summaries.
Analysis of Skills Required to Conduct Research
The process of conducting the research will entail wide spectrum of skills which range from research skills and techniques, presentation and communication skills to research management and personal effectiveness attributes.
Research Skills and Techniques
- The ability to recognise and validate problems and to formulate further research questions and answer them.
- Original, independent and critical thinking and the ability to develop theoretical concepts.
- An understanding of relevant research methodologies and techniques and their appropriate application within the research.
- The ability to analyse critically and evaluate the findings and those of others.
- An ability to summarise, document, report and reflect on progress.
Presentation and communication skills
- Construct coherent arguments and articulate ideas clearly to a range of audiences, formally and informally through a variety of techniques.
- Contribute to promoting the public understanding of the research field.
- Write clearly and in a style appropriate to purpose, for example progress reports, published document or thesis.
- Constructively defend research outcomes.
- Apply effective project management through the setting of research goals, intermediate milestones and prioritisation of activities.
- Design and execute systems for the acquisition and collation of information through the effective use of appropriate resources and equipment.
- Identify and access appropriate bibliographical resources, archives, and other sources of relevant information. Use information technology appropriately for database management, recording and resenting information.
- Demonstrate a willingness and ability to learn and acquire knowledge.
- Be creative, innovative and original in approach to research.
- Demonstrate flexibility and open-mindedness.
- Demonstrate self-awareness and the ability to identify own training needs.
- Demonstrate self-discipline, motivation, and thoroughness.
- Recognise boundaries and draw upon/use sources of support as appropriate.
- Show initiative, work independently and be self-reliant.
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