Using Wikis for process writings

It is strange how things can come together all at once sometimes. A few weeks back I saw a link to an article on using wiki’s for process writings. Although I was very interested (due to my limited experience with process writings and interest in using technology in meaningful ways,) I couldn’t read the article…so I decided to write a poorer version of the article myself.

As soon as I mentioned this I found out that Rachel Roberts had just published her thoughts on process writings . And other bloggers mentioned that they were thinking of similar articles.

Hopefully, this will be useful and give you some ideas about introducing process writings possibly using wikis or other methods.

What is process writing?

There are two traditional types of writing approaches. Process and Product writing.

Product writing

The idea of a product writing is that students should produce a certain type of writing at the end that uses features of that writing style. For example, a formal email, an informal letter to a friend, a text etc. Students might look at the content in the different paragraphs and also some useful phrases that are common in that form of writing.

As such the student will end up with a “product” that is similar to the sample in the book but more generalised.

In general product writing is more common in textbooks as it is easy to create a text and then draw attention to features of that style.

Process writing

In contrast to the goal of Product writing, where the final product is similar to the initial text that is analysed, process writing focuses on the subject and the process of creating a text. As such there is no suggested format but a topic is possible (this could be student generated), brainstorming and collaboration is much more important and there is no desired outcome product (other than there being something outputted)

Of course, these ideas aren’t mutually exclusive and often neither “strict” approach is followed (in a product writing brainstorming is frequently used and in process writings a sample text could be presented to students, after the format has been selected by the group, which can then be analysed and worked off.) However, due to various factors I have seen a lot more product writing lessons (coursebooks being a key culprit factor here)

Why is Process writing a good idea?

1. More realistic?

Certainly in life we often brainstorm are ideas and then search for a text afterwards to analyse rather than have someone give us a letter and say “I want you to write a letter like this.” However, we usually know what type of format we are going to produce before we start brainstorming ideas

2. Creative process is valued

If you’ve ever done a product writing lesson you get a lot of texts that are VERY similar. Okay there might be a date different here or there but we don’t want the students to produce anything too off the straight and narrow. In a process writing our students can produce what they want. They may want to write a letter, an email, or an essay and anything is okay. They might want to be persuasive or just talk about their appreciation of someone. They can do whatever they want.

3. Teaching at the point of need?

In a Business English context Process writing allows for different groups to work out what they need to write about and write THAT not something that is in their syllabus (the response that comes back is that a good syllabus should of course be prepared for their needs in advance, however, sudden needs sometimes arise and so no syllabus is perfect)

4. Collaboration

One of the biggest differences between the two formats is the focus on Collaboration. In Business context this skills is vital as people rarely work in complete isolation. Collaborating also opens up opportunities for learning moments during the collaboration itself and not just the intended target product.

5. Preparation for tests?

In a test the student might not have prepared for the topic or format that is requested. Giving students the chance to practice a process writing on any topic may help prepare them for the unexpected in a test.

 

Of course there are downsides to Process writing approaches, and advantages to product writings but that’s not the point. My general point is that Process writing is lacking from many syllabi that I have used and yet it is useful.

For more on the differences between process and product writing, check out this British Council blog post.

Can Wikis help?

When you think of wikis do you usually think of Wikipedia or something else? I know I usually think of Wikipedias but Wikis are certainly not just the online encyclopedia.

Wikispaces are online collaborative sites where groups can assemble a databank of information on any subject they want. They have basic text editing and can link different pages together via hyperlinks (click here for more info) There are wikipedias for pretty much every computer game out there detailing all the items, how to complete the various missions etc. There are wikipedias for guitars with a history of different models and their features (as well as famous players).

Oh and some teachers have wiki spaces as well which they use with their students.

Sometimes this is just a bank of information and activities collected by the teacher for the students to use for self study (there are some great examples of exam preparation classes using wikis) or they could be all the materials that students have used and created in classes. There are quite a few examples out there of using Wikis for these purposes with either strict teacher control (and the students simple consume) or joint collaboration but what about completely Student controlled?

Students directed project

Imagine setting up a writing task for a group of students to produce a wiki. Perhaps it is a guide for their office (for new members of staff possibly) or perhaps a group of teenagers write about their favourite band/computer game/topic. The Wikipedia is a blank space so the students can fill it with whatever they want.

They can brainstorm about what topic to write about, what they know about it, assign tasks, write first drafts, edit them, suggest amendments, have debates about the validity of evidence (have you ever looked at the chats behind the scenes of a Wikipedia page!) and so on and so on.

The project doesn’t end until the students say it does via their own decision over what the project it.

The teacher can help facilitate the discussions and reformulate language during the tasks (or even provide some model examples that students can emulate). Truly project learning.

Dangers

Of course, rose-tinted lenses are wonderful things and I have to admit I haven’t tried out using a wiki for a process writing…yet and I can predict a few challenges.

  • Initial enthusiasm quickly fades
  • No peer correcting, only teacher correcting
  • Project is “completed” very quickly.
  • Wikis follow internet style and so don’t cover all writing features.
  • Students have to be taught how to use the Wiki
  • Fear/over enthusiasm of correcting others. (Classic internet issue where some people become trolls by another name, and others are the silent majority online.)

Still a lot of these issues exist with other formats as well and can be overcome by good preparation (teaching to use the tools), finding a topic that students are genuinely passionate about and providing internal anonymity (no one outside of the group can see the wiki)

Alternatives

Pen and paper

Of course, a traditional pen and paper version is a perfectly valid what to write a process writing and maybe be better for technologically illiterate students.

Blogs

Something I’ve written a lot about before. For one to one students (and groups) having your own blog is a great method of process writing as well. Here a student can write whatever they want on whatever they want (especially for individually owned blogs) using certain services like posterous can even allow the teacher to check the writing for mistakes before it is published and many have privacy filters (passwords etc) to prevent the whole world from prying. The disadvantages with blogs is that the content disappears after time and is replaced by more recently written materials/posts. With a wiki the order of content doesn’t change. It is a static site, you can keep your core information at the front of your site and the rest hidden within.

Experimentation.

So it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. This year I’m going to start some collaborative wiki’s for my groups and give the students full ownership. I’m still not sure on the exact details (especially for non technologically proficient students and for individuals who aren’t in groups) but I’m going to give it a go and report on what I find.

Have you used wikis before? What worked/didn’t?

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Rose Bard

    I have never wikis in class, but I have taken courses in education topics where Wikis were used for the participants work collaboratively on the creation of texts. What I found difficult at first is with the collaborating aspect of it really, especially if students are working at their own pace outside the class. Not only me actually, all teachers participating had trouble with that. that is because we usually write texts alone, right? lol So another skill to work on with students. So what, I would advice you to do before taking that into class would be to create an account, invite over some teachers, create an assignment you would give your students and try it out yourself so you can see the potential of it if you haven’t done that yet. I look forward to hear from you on how that goes.

    • http://christopherjwilson.com/ Chris Wilson

      Thanks for the advice rose. It’s a good point about “we usually write texts alone” I can imagine it is strange having 5+ other people correcting your work and changing it a lot.
      I’ll set myself a task to try it out!

      • Rose Bard

        Reading Simon’s comment I can see how the Wiki could be great for solo writing. I shall as I have said use a better use of the tools the school is providing us. And as for collaborative writing, it is not so confusing if we the group follow some steps, like: deciding what to write about (members of the group giving suggestions and reasons why, discussing and voting), then deciding on the structure of the text, etc. if it is organized, then it is likely to be successful. Collaboration comes with practice and awareness of which skills/competencies we need to develop. It was a great experience participating in those courses because I developed better skills/competencies. I hope I can apply what I learned with my own students.

  • Simon Williams

    Hi, it was great to see your post. I have been using Wikis for process and collaborative writing almost a year now. I tend to use them in two situations.

    1. Solo writing – I create a private page for each student. Only I and each student can see the page. It creates a safe worry free environment for the students to write. I then tell the students that I will check the essay twice. The student will then go back and make the changes which I will then again check. For the students’ final essay I tell them that I will only check it once. I hope that the students will become more autonomous with their editing skills over the length of the course.

    2. Collaborative writing – In each course the students get into groups and do a group project. The last project I did was called spaces. Each group had to identify an unused space in the university and find a creative use for it. The students use the Wiki page to share information like pics, ideas, web links etc. Each group then collaboratively write an essay together explaining the process of creation.

    I am using Moodle in the class also and have found that it is better for admin and testing. However, Wikis are more user friendly and much better for creation and collaboration, not only student to student, but student to teacher.

    Your ideas on dangers are something that I always keep in mind. Enthusiasm can be retained if the student has interest in the topic. I always allow the students to choose what they write about, or at the very least to give them a say in the project. I also create assessment rubrics for each project in order to assess what outcomes I’d like each student to achieve.

    Assessment for solo writing can be more easily achieved, however, collaborative writing is more complex and requires formative assessment with self, and group assessment as well as summative assessment from the teacher.

    I am currently writing my dissertation on assessing Wiki work and doing a research project on the benefits of process writing using a Wiki. If you want to talk more about Wikis, I’d be more than happy to share ideas and hear your thoughts. Good luck with your project!

    Simon

    simonjohn.williams@taylors.edu.my

    • http://christopherjwilson.com/ Chris Wilson

      Wow Simon thank you so much for your great advice and words of warning. I’m sure I’ll drop you an email soon with some more detailed questions.

    • Rose Bard

      Thanks so much Chris for writing this post and Simon for sharing his experience with us and for great advice. I found your comment very useful and I wish to read more about your experience with Moodle and Wikis. :)
      :D Rose

    • Helen Curran

      I have tried using Moodle wikis, and agree with Simon that while Moodle is good for testing, for posting material and for basic admin, the wikis do not work as well. The Moodle wikis have not been a success with the students. I wonder if it is the interface on laptops, which reduces the editing screen to something reminiscent of the early Macs in size. I’m interested in exploring other wiki interfaces to see if they are easier to use for process based collaborative work.

      • http://christopherjwilson.com/ Chris Wilson

        Honestly I can’t help you here Helen as I’m still experimenting too but thank’s for raising the issue. User interface is an often forgotten aspect of using technology in the classroom. I hope someone else can offer some advice