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Learning and Teaching with ICT

Assignment 1: Affordances

Affordances of an Educational Technology (Wikis)

There are many functional affordances of wikis that contribute to the allure of their use and one of the most important of these is the ease and convenience of being able to edit and upload information without having to use any external software. They are also extremely user friendly. Wikis will work on new or older computers with an Internet connection, whether slow or fast and this can be particularly useful as many primary school classes still have computers and internet connections that are outdated. Computers used can also be from various platforms such as PC or Apple. All information in a wiki resides on the Internet and anyone is able to log in, using the simple interface that is included within wikis and clicking the ‘save’ button automatically uploads the information. Information can also be copied and pasted directly from word processing software such as Word and Pages. Another affordance is that most wiki sites offer free membership and participation with many that provide specific educational functionality such as the ability to limit the wiki to group members only. This is particularly beneficial when working with a class and enables the teacher to quality assure the online safety of the students. Wikis can engage and motivate students, providing them with a different way of representing their learning using a digital medium. This medium is very important as it is an integral part of the world in which students of the 21st Century live and connects with students’ real world experiences. This is reflected by a constructivist notion towards learning where all new learning builds upon existing knowledge. Another functional affordance is that while wikis have been and still are predominantly text based, users are able to upload video, images, music and much more to enhance the presentation of the information. The versioning capabilities of wikis is yet another strength that allows for changes to be rolled back in the instance of errors, sabotage and also assists in the tracking of individual student participation and development of the wiki. The ability to hyperlink between pages and text across the wiki as well as to external internet web sites is a strength as this creates ease in navigation and allows students to demonstrate connections between information across the wiki. Hyperlinking also reflects the ability to quickly access resources throughout the wiki and from the Internet, which is a functionality that is not easily replicated in more traditional pen and paper methods of presenting information.

Wikis also echo the technological affordance of being able to edit information asynchronously so that the ‘anytime, anywhere’ notion of learning through Information Communication Technologies becomes achievable. Many newer wikis also offer the option of a chat function, therefore providing a synchronous tool for instant feedback or assistance. As we are currently living in an ‘Information Age’ it is important that we integrate these technological affordances into student learning so as to provide them with opportunities to practice using these technologies effectively.

The cognitive affordances provide some of the most powerful opportunities for student learning and development of higher order thinking skills. It has been stated by Woo, Chu, Ho and Li (2011) that the use of wikis promotes and scaffolds students’ critical thinking, creative problem solving and creative reasoning skills. These skills are regularly cited as valuable and even vital in the 21st Century and students require support and scaffolding to develop these skills. Wikis provide a fantastic medium for supporting this through well-designed and authentic situated learning. Sanden and Darragh (2011) reported that wikis are able to promote development of critical literacy skills when implemented effectively in the classroom and a contributing factor could be the co-constructed nature of wikis via collaborative group processes that incorporate peer feedback. Another reason could be due to the high visibility of content on the wiki, which often requires students to carefully think through their information before posting. Wikis can also provide excellent opportunities for scaffolding students with their learning (Woo et. al., 2011) and this also requires a paradigm shift from the teacher as disseminator of knowledge to facilitator of learning. A positive consequence of this paradigm is that expertise is developed amongst students in areas of their learning in ways that were not as possible using more traditional methods possibly due to the fact that the internet enables immediate access to information and also to ‘experts in the field’. Discussion pages included in wikis are another fantastic device for extending students’ thinking as these allow for interaction with and about the content and the ability to reflect on this content. Such discussions are a valuable tool for teachers use in monitoring student progress as well a catalyst for structured reflection.

There are many social affordances apparent through the use of wikis and this is exemplified by the collaborative skills required for students to be able to work together as a team. Web 2.0 provides a highly interactive and social environment and this is strongly reflected through wikis. For the maximum impact on student learning, tasks need to be authentic and also incorporate collaborative group processes. A key affordance of wikis is in the collaborative construction of information. There are multiple contributors and editors depending on how the wiki is set up by the teacher or moderator and it is through the social interactions that occur between students towards the creation of information that provides a powerful tool for learning. The idea of the synergy that occurs whilst co-constructing writing (Woo et. al., 2011) demonstrates the benefits provided though wikis for students to enhance their communication skills and learn from each other. The value of peer interaction, as reported by Sanden et. al. (2011) further highlights this viewpoint and the teacher has a pivotal role in designing learning environments so that these interactions take place in a supportive environment. Wiki technology provides great opportunities for students to peer critique other people’s work and it is due to this that the idea of distributed authorship (Fountain, 2005) becomes highlighted. As each member of a wiki team works towards a common goal of producing the best possible information utilising each member’s skills, it is through this distribution that groups are able to best create and develop their work through a wiki. Effective peer communication is necessary and wikis allow for students to rehearse and develop these skills (Woo et. al., 2011). As the work of the group is highly visible to all who are able to access the wiki, this means that students will place a high level of expectation on themselves and their group, requiring them to produce their best possible work. This is a strength of wikis that students really enjoy as they are able to produce real information for real audiences. This has been reported as the promotion of a pride of authorship in the article 7 Things You Should Know About…Wikis (2005). Another social affordance of wikis is that they promote negotiation amongst students (Fountain, 2005) as they work together to produce their collective work in a democratic manner. Discussion forums can also provide a place for students to socially interact online and as this is asynchronous, various types of message posts such as comments, reflections or questions can be posted at any time of the day. Responses from teachers, peers and experts in the field are possible and this provides a dimension that is quite different from a traditional classroom learning structure. The participatory nature of learning rather than learning that is presented from a content delivery perspective (Ruth & Houghton, 2009) reflects this pedagogical shift and is facilitated through the use of wikis in the classroom.


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