Using wiki writing for assessment in a Languages subject: A case study

This assignment involved online and face-to-face collaboration between undergraduate university students studying advanced-level Italian and high school students of Italian who were in their final three years of secondary education. The lecturer divided the university and high school students into small groups. Each group was required to create a wiki about aspects of cultural interest relating to one of the regions of Italy.

University students were required to contribute 600-750 words in Italian. If video or other multimedia content was used, students had to estimate their word length equivalents and include these in the final word count. High school students were expected to contribute at least 300 words in Italian. The task was worth 15% of the university students' final grade for the subject.

Web 2.0 tool used: Wiki in the university's Blackboard learning management system (LMS).

About the subject

This was a first year undergraduate subject called "Italian Language and Culture". The subject aimed to improve students’ competence in Italian language and their knowledge of Italian culture. The subject focused on simultaneously developing students’ reading, writing, speaking, listening and grammatical knowledge as well as exploring a range of issues related to Italian culture. The subject was designed to encourage students to think critically about both language and culture.

The subject was taught in an Arts faculty and could be taken by Bachelor of Arts students intending to major in Italian and also as an elective by students who had reached an advanced level of Italian, but planned to major in other disciplines. There were 70 university students enrolled in this subject, as well as 35 high school students participating in the activity.

One university lecturer coordinated and taught the subject. He collaborated with a high school Italian teacher to set up the Wiki assignment described in this case study. A version of this Wiki assignment had been run in the preceding year so the lecturer was very familiar with the technology, language learning and assessment components of the wiki task.

Assignment tasks and timing

The task was completed over four weeks, from week 2 until week 5 of the semester. Each university student had to contribute between 600 and 750 words in Italian to their group wiki. Each high school student was expected to contribute at least 300 words in Italian to their group wiki.

Intended learning outcomes

In addition to facilitating the development of knowledge about specific regions in Italy, this assignment was also designed to foster students' collaboration and mentoring skills. The wiki task was closely related to another assessment task, the Mentoring Assignment (worth 10%), which involved university students visiting the high school not only to collaborate on the creation of the wikis, but also to develop links between the high school and the university in order to promote future learning and study pathways for the school students. The mentoring component of the subject also provided opportunities for the university students to develop leadership abilities as part of the university's engagement strategy with the wider community.

Why Web 2.0?

The lecturer chose to use a wiki for this assignment to enable "collaboration, co-construction, co-creation, asynchronous work". Web 2.0 provided affordances to allow the shift from single to multiple authorship. The choice of a wiki was also largely influenced by the need to support collaboration between university and high school students. The wiki also provided evidence of collaborative work through the page history and comment facilities, and it enabled peers to review group members' work.

Setting up the assignment

The collaborative nature of this task, which required university and high school students to communicate both on and offline with each other, took considerable preparation on the part of both the tertiary and secondary level teaching staff. Some technical assistance was also needed to ensure that the technology used on both sites was compatible.

Introducing the assignment to students

Information about the assignment was available to students through the subject learning management system site (LMS) before the beginning of the semester, as soon as students had enrolled in the subject.

At the beginning of the assignment, students were given an information sheet outlining the task requirements and suggestions on how to proceed with the task. This stated:

The overarching theme of the project is Visit the Regions of Italy. Each group has been assigned a region. The task for each group is to develop a wiki site, which represents its region appropriately. The aim of the wiki site is to generate interest in the region to a worldwide audience – the genre is therefore tourist or travel writing. The wiki site must, however, combine factual information about the region with enticing details, which set the region apart from the others. In this way, the research aspect of the assignment is important. The wiki allows the use of image and multimedia objects (e.g, online videos, etc.) so you are not limited to written text only.

Some ideas:
• Have a look through some of the sites from last year as a starting point
• You could frame the wiki as a travel diary or log
• You could consider a themed tour of your region based on its features (churches, gastronomy, wines, cycling, craft, beaches, etc.)
• It could be a site for someone planning an event (wedding, birthday, anniversary, etc.)

Students were also advised explicitly what NOT to do:
What this task isn't…
…an exercise in translation – I strongly advise against producing your work in English and then translating into Italian. This leads to clunky Italian which doesn’t sound ‘right’. Try working directly in Italian
…a cut-and-paste from the Internet – by all means use the Internet for your research but do not simply cut and paste big (or little!) chunks of text and put them in your pages…I’ll know…
…a collection of solo efforts – I want to see some real collaboration going on, particularly with our [High School] collaborators
... a task with a right or wrong answer – it allows a lot of creativity and flexibility

Clear and explicit guidelines were needed with many examples. Wiki resources produced by previous students were used for this purpose. The lecturer felt it was also important to anticipate potentially problematic behaviour and provide students with relevant guidelines (e.g., explaining that students are required to collaborate online in the creation of their wiki texts and resources; they should not simply upload individually produced material; the task is designed to focus on the process of text/material creation as well as on the final product).

Supporting students through the assignment

Over the four weeks of the assignment the lecturer regularly reviewed the progress of the wiki assignment both online and face-to-face in class. Formative feedback was provided in both contexts. It was necessary for the lecturer to remind the students regularly about the aims of the task, especially to reiterate the requirement for all collaboration to occur online. The ‘Page History’ feature of the wiki was useful in reinforcing this point, as the lecturer could use this facility to build up a profile of each group’s online collaborative efforts.

"Giving formative feedback is very time-consuming; raises equity issue for workload regarding teacher input and feedback; institutions should have clear policies that reward staff for making this extra effort to work effectively with new technology, especially when using new technology is part of the process of change that occurs when students are learning a new language. “ (quotation from Meeting 1 notes)

Marking the assignment

The lecturer undertook all the marking of the university students’ work for this assignment. Students were assessed on four equally weighted criteria: content; linguistic accuracy; research and collaboration. Students were graded individually on their wiki output against rubrics for different possible levels of achievement (‘bands’) for each criterion. These bands related to those used for standard grading purposes across the University (H1, H2A, H2B, H3, Pass, Fail).

The lecturer reviewed and finalised student grades in conjunction with a departmental examiners' meeting, before the results were released.

Communicating the results

Students received their results through the subject LMS. These were given out two weeks after the wikis had been completed. Students were given both a numerical grade and a written comment, responding to the assessment criteria.

Evaluating and improving the assignment
The lecturer implemented a number of mechanisms for students to provide feedback during the semester: e.g., through online discussion boards and individual teacher-student consultations.

Reflecting on how well the assignment worked, the lecturer felt the learning objectives were achieved successfully. He felt this achievement was in part due to some modifications in the task description and guidelines that were implemented in the second iteration of this assignment (e.g., by explicitly stating and enforcing the word limit and the requirement for all collaboration to be undertaken online).

Student feedback and wider professional responses have been very positive.

The lecturer perceived some benefits in relation to equity and access, given the asynchronous nature of online collaboration:
“I have a legally blind student who suffers from a range of other physically debilitating illnesses, however, because of the asynchronous nature of the assignment it wasn’t necessary to modify it. I did remain in constant consultation with the student throughout the semester on how best to do this.” (quotation from Meeting 3 Notes)

“I would suggest that this assignment provides us with more reliability and validity than traditional offline collaborative projects. With the option to view history and by encouraging the use of the comments sections on each page, I have the chance to see how work has progressed. Obviously, this implies that students use the wiki in the way I desire (i.e. they do all their work on the site, not in a word document and then upload it all at once at the end when the changes/editing have been done).” (quotation from Meeting 3 Notes)

The lecturer was “pleasantly surprised with how the management of the marking panned out”. Emphasising the importance of word limit (600 words) was important. The lecturer noted "there seems to be a tendency for students to explore all affordances that the wiki technology has to offer because it allows students to be more creative than traditional essay formats, but students need to be aware of task constraints and teacher resources (i.e., this was a “one-man-band!”)” The teacher emphasised the importance of these factors throughout the semester (quotation from Meeting 3 Notes).

Wider feedback on the assignment was also canvassed through the lecturer’s presentations in a range of professional settings: e.g., with the High School teaching staff involved in the project; with other University teaching staff; as a Case Study for the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Association’s Professional Standards Project on Assessing Languages; as an academic paper at conferences hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education.

Selected document from this Case Study

The rubric used to guide assessment for this assignment: Wiki_rubric.pdf

Page source:
Gray, K., Waycott, J., Thompson, C., Clerehan, R., Sheard, J., Hamilton, M., & Richardson, J. (2010) Using Social Web (Web 2.0) Activities for Student Assessment: Resources for University Learning and Teaching. Retrieved from https://web2assessmentresources.wikispaces.com