An Evolving Road Map: Student Perceptions of and Contributions to Graphic Organizers within an Academic Wiki

Article excerpt

Introduction

Collaborative websites, or wikis, have attracted attention for their academic potential (Wang et al, 2005). By providing users with the means to engage in discovery learning and easily produce versatile online content, wikis engage learners who in turn enhance the wiki. However, the high learning curve for wiki editing and the text-only format of wiki articles can ward off potential users. This study examines the development of graphic organizers within an academic wiki over a period of 8 months. While previous studies have examined the use of academic wikis and the possible role of graphics as motivators (Moshirnia, 2007), this is the first case study of digital sprawl and student designed remedies within an academic wiki.

Previous Research

In this section I discuss the previous research related to graphic organizers, wikis, and the paucity of graphics in traditional wikis.

Graphics as Organization Catalysts

Graphic organizers have been shown to be effective in both digital and traditional pencil and paper paper organization. Robinson (1995) found that college students form more detailed hierarchical relationships between concepts when they used graphic organizers than when they used outlines or texts alone. Alvermann (1981) also found that graphic organizers can compensate for a poorly organized text but facilitating a reorganization of information. Both of these findings have been supported by numerous subsequent experiments (Moshirnia, 2007). In the digital realm, Greene (2002) found that graphic organizers significantly increased the amount of collaboration between high school science students producing and presenting hypermedia research projects. Information graphics also improve user performance on the perceptual task of organizing by affording a better understanding of underlying principles and concepts of available data (Nowell, Schulman, & Hix, 2002).

Wikis

The four main wiki characteristics are: (1) web documents to be authored collectively without individual ownership of the documents, (2) a simple markup scheme, (3) content is not reviewed by any editor or coordinating body prior to its publication, (4) maintains a temporal database enabling version management (Wagner & Prasarnphanich, 2007). Wikis are typically textually based, with graphics used primarily as illustrations of article concepts, e.g. a picture of a bee in an article regarding honey.

In order to facilitate communal growth, wikis usually adopt a code of conduct which entails: "collaborative writing of shared pages, little individualism or ownership of content, instant publication of changes without editorial intervention, and the ability of users to roll-back pages (from the temporal database) in case of error or vandalism (Wagner & Prasarnphanich, 2007)."

Graphics in wikis

Wikis usually do not rely on graphic-based organization (Moshirnia, 2007). Wikipedia, for example, uses only simple bullets for almost all of its navigation windows (Moshirnia, 2007). Consistent navigation graphics are used only in portal submenus and links to sister Wiki projects. Also, in-article organization almost never utilizes graphics. A user starting a new page typically encounters a blank screen or entry field. Jimmy Wales of the Wikipedia Foundation argues that these attributes create "a wiki learning curve" which "limits adoption." Further, Wales (Orlowski, 2005) expressed the fear that the technical knowledge needed for wiki editing is acting as a barrier for potential contributors.

Experiment

Participants

21 students (N=21) in the 10th (n=10) and 11th (n=11) grades participated in this study. They were enrolled in 1st and 2nd year Latin at a sub-urban high school located in the Great Plains region of the United States. Participants ranged in age from 15 to 17, with the mean age of 16. …