Design Alternatives for a MediaWiki to Support Collaborative Writing

By Kasemvilas, Sumonta; Olfman, Lorne | Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Design Alternatives for a MediaWiki to Support Collaborative Writing


Kasemvilas, Sumonta, Olfman, Lorne, Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations


Introduction

Wikis can be used to facilitate collaborative writing. Through the use of a wiki for a group writing project we discovered that some processes can be added to wikis to support collaborative group writing in higher education. Collaborative writing can be used for varied purposes, which we term mandatory, optional, and hybrid. Based on the success of Wikipedia, it is generally assumed that a wiki is an effective collaborative writing tool. However, Wikipedia supports an optional collaborative writing purpose. Members of the Wikipedia community are voluntarily involved in a project that does not have deadlines or specific goals that the project needs to achieve. In contrast, a mandatory purpose in this context is one in which a group must finish its project within a specific timeline. Examples of this type of collaborative writing are class projects and responses to requests for proposals. Both these purposes require a different project management style. In the mandatory case, project management must be formally applied or the deadline will not be met. In the optional case, there is no necessity for formal project management. A hybrid purpose, which has characteristics of the other two, is one where a project can be considered completed but with no real deadline. Examples of this hybrid purpose are a white paper being authored by a Community of Practice (CoP) and a set of requirements for an open source software project. We address mandatory collaborative writing in higher education in the paper.

Cunningham (2006) created the concept of a wiki. He specified a number of characteristics that he envisioned as necessary for enabling collaborative knowledge sharing. In this paper, we report on the problems encountered in using MediaWiki (one of the most popular wiki engines) in a classroom-based collaborative writing project. First, we review the literature on constructivist learning. Next, we compare the needs of the mandatory and optional purposes with the goals that Cunningham specified. Then, we provide a description of the course and its processes. We show that a wiki has the potential to support mandatory purposes, but requires additional facets to do so effectively. Next, we define the objectives for a solution and propose two processes for MediaWiki to provide aid for discussion and project management functionality and to better support mandatory collaborative writing. The significant contributions of this study are these processes, which can facilitate group writing and constructivist learning processes. We describe the design of these two processes and explain how they support group writing and constructivist learning processes. Then, we conduct a preliminary demonstration and evaluation. The paper concludes with limitations and proposed plug-ins development and testing.

Research Question

Current wiki technology has several challenges in the way it supports collaborative writing, such as how group members delegate responsibilities and how they coordinate with each other. Therefore, we posed the following question: Can we design processes to facilitate collaborative group writing in a classroom setting? To answer this question, we used our experience from a class that used MediaWiki as a mandatory collaborative writing tool using a design science methodology.

Design Science Research

According to Hevner, March, Park, and Ram (2004, p. 79), "design science addresses research through the building and evaluation of artifacts designed to meet the identified business need." This study follows six steps of design science research methodology (DSRM): 1) problem identification and motivation; 2) defining the objectives for a solution; 3) design and development; 4) demonstration; 5) evaluation; 6) communication (Peffers, Tuunanen, Rothenberger, & Chatterjee, 2007). The purpose of the study is to design useful processes for groups who are writing wiki pages and need tools to support discussion and collaboration. …

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