Using Wikis to Increase Writing Skills in Writing
Classes

 

Sezgin BALLIDAG

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Yildiz
Technical University

[email protected]

 

 

Abstract

 

It’s
an undeniable fact that the majority of the teenagers today are keen on
technology, and they tend to use it for various purposes. This research attempted
to see how using a wiki page in a writing lesson could affect students’
success. The research lasted for two months. Each week, students handed in an
assignment, either as a hard copy or online. Two different instruments were
used to collect the data. First of all, Pre and post questionnaires were
applied in order to see the student’s attitudes towards the use of internet for
educational purposes specifically for writing lesson and peer edit. Besides
this, the midterm results of the students, which served as a determiner for
success, were analyzed by dependent samples t-test. Results showed that there
was not a significant difference in the results of the two groups in terms of
their grades, however the percentage of the students who thought wiki was a
valuable source for a writing class in the pre-questionnaire decreased in the
post-questionnaire.

 

         Key
words; collaborative learning, using Wikis for writing
classes, peer-editing, constructivism

 

1. Introduction

Effective
written communication is fundamental part of learning a foreign language, and
it is a key factor in students’ academic development. Learning to write is a
long-term process and, in order to discover more effective ways to help
students to be better writers in a foreign language, quite a lot of researches
have been implemented on how to make students make more motivated to write.

 

Developments
in the writing curriculum during the past two decades have resulted in an
increased emphasis on the process of composing and sharing a message with an
audience, and of learning specific structural skills with this communicative
context (Bos, 1988). With the increasing trend towards the use of technology in
education, wiki pages provided a convenient place to hand in writing
assignments and sharing them. This paper describes an attempt to see the
effectiveness of using wikis for a writing class in an EFL classroom.

 

2. Literature Review

 

According
to social constructivism, students learn through collaboration, and peer review
gives learners the ground to exchange their ideas. The type of approaches to
peer review depends on the teachers’ instructions; it might be open-ended,
guided or directed (Rieber, 2006). In an open-ended review, students are seen
as experts and teachers offer no or little guidance in how to review their
peers’ papers. They are assumed to know the assignment requirements. This
approach is mainly used in advanced level classes. The other approach, guided
peer review, as the name suggests, teachers guide reviewers with a list of
general questions to consider while they are reviewing the papers. In the final
approach, directed peer review, teachers give reviewers a complete checklist
covering all assignment guidelines. This is best when students have limited
experience in the subject and do not have enough writing skills. It is always
good to have a checklist because; first, all papers are reviewed with the same
criteria, second, you cannot miss any point, and last, it really helps weak
learners working with strong learners.

 

There
are different reasons for using peer review in writing classes in literature.
Firstly, students like it, 11 out of 12 students in Eschenbach’s class (2001)
liked the peer review sessions and they wanted to continue the same application.
Students react better to peer comments than they do to teacher comments
(Rieber, 2006). When a teacher reads papers, he comments as “right” or “wrong”.
But when a peer reads the paper, he or she mostly comment about how the paper
does or doesn’t need the assignment guidelines, which leads to an improvement
in the papers of both reviewer and reader. 

 

Secondly,
students write more carefully when they are communicating with peers and doing
better because of the peer pressure than when they are evaluated by their
teachers. Students do not want to appear unintelligent to their peers, when
they know their work will be read and commented on by another student during a
peer review, they are successful to produce a more polished draft for review
(Rieber 2006). In their research, Plutsky and Wilson (2004) also indicated
students became better writers with the help of peer review.

 

Finally,
peer feedback seems to lead a better academic achievement. In his research,
Richer(1992) researched how college students benefitted from peer feedback in
their writing classes. The results revealed that better grades were obtained
from peer feedback group. They also showed lower writing anxiety (Stanley,
1992) and became to support each other more. Furthermore, one-to-one context
may also encourage students to ask questions that they might be reluctant to
ask in larger classes.

 

To
prevent unevenness, Kerr (1995) suggests multiple reviewers or using anonymous
pairs. This way the anxiety level of the students will be relatively low
because they don’t know whose papers they are reading. In the literature, one
can conclude that the most important side of having anonymous peer review is
that it provokes more critical feedback because they are relieved from social
pressure. So they will be free of interpersonal factors (Bostock, 2000).
According to Robinson (1999) and MacLeod (1999) anonymity seems to encourage
more critical feedback. There is a nice study by Zhao (1998). In order to
explore the effects of anonymous feedback, Zhao conducted two studies on first
and second year students at a college. They reviewed journals in two
conditions, in the first condition reviewers knew that authors will be given
their information whereas in the other condition, they were made sure that
their names will be removed before authors receive their reviews. The results
indicated that the grades assigned by ones whose names are anonymous to the
authors were more critical than the ones who thought they will be identifiable
to the authors. In spite of many benefits of anonymous peer review, it has some
disadvantages too in the literature. According to the research by Kerr &
Bruun (1981) students showed better efforts when they are identified to
authors. They did not really do their best because they were hiding from the
crowd (Lu and Bol, 2007).

 

With
the advances in technology over years, teachers and researchers started to make
use of technology in education too. A wiki is a powerful online writing tool
with revising and editing functions, they are great tools for learners, as
Ben-Zvi (2007) also states, in that learners can reach the papers from
different locations as long as they can go online. Therefore, it was
hypothesized that students working on the wiki page would read and respond to
papers in a shorter time. In the constructivist approach, students are actively
involved in creating knowledge and Holzinger (2008) states that when we create
knowledge by editing a web page and this is what the constructivist approach
talks about and Franco (2008) states that wikis enable students to create
knowledge in a stimulating and exciting environment. Unlike the classroom, the
students can enjoy the convenience of their own environment, which reduces the anxiety
and stress that they could have in an actual classroom. Wikis give students a
floor to integrate their knowledge and technology and share their ideas with
public. Once they have posted their work, it will be available to everybody in
their group.

 

 

 

2.
Methodology

2.1 Research Question & Hypothesis

This
research is looking for answers to following question;

Research
Question: Does using wikis with the
help of peer feedback in writing classes increase students’ grades?

Hypothesis:
Using wikis with the help of peer feedback in the writing class will increase
students’ grades.

2.2 Research Context and Participants

This
research was conducted in a preparatory class at a state university. The medium
of instruction at the university is %30 English. There are total 14 classes in
the department. The classrooms are composed of students with different majors.
As the instructor of the writing lesson, the researcher was a participant
observer in the class. The student sample was composed of 24 elementary level students,
17 boys and 7 girls aged between 17- 20. The first languages of all the
students are Turkish. They studied English for total 25 hours a week, and 5
hours of which are devoted to the writing class. The material used for the
classroom is Weaving it Together 1. During one semester, students are expected
to be able to learn how to compose a paragraph.

2.3 Data collection

Closed
Pre-questionnaire and post-questionnaires with multiple choice items were
applied to see how students thought about peer editing and using a wiki page
for educational purposes at the outset and the end of the research. Field notes
were taken while the students were on task. Finally, students’ work and the
peers’ comments on the wiki pages were read and given feedback by the teacher. In
order to see the progress, two exams, which were seen an indicator of the
success, were given to the students.

 

 

2.4 Procedures

At
the beginning of the term, students were informed about the research and
volunteer students who would be handing in and editing online were asked and
eight people volunteered. The experiment started on the second week. During
classroom time, both group had the same instruction. When they needed to write,
the classical group wrote at home and brought their papers into the class.
Having been edited by their peers, the papers were collected and given feedback
by the teacher. During peer editing section which lasted about 10 minutes, the online
group were let leave the classroom. The classical group were observed by the
teacher while they were on task. The online group, on the other hand, were
expected to upload their first drafts online, and those papers were edited by
peers online by following the same peer editing checklists in threads. Then students,
after doing any corrections they wanted to do, uploaded the final version of
the paper. Finally, those papers were given feedback by the teacher on the same
wiki page. With both groups, students did not use their actual names on their
papers or on the wiki page they were using in order to see how anonymity would
work within this research setting.

 

2.5 Analysis

To
analyze the data, a dependent t-test was used. The results of the students working
online from the first quiz were compared with the results of the second one to
see how much difference posting homework to a wiki page made on students’
learning, and thus on their grades.

 

Results

The
data was analyzed by using the Statistical
Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) and
are presented below.

 

Table 1: First Midterm Statistics

 

Mean

N

Std.Deviation

Std.Error Mean

Online Group

11,87

8

2,41

0,85

Classical Group

10,52

17

4,38

1,06

 

 

 

Table 2: Second Midterm Statistics

 

Mean

N

Std.Deviation

Std.Error Mean

Online Group

11,57

7

2,14

0,81

Classical Group

9,94

18

5,11

1,20

 

Table
1 and Table 2 above shows the students’
results from two midterm exams after the research started. As it was shown in
the Table 1 and Table 2, the means for both the online group and
the classical group was lower in the second midterm although there are
individuals who increased their grades in the second midterm.

 

Table 3: Dependent Samples T-test

 

t

df

sig. (2 tailed)

Midterm Results

0,513

29,88

0,623

 

Sig.=0,05

 

The
results of the dependent t-test showed that there was not a significant
difference (p= 0,623 > p=0,05) between the exam grades of the two groups.
Therefore, the participants did not benefit from using a wiki page to improve
their writing skills in writing classes.

5. Discussion and Conclusions

         In this research, the researcher tried
to see how effective peer editing with the help of a wiki page is for a
preparatory writing class at a state university in Turkey. In reference to the
research question, if we look at the results obtained from midterms, it is
difficult to say that posting homework and peer editing online was of a
significant help, as it was thought to be at the beginning of the research. Talking
about the average, it may not seem that the class advanced so much; however if
we take individual students into account, we can see that improvement may be
more than 5 points for some students. Just like (Allaei & Connor, 1990)
claimed in their paper, there were mixed degrees of success in this research,
too. Similar to what they found out in their study, weaker students in this
classroom had difficulty in spotting the mistakes.

 

Comparing
the first and the second exam results of the students who worked on the wiki
page, we cannot talk about an improvement in their overall scores, as can be
seen in tables 1 and 2.  Out of 8
students; only 2 improved their grades, 2 have shown no difference and 4
students received worse grades in the second midterm. This result is actually
consistent with the post questionnaire results. Although %70 of the students
initially thought that it was a good idea to hand in assignments online, it was
only %30 in the post questionnaire. Unlike what Robinson (1999) and Macleod
(1999) found out, anonymity did not work in this class since they did not want
to proceed without knowing whose papers they were reading and who was reading
theirs both in the lesson and online.

5.1 Implications

We
tend to think that technology is of great help in education in all cases, and
do our best to integrate it into our classes, yet this research showed that it
is not always the case. Unlike what Ben-Zvi (2007) states, students did not
enjoy the freedom of being able to reach their papers or read their friends
papers wherever they are. The results of this research revealed that although
students seemed enthusiastic towards using online sources in their writing
class at first they lost interest and did not benefit from it at the desired
level. That’s to say, as long as students are provided with correct instruction
and given a change to exchange ideas in the classroom, teachers should not be
in search of ways to use technology in their writing classes.

 

5.2 Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research

Obviously
this research is limited by its small sample size. Only 24 students
participated in the research, so a larger sample may give better data to rely
on. Another limitation of this study is the level of the students who took part
in the research. For this study, the participants were chosen from an
elementary class, therefore, another study with participants from higher levels
may reveal different results. In addition to the limitations above, this
research was conducted within one classroom composed of two groups; that’s two
different applications within one group, which made the online writers think
that they were putting more effort than their classmates, so they got bored and
lost interest. Therefore; this research may be repeated with two different
classes having a different application in each.

 

References:

 

Allei,
S.K. & Connor, U. (1990). Using performative assessment instruments with
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(Ed.), Assessing Second Language Writing in Academic Contexts. Ablex, Norwood,
NJ. pp. 22-240.

Ben-Zvi,
D. (2007). Using wiki to promote collaborative learning in statistics
education. Technology Innovations in Statistics Education 1,1-18 Verified 29
Nov,2010 http://escholarship.org/uc/item/6jv107c7

Bostock,
S. (2000). Student peer assessment. Retrieved May 15, 2010, from Keele
University Learning Technology Web Site:

http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/aa/landt/lt/docs/bostock_peer_assessment.htm

Bos,
C. (1988). Process-oriented writing: Instructional implications for mildly
handicapped students. Exceptional
Children, 57, 330-337

Eschenbach, E. A. (2001). Improving technical writing
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Franco,
P. (2008). Using Wiki-Based Peer correction to development writing skills of
Brazilian EFL learners. Novitas Royal,
2008 Vol: 2(1), 45-49.

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education classes: A chance for universal access? Universal
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Society,
7(4), 199-207.

Kerr,
N.L, & Bruun, S.E. (1981). Alternative explanations for the social loafing
effect. Personality and Social Physiology
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Kerr,
P.M. (1995). Peer grading essays in a principles of microeconomics course. Journal of education for Business, July,
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Lu,
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MacLeod,
L. (1999). Computer-aided peer review of writing. Business communication Quarterly, 62(3), 87-95.

Plutsky,
S., & Wilson, B.A. (Winter 2004). Comparison of the three methods for
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Rieber,
L.J. (2006). Using peer review to improve Student Writing in Business Courses. Journal of Education for Business,
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