Spotlight on Teaching, Teaching with Technology

Connecting the Dots of Practice: How One Program Improved a Collaborative Wiki Assignment

Visual representation of connecting dots. Image courtesy of Hyperakt
Visual representation of connecting dots. Image courtesy of Hyperakt.

by Kim Levenhagen, Assistant Professor, Physical Therapy

A year ago my colleagues and I in the Program in Physical Therapy piloted a wiki project to thread concepts from earlier and current coursework.  We have continued with this project, albeit with some improvements.  This project stretches the students to scaffold previously learned information in order to move from recall to application into clinical practice.  The objective of the wiki project is to assist the students in recognizing “why” the content is pertinent for their future practice.  Because each medical condition is multifaceted, the wiki assists the students to recognize the complexity of the disease process and all of the factors that impact patient care.

For those of you unfamiliar with a wiki, it is a website in which a community of users can add and delete content collaboratively.  Wikispaces is a secure dedicated wiki website that remains private until the collaborators are invited by the designer.  No one outside of the classroom has access unless invited.  For this wiki project, four students are randomly selected into a group and assigned a topic/pathology.  The students are required to recall, integrate, and apply information when discussing the pathophysiology, diagnostics tests, pharmacologic treatments, and implications to physical therapists.  The students are assessed on content, citations, ease of navigation, and grammar.  Students are required to collaborate and integrate key concepts necessary to developing their clinical reasoning utilizing technology.

Last year, I reflected on several barriers, which resulted in the limited success of the project.

These included:

  1. Poor understanding of the purpose or value of the project
  2. Poor recall of previously learned concepts
  3. Inability to accept imperfection and learn from their errors

After meeting with a focus group and reflecting on comments from a mid-year review by the Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning and on course evaluations, my colleagues and I implemented several changes.  The following will reveal lessons learned and the steps we took to improve the project.

We made a number of changes early in the semester to improve student understanding regarding the purpose of the project.  These changes included an email sent collectively to the students explicitly stating the purpose of the wiki project.  In addition, we developed detailed directions on each of the course webpages and syllabi.  On the first day of class, we provided an overview of our expectations and resources to address frequently asked questions from the previous year.  We enhanced the rubric to model our expectations for the project.  Finally, we provided a sample project with a sample rubric.  This sample project illustrated common errors and how points would be deducted.  As a result of these changes, we have had fewer questions regarding the purpose or how to complete the project.  The projects are improved with enhanced content and details.   Students have stated the project assists them in realizing the importance of the course content in becoming better practitioners.   Overall, the student feedback reflects a more positive experience with the changes.  As one student commented, “Great way for many people to view created ‘web-pages’ and an easy way to work as a group on a project since we have such different schedules.”

To assist with recall, I had several students, who were physiology tutors, and had successfully completed the course, construct study guides or mini Tegrity lectures on previously learned concepts.  A study by Cortright et al (2005) found that peer instruction enhances meaningful learning of information and therefore, improves a student’s ability to problem solve.  Students who had previously completed the course guided and enhanced the learning of students currently enrolled in the course.  In addition, these students, acting as peers, could provide insight on why the content would be meaningful for future coursework and clinical practice.

We attempted to address student imperfections and learning from errors by providing more written feedback.  The students receive feedback from each course coordinator through a collaborative rubric on Blackboard Learn.  This technique helps to clarify expectations from content experts.  In addition, students provide feedback on the collaborative learning experience, which facilitates the development of self, and peer assessment.  As students move toward clinicals or employment, it is imperative they develop the skills to receive formative feedback and implement this feedback into their daily practice.  Our goal is to have students move from reflection on action to reflection in action by the time they graduate.  This project allows for students to begin the process for critical thinking by giving real-world relevancy in a safe environment.

The wiki project offers flexibility of access and fosters autonomous student learning.  Although we utilize wiki spaces for a pathophysiology course, it can be applied to any course content.  The implemented changes have guided the students towards greater success in problem solving.  This use of technology provides the students a multimodal approach to learning.  By modeling expectations and explicitly stating objectives, we can focus students on their development through integration of coursework into current practice.

To read about Kim’s earlier wiki-teaching experiences, please visit her December 2012 blog post, “Helping Students Connect the Dots Using a Wiki”