The Case for Wiki-Based Projects (Part 2)

Last week I talked about my brilliant and doomed innovative plan to adopt a class wiki to help organize student projects and share resources amongst my classes. I'm rolling assignments related to this out next week, so it's probably a good time to talk about exactly how this whole thing is supposed to actually work.

At a basic level, all I'm having students do is assemble a Google Sites page with information about their projects. All of these pages will be on the same Google Site, but the same thing could mostly be accomplished by having each student group just make their own site. The benefit of having everything on a single page is for ease of linking between pages (a staple of wikis) and so I have direct control over everything. That's less for the sake of my ego and more so I can ensure that a student doesn't link to somebody else's site only to find a month later that everything's deleted and nobody saved the info. It's cleaner if I have everything under one roof that I can manage.

Once I have the students create their pages one the site and everything's up and running, I'm going to introduce the "Content Choice Board". Choice boards are a very handy way of giving students some options in the work they want to do while still ensuring they're more or less doing the assignments given by the teacher. For those unfamiliar, a choice board is basically a list of work options, all related to a topic or theme, and the student is told to pick a certain number they want to do.

For reference, my choice board is currently as follows:

  • Include your Project Proposal on your page (scan or rewrite it)
  • Include your completed Daily Project Management Log
  • Explanation of your Project Goals
  • List of Team Members and roles within group
  • Step-by-Step Build Instructions for project (up to 3 phases)
  • Explanations of Background Knowledge needed for project (up to 3 concepts)
  • Pictures to accompany project, showing materials and/or process (up to 3)
  • Citations / Links to Resources Used, with summary of information gained from each (up to 3)
  • Links to other Related Student Project Pages (up to 3)
  • Reflections on:
    • Research conducted / knowledge acquired for project
    • Project work process / Team Dynamics / Management
    • Conclusions / Results and further learning / development

It's quite the list. I have exactly 22 items on it. By the end of the semester, each project page should have at least 16 of the 22 items to get full credit. Each of the things listed as "up to 3" can obviously include more, but I'm only going to give the students credit for up to 3 of them.

Note that "Full Credit" does NOT mean 100% of the things on the list or done, only 16 out of 22. They have 6 freebies that are just extra credit if they go above and beyond. This means the students will have some choices in what things they want to tackle, and what items they honestly just want to skip. I might have a student group with zero interest in taking pictures to document their project, but if they're thorough elsewhere, they can still get an A. One student might do everything EXCEPT for writing the reflections and concept explanation, and he'll do fine. I expect most students to give me a scattering of everything rather than try to min/max like that, but we'll see what happens by May.

I'll have monthly "check-ins" on their pages to make sure these are being worked on alongside the projects, and not just crammed together at the end of the semester. I imagine something like needing 5 items by the end of February, 9 by the end of March, 13 by April, and the full 16 by the last week of class. I imagine students will go for the low-hanging fruit first, so I feel like this is a pretty reasonable expectation schedule.

A big reason I'm trying this out is to avoid the rush of work through most of the semester followed by a scramble to remember everything to cobble a presentation together in the last few weeks. By making this a running documentation of their projects, I'm hopeful students will keep the "big picture" of their projects in mind while working. Previously, my grading was based mostly off of participation in class activities and a Daily Project Management Log, which looks like this:

Example group project: Building an RC plane from foam board. It actually worked pretty well.

Students filled out goals and materials at the beginning of class, then the last two reflection columns at the end. I'd grade these once a week for completeness. It works great for short-term planning; setting goals, planning for the next day, etc. However, big-picture ideas got a little lost in the daily shuffle. I'm still keeping these forms and the weekly grade, but I'll knock down how much they count for in the final grade to make room for the new Project Pages. I also only made it one of the options on their Content Choice Board, so it'll help them, but they still need to expand their work beyond just the daily tracking.

So we'll see how this goes. It's entirely possible that the students all decide to skip the "Related Student Pages" and "Resources Used" and the whole idea of wiki structure is flung out the window, but I don't see that happening just yet. I'm optimistic that we'll end up with a collection of pages filled with good explanations, fun projects, and links for further learning from inside AND outside our classroom.

Or I end up with a bunch of blank pages and the kids launch a mutiny. We'll see. The semester is still young.


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