Nurses use writing skills widely in their practice, yet teaching clear and concise writing is a challenge. In addition, today’s students are considered “digital natives.”1 Technologically savvy students want new strategies for learning, yet many future educators complete programs without learning these pedagogical approaches to teaching. The question is how to get technology-resistant graduate nursing students, soon to be nurse educators, to buy into this process. A wiki can be an effective tool for educators and encourages writing collaboration among students.
THE HISTORY OF WIKIS
The wiki was developed in 1994.1 The term wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning “quick.”2,3 Wikis, used in higher education since the late 1990s, are writing spaces that allow participants, in this case students, to read, edit, exchange ideas, reorganize, add content, and peer review documents. Wikis allow visitors to become editors at any time and from any location.4 Changes are instantly visible to all users, and the page is constantly evolving.2,5
As a tool in the classroom, wikis are effective in teaching subject matter that benefits from collaborative efforts and knowledge development.6–8 A wiki has an advantage in that it allows a student to review and modify the content on a collection of Web pages, thus leading to a collaborative content-building experience.7,9 A simple design allows students and educators at all levels to use the tool.10 Frydenberg3 stated that wikis allow students and faculty to post information; thus, the wiki becomes a partner in student learning.3 In addition, wikis allow knowledge to come from more than a single instructor.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE GENERATIONS
Teaching with technology requires an appreciation for the differences across generations. The young adult, 20 to 40 years of age, is self-directed and organized, draws on experiences, and prefers hands-on practice and active participation in the classroom.11 The middle-aged adult, 41 to 64 years of age, reviews past experiences in learning, which may be positive or negative. Middle-aged adults have complex, stress-filled lives and prefer straightforward, clear assignments that do not take on the feeling of busy work. They prefer to invest time obtaining knowledge that is pertinent to life concerns and problems.11
Adults learn best when the learning is self-initiated and problem-centered wherein the learners participate actively and receive immediate feedback.11 Adult learners need goals and objectives that are realistic and applicable to the “real world” and accommodate what they “bring to the table.”12 Adults need support during learning, helpful feedback, and coaching to assist with transfer of knowledge to daily practice.12
Peer review benefits learning, especially in a collaborative environment.13,14 Braungart and Braungart15 report that learning takes place by observing others and understanding various learning preferences: visual, aural, read/write, and kinesthetic. Since most learners use all of these approaches, incorporating them into the educational milieu is important. A wiki can meet this goal.
WIKI USE IN GRADUATE STUDY
An exploratory report on the value of using a wiki in higher education used a literature review and faculty interviews to define what a wiki is, describe how to use it, and demonstrate its value in teaching and learning.16 The publication includes a section on the major differences between wikis and other tools and notes that wikis are not being used to their full potential. A benefit of a wiki in education is that it is transparent, meaning that the entire process is revealed. This report encourages the use of wikis in the classroom to enhance student learning in our “highly networked environment.”16(p20)
Research specific to graduate studies is limited. Ioannou4 revealed favorable results when working in an online environment. This study reported that 21 graduate students using a wiki “demonstrated higher levels of collaboration, characterized new ideas, modifications, elaborations, questioning, agreements, etc.”4(p220) Cobus17 described the benefits of using nontraditional peer-generated feedback in publishing health-related topics in a graduate-level course. Cobus assisted students in identifying health information that is not evidence based and includes biases or erroneous materials that have potential to result in harm to public health.17
Ciesueka used a wiki in a graduate nursing course to foster collaboration and meet community core competencies and reported the final product as being “creative, comprehensive, and accurate.”18(p475) Positive comments from the students included that the wiki allowed them to learn different points of view, understand the whole perspective on an issue, become accountable, and participate in cooperative learning. The final step in the assignment was to share the wiki with the community; students reported success with community engagement. The researcher reported that the wiki was easy to use, promoted teamwork, and simulated real community work including task forces and expert panels.18
WIKI DEVELOPMENT OF WRITING SKILLS
Ma and Yuen, in their research with journalism students, found that wikis support “generating, revising, and organizing knowledge.”19(p307) They analyzed the editing capability of the wiki in relation to the journalistic writing process and found a “significant relationship between behavior and writing performance.”19(pp307,308) They concluded that wikis “successfully mediate learners’ revision behavior” and writing performance.19(p308)
There is a lack of research related to use of wikis in graduate-level courses as well as assessment of writing skills. Further research evaluating outcomes is essential. The intent of this article was to add to the body of knowledge about wiki use in a graduate classroom in relation to improving writing competency.
The primary objective of this project was to improve graduate nurse educator students’ writing skills through the use of an assignment using a wiki and to expose future educators to this technology. In addition, this study sought to evaluate the students’ satisfaction with the assignment and the use of wiki technology. It is believed that this simple, accessible, and collaborative online tool will benefit digitally naive and technology-resistant students to create and share Web pages in an easy-to-use and nonthreatening computer environment.
This small study used a mixed-methods design that incorporated qualitative and quantitative data collection. A convenience sample of 12 graduate students enrolled in a nursing education program at a small university on the West Coast attended a seminar course in the spring of 2011. The university institutional review board approved the study prior to initiation.
Seminar in Contemporary Nursing is a 2-credit-hour, graduate-level core course offered in the nursing education program at California State University, Stanislaus. The course complements and is taken along with a 2-credit-hour, graduate-level core course titled “Practicum in Contemporary Nursing.” The course is designed to assist nursing students to apply advanced theoretical knowledge in a select clinical focus area. The course examines the integration of clinical practice with evidence-based practice in order to develop expertise in the content area. The course is delivered over 13 weeks, and classes meet for 2 hours once per week. There were 12 students enrolled in the course.
The Wiki Assignment
The assignment goals are to develop writing skills and content expertise in a clinical area selected for the practicum course. The wiki page and 40-minute oral presentation/discussion are directly related to a specific area of clinical content, and the assignment is worth 50% of the final grade. The wiki page requires evidence-based material and a reference page. The entire page is formatted in American Psychological Association style. Students are given time in and out of the class to develop the page. Students select a content expert (preceptor/faculty) and student peer reviewer who review the page for accuracy and comprehensiveness prior to the oral presentation and final grade being assigned. The reviewers complete and sign a reviewer tool that is turned in when the wiki page is due. The reviewer rubric is a guideline to assess organization, subject knowledge, graphics, and mechanics. In addition, each student reads the chapter prior to the oral presentation and comes prepared with questions and feedback. Each student evaluates the wiki page and oral presentation/discussion using the provided rubric. During the oral presentation, students present their wiki page and discuss challenges encountered with the project. The page is evaluated on how engaging, interesting, organized, creative, accurate, and complete it is. Formatting, grammar, spelling, and sentence structure are reflected in grading. Students publish the final wiki page for public viewing when it is complete.
Why Google Sites
There are several free wiki providers. Google Sites (Google, Mountain View, CA) is part of a Web 2.0 catalog of tools, which allows a read/write experience. It is a free site without advertisements, a clean interface, and an option for publishing pages to the public or a select group. It is easy to get started by simply registering at the site. The students need a Google Mail account, and the faculty invites the students to join the page created for the purposes of the course. The site allows the students to work within an environment where they can review and follow their classmates.
Institutional Technology Role
An Institutional Technology (IT) representative created a short 5-minute introductory wiki video for students to preview on the first day of class; this was later placed on the course Blackboard (Blackboard, Washington, DC) for future reference. The IT representative was invited originally to the classroom for two 30-minute instruction and hands-on learning sessions to ensure confidence with Google Sites wiki. The students were persistently resistant to the technology, resulting in the IT representative returning nine additional times. The IT representative worked with the students as a group and individually. As a way of enhancing comfort with the use of Google Sites, a course Blackboard discussion board was set up for questions and issues related to the wiki project. The IT representative visited the discussion board on a regular basis to respond to students’ needs.
Students were invited to participate in the study and introduced to the online wiki site the first week of the course. They were informed that their decision to participate in the study would not affect their grade and that the faculty would not know who enrolled or declined to give consent, and anonymity and confidentiality would be maintained. They were informed that they could drop out of the study at any time. Three of the 12 students were not present when the questionnaire was administered on the final day of class. Two of the students chose not to complete a questionnaire. The faculty was not present during the completion of the questionnaires, which were placed in an envelope and delivered to the nursing office by a student volunteer.
All students participated in making decisions related to the overall character of the site such as title placement and color schemes. The graduate students created pages on topics related to their clinical practicum placement. Prior to the due date, each student chapter was peer and content expert reviewed for accuracy and comprehensiveness. The content expert was a graduate nurse with experience and knowledge in the content area. Students, with faculty assistance, selected their expert reviewer. Open editing and comments were tracked.
Students included pictures, YouTube links (YouTube, San Bruno, CA), attachments, and Web site links into their chapters. Evidence-based content included pharmacology, diagnostic criteria, pathophysiology, history, genetics, and references. Topics for student wiki pages included sepsis care, borderline personality disorder, high-risk infant transport, diabetes mellitus, pediatric pain, cardiac defects, and palliative care.
It was announced that student pages would be made public the last week of the course. Students were also encouraged to publish the pages in a journal. Legal issues were discussed and resolved with the assistance of IT.
The Evaluation Questionnaire
The evaluation questionnaire administered on the final day of class included the following demographic questions: age, sex, ethnicity, and prior wiki experience. The students used a scale to rate questions about their wiki experience: (1) strongly disagree, (2) disagree, (3) neither agree nor disagree, (4) agree, and (5) strongly agree. Students were asked two open-ended questions and given an area for overall comments. The IT representative was offered the opportunity to include questions related to the introduction video, in-class assistance, and the Blackboard discussion forum.
The composition of the sample included two students between the ages 26 and 30 years, three between the ages of 36 and 40 years, and two between the ages of 41 and 45 years. All participants were female. One participant was Hispanic, and six participants were white. None of the students had experience with a wiki.
There were 17 questions on the questionnaire. The first set of questions was related to the assessment of learning while using a wiki. All students agreed or strongly agreed that the wiki was beneficial to learning course material. They were asked if the wiki facilitated the group learning process (four agreed, one strongly agreed, one disagreed, and one strongly disagreed). Three strongly agreed and three agreed that a wiki fosters experiential learning and that a wiki is a useful online learning environment.
Another set of questions was related to teaching. Four students agreed and two strongly agreed that a wiki was a good tool for teaching. Three of the students planned to use the wiki in the classroom or other education environment in the future. Based on their experience with the wiki, they felt that a wiki was beneficial to nursing education.
Five reported having previous collaborative writing project experiences. When asked about the benefit to their writing, five students agreed that the wiki was beneficial, and only one student disagreed.
Students were asked about the IT assistance. Six students agreed or strongly agreed that the video introduction to Google Sites created by the IT representative, presented in class and posted on Blackboard, was helpful. Everyone agreed, four strongly, that having the IT representative was helpful. Five felt that the discussion board on Blackboard for questions related to using Google Sites was helpful. All agreed that having time out of the classroom to work on the assignment helped.
The open-ended questions, “What were the benefits of using a wiki in the classroom?” brought the following responses. A wiki is a “good way to relay educational material,” “you can get a point across faster,” “I liked the process of group evaluation,” “I liked the process of learning how to use the computer in an inventive way,” “experiential learning was a benefit,” “it improved my writing and computer skills,” and “I learned a lot in preparing it.”
When asked, “What do you feel are the drawbacks/limitations of using a wiki in the classroom?” students responded with the following comments. The wiki was “time consuming, but worth it,” “it was hard if you were not computer savvy,” and “my pages did not work the same on other screens, making them look like they had errors.” One student reported that she “hated reading so much information on the screen.” Finally, one student said that there were no drawbacks or limitations, although there was a steep learning curve.
In the final section, participants were asked to reflect on their wiki-related activity by giving overall comments, which included the following: “it was great to learn something new!” “ it was frustrating using the program,” “it was time consuming figuring out the technical aspects,” “allow more class time to help students log on and access the site,” and “a wiki is easy to navigate, but examples of a wiki page would help.”
Graduate nurse education students who participated in a wiki assignment reported positive responses to learning and potential future use of a wiki in education. The overall responses on the evaluation questionnaire reflected the age of the student. Those who were young adults (20–40 years of age) were more favorable to the use of a wiki, while middle-aged students (41–64 years of age) reported more difficulty. They said that they felt stressed for time and that the assignment was difficult because of lack of technological comfort. It is important to note that the average age of doctorally prepared nurse faculty is 56 years and of master’s degree–prepared nurse faculty is 55 years.20 Knowing this, middle-aged nurse educator students, the potential faculty pool of the immediate future, need to be mentored and encouraged to understand the importance of promoting pedagogical experimentation to meet the needs of their younger students.
As an older adult faculty member, I had some trepidation about this assignment. Having the support of an IT representative was a vital component related to my comfort in approaching this learning activity. It is important to experiment with pedagogical approaches to meet the needs of today’s students.
It is common knowledge that most graduate nursing students are poor writers. Adding to the problem, students frequently do not pick up their final writing assignments at the end of the semester and thus do not benefit from the edits made by the faculty, often leading to repetition of grammar and referencing errors in future papers. Strategies for improving writing skills may include increasing the number of writing assignments in courses, giving students feedback on drafts, having students mentor each other, and adding a writing course to the curriculum. These strategies to improve writing skills increase the amount of time the faculty devotes to each student and allows students’ exposure to only one faculty’s feedback. The wiki page allows peers, outside expert content reviewers, and faculty to see the document during the development process. Viewing the wiki page in the classroom allows immediate feedback and editing. The edits are made in current time versus weeks later when a paper is returned. The wiki moves things up a notch by making students responsible for their writing and editing in front of an audience versus a single faculty member.
Wikis are excellent tools for active learning, allowing a collaborative approach to creating nursing documents and receiving peer feedback. The students’ approaches to writing changed once they became aware that their peers, instructor, and other faculty and preceptors would be viewing their materials. The expert reviewer played a powerful role in the assignment, resulting in the students paying more attention to detail and ensuring the accuracy of information on their wiki pages.
Collaborative work provides students with an extended opportunity to produce a product and to reflect on its quality. It is very clear who is working on their pages and who is not. Students admitted publicly in the classroom that they were embarrassed that they had not started or completed much as they had hoped to on their wiki page. Visibility encouraged students to bring their work up to a higher level. In addition, students did not challenge the grade that they received on the assignment since it was easy to see fellow students’ work in comparison to their own.
A Wiki provides peer-reviewed information with the opportunity to self-publish. Once students became aware that the assignment would be publicly viewed, great concern was focused on perfection of detail and accuracy. Even so, the students decided to avoid publishing their wiki pages for several reasons. One student never completed her edits and as a result felt that her page was not ready for publication. A few students approached the faculty privately to admit that they did not want their pages published because they were not confident that they had referenced everything appropriately, even though plagiarism is defined and discussed in detail during class time. Other students asked not to have their wiki pages published because they wanted to use it for their graduate culminating experience (thesis, project, or comprehensive examination).
One student reported anecdotally that after this assignment she was asked to be on a hospital team to develop a new program and policy because of her familiarity with a wiki, gained during this assignment. This illustrates how a wiki and similar technology can allow nurses at the bedside to participate in policy development.
Considering the small sample size, the limited time frame and location, and the exploratory nature of this study, one must be cautious when applying findings to other settings. Future research could focus on a larger study sample and more assignments used in different graduate nursing courses. Repetition of wiki use by the students would add to the body of knowledge.
One area of difficulty for the students is thinking “publicly”; they are used to thinking about one assignment at a time and having only one faculty member reviewing and giving feedback on their papers. Students give little thought to the papers after the grade arrives, unless they have issues with the grade. This assignment brings a different dimension to how they think about their papers. Allowing them to edit and receive ongoing feedback enhances active learning.11,12
Another issue is that the students were not prepared to make design choices and did not have knowledge about Web site development. They used “boring” (their words) word-processed documents that started with a simple title and were followed by one paragraph after another. They had difficulty placing pictures and Web links within their information. There were problems with wrapping words around picture files. Size was a constant issue; initially, they used large photographs that took up entire pages. Students changed fonts and sizes from page to page, resulting in lack of uniformity.
They had a tendency to stay within their comfort zones by typing in a word-processed document and pasting it into the wiki when completed. This tactic delayed developing comfort with the wiki and often resulted in formatting problems once the text was pasted to the wiki page.
Students reported improved comfort level and confidence with using the wiki over time. It would be important to reevaluate students after repeated wiki assignments to discover their progression and comfort with repeated use.
For educators interested in using wikis in the classroom, the most important recommendation is to provide continuous support. Start by giving the students plenty of time to log on and use the wiki and having them demonstrate basic wiki skills while in the classroom. Using a demonstration video and providing samples of wiki pages are important. Students need to understand basic page layout and simple design aesthetics. It is important that the students understand wiki capabilities and limitations. They need to understand that it is challenging at first, but worth the reward in the end. Ultimately, the success of a wiki in the classroom depends on the faculty’s ability to motivate and monitor the students.
It is important to involve experts in the community as peer reviewers for graduate work. Nursing faculty are limited by their experiences and knowledge. Bringing in experts from the community broadens the learning process and gains community support for the program. Using a wiki to develop a service-learning component to student works builds on this concept.
The wiki writing assignment introduces students, faculty, and the community to graduate student projects while exposing students to new technology. The wiki assignment encourages active engagement and deeper learning. This study brings some practical contributions to the use of wikis in the graduate nursing classroom. Graduate nursing education should incorporate new and emerging tools such as a wiki into their courses. In addition, it can be useful to those who use similar technology in the classroom or work in online teaching environments. Research is needed to test the efficacy and effectiveness of pedagogical innovation, such as wiki, in nursing education.
© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.