Fun with wikis

Doug Fisher | University of South Carolina

A wiki can be a useful way to provide each student in class an online page to introduce himself or herself, and the written work can be turned into an editing exercise that teaches the value of self-editing.

Objectives

To provide individualized pages for students to share with others in the class a short biography and introductory essay.

To provide material for a later class exercise/lab that shows that editing is not reserved for editors but is a valuable skill all writers/journalists must have.

Reasoning

This is a generation already attuned to My Space, Facebook, etc., so the social networking function of a public personal page (public meaning visible to the rest of the class) should not be a foreign idea.

A wiki keeps all versions of a page and so allows the instructor to go back and retrieve a previous version for the editing lab.

Wikis are among the emerging tools being used in newsrooms and students should become familiar with them and how they can be used. Wikis allow multimedia features as well.

Tools

Many course management systems, such as Blackboard, have wiki add-in modules that schools have implemented. The disadvantage is that these are generally not available to be copied from semester to semester (so the idea of creating a stylebook wiki, for instance, might be limited). However, they are useful for single-semester, in-class use.

Public, free wikis are available and easy to use, such as Wikispaces and PB Wiki (see Principles of Convergent Journalism wiki or SJMC Multimedia Curriculum Task Force). They also allow material to be kept from semester to semester. However, they are public (usually unless you select a paid private version).

Execution

My first assignment to students in my beginning editing class is to use the private Wiki tool in Blackboard to post a personal profile. I give a limit of 300 words (after all, we need to learn how to write briefly), and to keep some continuity I ask them to address several questions, such as why they are in journalism, have they thought about switching majors and why, what do they know about editing and editing class, what do they want to do with a journalism degree, etc. They also are free to add more comments of their own. Once the deadline has passed, I cut and paste these into Word documents. If the student has made more recent updates, I will go back to an earlier version. As might be expected, they are usually full of style and grammar errors.

About midway through the semester, I produce these copies as a lab and ask students to edit their own work based on what they have learned. I grade as follows: Each grammar and style error left in is +1 (I use "golf" scoring where zero is the best grade). I also give a grade for general improvement on things such as brevity and clarity. Usually, the maximum for the lab is 50 points, just to limit the damage since this is not a uniform lab as are others. But it does provide a good starting point as well to discuss how in modern newsrooms editing is not a skill just left for editors.

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