Helping Students Adapt Their Writing Skills to Wiki Collaboration

The widespread adoption of wikis in both business and higher education is a testament to the collaborative value of wiki technology. However, wiki collaboration does require a broader set of skills than traditional business communication requires. It also requires a different approach to communication, one in which the authorial “me” is superseded by the collaborative “us.”

Evaluating, editing, and revising the work of other writers

Before getting your students started on wiki projects, it’s a good idea to offer some coaching in evaluating, editing, and revising the work of other writers. These tips are helpful in a variety of communication situations, of course, but they’re essential for wiki collaboration.
Before making substantive changes to an article, students should consider the following questions:

What is the purpose of this article? Editing or revising without knowing what the writer hoped to accomplish runs the risk of making the piece less effective, not more.
Who is the target audience?
What information does the audience need?
Does the article provide accurate, relevant, and complete information in a well-organized way?
Does the writing demonstrate the “you” attitude toward the audience?
Is the level and tone of the writing appropriate for the audience?
Can the readability be improved?
Is the writing clear? If not, how can it be improved?
Is the writing as concise as it could be?

Adapting to the wiki environment

Students can improve their wiki collaboration skills by keeping these points in mind:*

Let go of traditional expectations of authorship, including individual recognition and control.
Understand the expectations for adding new pages. For instance, is it acceptable to add pages that are still rough or incomplete, or does the community expect new pages to be close to final quality?
Find and follow the wiki’s guidelines for helping new contributors integrate their work into the group’s ongoing effort.
Encourage all team members to improve each other’s work.
Learn how to use page templates and other formatting options to make sure your content’s format matches the rest of the wiki.
Use the separate editing and discussion capabilities appropriately.
Take advantage of the sandbox, if available (this is a “safe,” nonpublished section of the wiki where team members can practice editing and writing).

Using the Bovée/Thill wiki simulator

You can give your students the opportunity to develop wiki skills in a secure, confidential environment. The unique Bovée/Thill wiki simulator lets students practice evaluating and revising wiki articles using a real, live wiki editor. Unlike a conventional wiki, however, this system saves each student’s work separately and privately so that you can evaluate his or her ability to assess an article with numerous built-in flaws and make the corrections needed to improve readability and achieve the “you” attitude.

Here are two wiki exercises that use the simulation, a simpler one-paragraph article and a more-challenging full-page article.
Exercise 1
Exercise 2

Also, you may find this report from the University of Delaware on wiki usage in higher education helpful as you plan and manage wiki projects. It offers some thoughtful advice on grading strategies, wiki etiquette, and other important considerations.

We would enjoy hearing your thoughts and experiences on wiki usage in business communication courses.

*Adapted from “Codex: Guidelines,” WordPress website [accessed 13 July 2010]; Michael Shanks, “Wiki Guidelines,” Traumwerk website [accessed 13 July 2010]; “Help,” Wikimedia Meta Wiki [accessed 13 July 2010]