written with Dr. Edward Himelblau, Biological Science
At the end of the Spring 2010 quarter, I had a faculty consultation with Dr. Ed Himelblau. Ed was looking for a way to facilitate online small-group problem solving in his BIO-351 genetics class. He had tried the Blackboard Discussion Board tool during his Spring quarter course, but he didn’t feel that it met his or his students’ needs. He wanted to know if he could use Blackboard to allow students to analyze data and propose experiments for a quarter-long activity. After hearing what Ed was trying to accomplish, I suggested that he try the Wiki tool within Blackboard. The Wiki would allow groups to work in one online location. The history of their work is recorded so it is easy to see who is adding and editing the information. In the Blackboard Wiki, areas can be created for each group. Ed would also be able to contribute additional information into the Wikis for each group to view and analyze.
Ed’s Blackboard course was set up with five separate Wiki areas for each of the five groups. In each Wiki area, the group members would be able to access the pages that Ed provided. The quarter-long activity provided four data pages for students to analyze and each page represented an activity.
Page One – First Activity:
Students were presented with a perplexing result in class (a cross breeding between two plants that yielded very unexpected offspring). The students were instructed to think of an experimental question that could help them understand such a result. These questions were collected in class on paper. The students were sorted into five groups based upon their responses (i.e., all group members had asked the same question).
On the first Wiki page, Ed provided the answer to the experimental question the group members had proposed.
Page Two – Second Activity:
Before the next lecture, the students were required to visit their group’s Wiki page and comment on the data presented there. In addition, they were encouraged to submit a new experimental question. In lecture the groups were given five minutes at the end of the class to finalize their next experimental question.
The group would write down their question and give it to Ed on the way out. The process of the students sharing and collaborating on the data, their questions and experiences, provided a constructive process for higher-level learning.
Ed created a new page (Second Experiment) within each group Wiki area for the students to answer the second experimental question.
Pages Three & Four – Third & Fourth Activity:
This process was repeated four times during the quarter. At the end of the quarter each group Wiki had a series of pages recording their experimental questions, the results of those experiments, and the discussions that ensued. Students were told to look back over their and other group entire virtual experiments. In Week 10, each group was given time in class to write up a final explanation for the strange result presented at the start of the activity.
Students received 10 points for participating in the Wiki. The final explanations were graded based on their accuracy and on how well the students integrated their results. The group that gave the most accurate explanation received a few additional points. Even though the points were low, the buy-in was high and very few didn’t participate in the activity.
Benefits of the Activity:
Dr. Himelblau said… “The activity required students to come up with a hypothesis (i.e “This allele is dominant over that allele”) and then think of a way to test the hypothesis. The delay between asking the questions and getting the results was a good thing…there was a lot riding on the students asking the right questions. Personally I think the activity complemented what they were learning and added inquiry to a non-lab class. Several students cited the activity as a positive aspect of the course on evaluation forms. Since the activity was conducted on-line and mostly outside of class it took very little away from in-class content. So I look at it as value added.”
Why Use the Wiki?
Dr. Himelblau said… “The Wiki format made this very easy. When students visited their Wiki site there was a single page for each round of the experiments and discussion. Students could easily and quickly remind themselves of prior results. Another benefit of the Wiki system was that the group pages were very easy to set up. (I have to admit that I was confused when I tried to use group discussion boards… they didn’t have the intuitive feel of the Wikis.) I felt that setting up and managing the Wiki sites was very similar to maintaining a Blackboard site… there was little new to learn. I feel that the work I put in was reasonable and I will do it again. The students seemed to be generally engaged by this activity and looked forward to seeing the results of each virtual experiment.”