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Wiki Usage in the Creation of
Learning Objects in Art Education

Sara Wilson McKay, Ph.D.
School of the Arts
Department of Art Education

Project Overview

The basis of a graduate art education curriculum class hinged on some strange objects— pregnant dolls from the 1950s that were a maternity ware company’s promotional materials. The class jointly explored these objects with another graduate class for their meaning and value within art history and art education. The purpose of this project was to investigate the use of a wiki to enable transcontinental collaboration with a colleague at another university and among our collective graduate students. The wiki facilitated discussion and group work both for VCU art education graduate students in an online curriculum theory class and art history graduate students in a seminar at another university. Additionally, the art education students investigated the personal usefulness of digital learning objects within an art curriculum.


The project sought to accomplish the following objectives:

  • To use the dolls directly for the development of object-based curriculum.
  • To participate and collaborate actively using a wiki to develop digital learning objects based on the dolls.
  • To interact and have electronic discussion with students at another university exploring the same topic via the wiki.
  • To aid the instructor’s skill development using a wiki as a teaching tool.
  • To evaluate student use of the wiki for the development of curricular materials.
  • To analyze wiki content and usage determining pedagogical benefits and downfalls of employing the wiki for collaborative curriculum creation, particularly looking at any similarities to feminist pedagogical strategies.
  • To disseminate knowledge gained through this project to a variety of audiences.

Assessment Procedures

Evaluation of this project was based on analyzing the content of postings on the class BlackBoard site, tracking the usage of the wiki for additions or deletions by students via page histories, comparing student writings at the beginning of the course to those at the conclusion of the semester with regards to curriculum development, and looking at the written comments on student evaluations of the course.

Originally this project was intended to look also at undergraduate students’ contribution to and usage of the wiki developed in ARTE 665 in the Spring of 2008.  However, due to teaching schedules, undergraduates were not able to take up this topic.  I am, though, using a wiki in another graduate class this Fall, albeit on another topic.

The selection and use of a particular wiki site, pbwiki.com, for this project had a much larger bearing on the results of this project than anticipated.  Pbwiki was selected from a pool of comparable sites, primarily because it offered something that none of the other sites offered---traffic statistics of the wiki usage.  This tool was offered at a gold-level membership as the primary perk of a fee-increase over the normally free low-level, but sufficient, tools available on pbwiki.  I anticipated using the traffic statistics as a way to check my perceptions about the use of the wiki as the instructor.  After the completion of the class, when I tried to access these statistics, pbwiki was elusive about gaining access to these statistics.  In recent weeks, representatives from pbwiki have finally indicated, much to my disappointment, that the traffic statistics for the site are simply unavailable and that they were a misrepresentation of the tools available.


Both the use of the wiki and charging students with creating their own digital learning objects were effective teaching tools to achieve student engagement in the course.  It was clear from the students’ BlackBoard posts that they were reading and using both the wiki and each other’s digital learning objects created in the class as additional sites of course engagement—citing contributions to the class compendium of images of the maternal form from both the VCU students and the students from the other university as well as directly referencing and challenging the usefulness of their classmates’ digital learning objects.

Wiki usage requires more knowledge on the instructor’s part in order to effectively challenge students to USE the wiki instead of just POST (in a BlackBoard fashion) on the wiki.  With experience, I believe I will be better able to structure assignments in ways that encourage/require students to utilize more fully the capabilities of the wiki.  In general, students used it as an assignment drop box and rarely re-arranged their edits in ways that were more appealing or more sensible.  On one occassion, a highly collaborative area of the wiki was erased by one studnet.  I restored a previously saved version from the history, but another students’ simultaneous edits were lost.  This experience will help me better plan the wiki’s use in future classes.

At the conclusion of the class, students discussed curriculum design (as was the course’s topic) in ways that emphasized relevance to students and were more focused on “big ideas” when compared to first writings in the class that focused on the procedural nuts and bolts only of curriculum writing.  It is not possible to attribute all of this outcome (a desired conceptual shift indicating growth in curriculum theory development) to the use of the wiki and digital learning object construction, but perhaps while students were so distracted trying to utilize new tools, they were better able to set aside their typical approaches to curriculum design and open up to new ideas at the same time.

In general, based on the student evaluations, students enjoyed the usage of both the wiki and the creation of digital learning objects, indicating that the use of these technologies were welcome additions to an online course.  While neither the use of the wiki nor the creation of digital learning objects was maximized by students in the course, they stated they like the mulit-modality of the learning these technologies provided.  They also commented that they liked how the wiki facilitated the collaboration with students at another university (even though this aspect was not as robust as I had imagined it could be).  It seems from their comments in the student evaluations that these activities enhanced an online course in interesting ways.

An unexpected outcome, with regards to the wiki usage was that I anticipated the students would love being able to edit each other’s work, but they established implicitly and stuck to very clear boundaries about touching each other’s work.  In fact, the wiki seemed to be just one more arena for students to comment to me as the instructor on the ways that other students participate when they didn’t agree with them.  I was very surprised that this editable space was not embraced, but in thinking about why this happened, I think it has a lot to do with what our students are schooled to expect and do in classes.  I will do much better setting up this aspect of a wiki next time---encouraging experimentation and flexibility, hopefully with different outcomes.

Next Steps

Dissemination of the results from this class involves both the interesting structure of the class (collaboration across universities, stemming from bizarre objects, cross-disciplinary exploration) and the use of technology throughout the course. My colleague and I are presenting results at the College Arts Association conference in Los Angeles in Spring 2009 in a session entitled “Web 2.0 and Art History.” We have a manuscript in development for Radical Teacher, with encouraging preliminary feedback from the editors. We have also submitted a national conference presentation on the topic, two book chapter proposals, and are planning a second conference proposal in the UK in Summer 2009. Additionally, the collaboration and course questions raised through the wiki use has prompted us to envision a book based on a travelling curriculum project based on these pregnant dolls, and we are pursuing a AAUW grant to begin the next step.

Personally, I remain committed to experimenting with new technologies in the classroom because it models innovative thought for educators in identifying appropriate tools for specific course objectives they may have in their own teaching contexts.

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Last modified: June 20, 2013
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