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Using wikis to support students doing media production-based projects

Abstract:  There is an increasing emphasis on the use of ‘web 2.0’ tools to deliver learning materials.  One of those tools is a ‘wiki’.  A wiki is essentially a very basic website with attributable editing privileges and simple page structure.  In return for a basic and relatively robust content management system, it has fairly limited features.  Pages are created and material can be uploaded to them.  The visual layout is functional rather than aesthetically pleasing.  A key feature, from a teaching point of view, is that edits can be tracked, attributed and changes reversed.  Could wikis be used to deliver course materials and present students’ work in a simpler way than the traditional collection of mixed media, folders and essays?

In September 2009 I set up 24 wikis for 3 year-long modules delivered to 72 students.   The modules were ‘Sound & Vision’ and ‘Project Production’, two first- year modules that form part of the BA in Creative Media Practice, and ‘Planning and Making a Film’ a second- year module for BA students taking Creative Writing, Film Studies or Media Communication.  The majority of the students had not used wikis before, the exception being a few of the Media Communication students.  Few students showed any previous engagement in web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, RSS, Twitter, etc, the exception being Facebook.  The wide use of Facebook had, to some extent, prepared them for using wikis.  All of the modules had the development of skill in the use of web 2.0 technology as a learning outcome.  

Keywords: media production, assessment, feedback, wiki, embed, multi-media, portfolios, workflow, production folders.

Author information: Mike Johnston is Senior Lecturer in Creative Media Practice in the Department of Film and Media Practice at Bath Spa University

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Date: June 2010

Download PDF: Using wikis to support students doing media production-based projects

The workflow wiki.  Presenting support materials in a structured manner to create a production ‘workflow’

All of the students were engaged in a creative production process.  As well as providing appropriate, relevant and timely support, there is a workflow process that underlines all the projects’ management.  In ‘Planning and Making a Film’, I have used a wiki to support the students through the process of preparing and making a short film.  Traditionally a lot of support material for students on this course has been delivered via the University’s VLE (Blackboard).  I have, however, always felt that there might be a better way of delivering and presenting the materials in a more integrated way.  By creating a wiki and using one page per topic it’s possible to structure the materials in such a way as to make the workflow more apparent to the students. In this wiki the students did not have 'edit' privileges.  There are a number of advantages to using a wiki like this:

·       It allows groups of students to collaborate

·       Having structured the materials, the time management of group work and the division of tasks and roles within the team was easier to arrange

·       Production difficulties are pre-empted and a practical structure discretely imposed on the project

·       It familiarised the students in using a wiki in preparation for the second half of the course, when they used wikis to collate their team's production folders

·       Wikis can be made externally viewable if necessary (i.e. outside the VLE).  This is useful since logins are not required 

·       As a re-useable learning object wikis can be modified and re-deployed the following year 

·       Wikis also provide an easy way of showcasing exemplar student work.

There are disadvantages.  It takes, at least initially, a long time to set up the wiki.   Some very basic understanding of HTML is required.  The Blackboard wiki tool has limitations.  See the appendix.  At least in this application, I suspect that a small website might be an easier way to maintain and update such a resource.  (Maybe even blog tools like WordPress and EduBlogs with static pages for each of the workflow stages.  They would certainly look slicker.)  However, part of the rationale for using the wiki like this, was to get the students used to navigating and using a wiki, in preparation for use in their own projects.

Wikis as Production folders.  Collecting and presenting pre, production and post production documentation.

One of the standard requirements of media production work has always been the  production of an accompanying folder containing all the research, planning details, administration, copyright clearances, release forms, permissions, etc.  It has always been a headache to collate and present this material.  The wiki offers a potential solution to this problem.  Using a wiki that follows a workflow, provides in effect a production ‘grid’.  Both first year Creative Media Practice BA students and second year Creative Writing BA students had to create a 5 - 8 minute video project. All the administration for these projects was done on wikis.  The advantages of this type of wiki are:

·       The students already understand the workflow from the previous use of a wiki

·       Time management was improved and team could delegate more easily 

·       The introduction of the permission, safety and insurance processes for both filming in public places and on campus were simplified  

·       The pre-production research material was much better evidenced; sources of inspiration and comparison are easily included in a wiki page since it supports embedded multimedia 

·       The story boarding process was much better expressed and presented; most students preferred to photograph their storyboards rather than draw them.  These could then be embedded along with test shots and video storyboards 

·       The 'look', 'vision' and the direction of the films were improved, and the connection between research and practice was re enforced 

·       The resulting films showed higher production values 

·       The wikis provide an easy way of showing exemplar work.

However the wiki didn’t entirely eliminate the need to have a paper folder containing some items, such as forms, permissions, insurance documents, shooting scripts, schedules and call sheets and prop lists, etc.  These still need to be printed off and handed in before and after production.

A Portfolio wiki.  Curating and presenting individual students’ multimedia work.

It was possible to curate all of a cohorts’ work, with each page being a separate individual student's multimedia portfolio.  The work was then marked and feedback added alongside the work in the portfolio.  All the students on the course could see and read the feedback on each other’s work.  Exact marks are not given, these are provided in tutorial to the student, and on a spreadsheet for second markers and the External Examiner.  ‘Sound & Vision’ is a craft-skill based module for first year Creative Media Practice students.  It introduces the students to basic audio and video recording and editing.  There are a number of small tasks that make up a portfolio of work.  Some are timed exercises; others short projects and a longer personal project.  The wikis offered a number of advantages for the easy storage and presentation of students’ work.  Previously the job or wrangling all the media formats was complicated.  There were inevitably format and disc problems.  Using a wiki had a number of advantages:

·       It’s easy to see the body of a student’s work rather than individual pieces organised by task

·       It provides a more 'holistic' overview of a student’s body of work 

·       It shifts the emphasis of curating and presenting work from the tutor to the student 

·       It allowed students to see their work and review it in the context of their peers.  Work can also be easily shown to second markers and external examiners 

·       Working like this required the students to engage in web 2.0 technology and techniques.

There were, however, some disadvantages.  The University paid for an account with VimeoPro in order to host and embed student videos.  After 2 exercises and uploads to the single account, Vimeo asked me to remove the films.  Their rules stipulate no 'curating', all uploaded video has to be the work of the account holder.  They were very polite and helpful, after deleting the files they promptly refunded the Pro account payment.  We therefore switched to storing the material (in a very compressed format) in the wiki pages themselves (i.e.: on the VLE).  With increasing amounts of material stored on a single VLE page, loading time increased greatly.  The students had difficulties with the media player/uploader - particularly setting the correct dimensions to include the player’s control bar, and turning off the 'auto play' function.  As with all of the wikis setting them up takes time and a fast Internet connection is required.  It might also be unhelpful and counter productive to make feedback easily accessible and public when the students’ work is of a very low level.  These students may feel stigmatized and alienated within the cohort.

Sharing students work via a wiki.  Showcasing and disseminating student work for peer review and comment.

There has always been a problem with sharing students work in the ‘Planning and Making a Film’ module.  The students’ writing benefits greatly from reading each others’ work more widely.  In the past this has required photocopying student work in order to disseminate it for workshopping, etc.  The wiki permits this process to be transferred online.  Over the Christmas the students wrote their screenplays.  The rough drafts were uploaded to ‘Turnitin’ via the VLE on Monday 11th Jan.  These scripts (as PDFs) were then embedded in the wiki.  In groups of 3, students commented on each other’s scripts.  On the basis of these comments, the scripts were re- written and resubmitted later in the month.  The students then selected one of these, formed teams and went into production.  Each production team rewrote the scripts for a third time.  These final drafts were also embedded in the wiki - alongside the rough drafts and all the feedback.  The final films will be added to the scripts wiki page thereby showing the whole process from proposal to screen.  The advantages were: 

·       All the students can easily see and read each other scripts without printing them off

·       They can add their comments for the writer, their peers and tutors to read 

·       The writing process becomes more apparent.  We can track the basic idea through the outline, rough draft, re-write, production re-write to the resulting film 

·       The original writer can also comment on the production re write and the final film 

·       The wiki becomes a teaching resource.

The disadvantages are, it takes time to set up the wiki since the files have to be downloaded from Turnitin, then uploaded in order to be embedded.  For this I used but sometimes the files loaded slowly or error.  Also to keep loading times reasonably short, I had to use one wiki page per student/script. In some ways it worked well but the embedding of the files - done to preserve the formatting - needs to work better.

Assessment and feedback wiki for assessing group work.  Delivering and presenting screen cast tutor feedback on group projects.

This use of a wiki to provide feedback via written comments and screen cast (commentary and feedback via video) is convenient.  It ensures that all the students in the group get to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their work.  Since all the students on the course have access to all the assessment pages, all the feedback is available to all the students.  The exact marks are not included.  Feedback and assessment was given to first-year Creative Media Practice students on the ‘Project Production’ module.  Working in groups, the students created radio and video projects.  The finished audio and video files were embedded into the wiki.  Screen casts containing feedback for the videos were then added.  In ‘Planning and Making a Film’, the finished short films were similarly reviewed and feedback given via screen casts delivered by a wiki. The advantages of using a wiki like this are that:

·       All members of the groups can see the work and review the feedback in their own time

·       Other groups can see the work of their peers and put their own work in context

·       All the work exists as a reference for future projects 

·       Some of the wikis could be used as reusable learning objects the following year

The main disadvantage is the time taken to set up the wikis.  But this is balanced by the fact that it’s for group feedback rather than individual student feedback. 

The impact of using the wikis in these ways seems to have been largely positive as far as the students were concerned: 

·       They were much more aware of the work of their colleagues in the classes and the relative values and ‘bench marks’ of the work

·       It makes the submission of assignment work less of an end in itself and more a part of a longer process 

·       There is more of a ‘community’ basis for their work and that of their peers.  In the modular system the contact they have with their course peers is limited to a few hours a week and therefore quite fragmented.  This applies particularly to the mixture of subject students on ‘Planning and Making a Film’. 

·       Creative Media Practice Students are required to develop skills to use tools such as wikis and develop the attendant skills of uploading, embedding and linking. 

·       There are cost savings as a result of less photocopying.

As far as the teaching is concerned:

·       The group projects are more easily followed as they progress.

·       Providing a structured workflow means that task and role delegation are highlighted. 

·       Individual portfolios are created gradually over the course with feedback at regular intervals. 

There are issues in terms of preparation and set up time.  But the long term advantages of having previous students work in a form that’s easy to show to new students on the course the following year are significant.  I hope that this will have the effect of raising the general level of the students work on the course as a whole.  There are also technical issues, specifically with Blackboard, that I outline below.  But having the control and security of the institution’s VLE still makes it a better option than free web 2.0 alternatives.  Naturally this might change as newer services come online.  Similarly there may be additional benefits when Bath Spa University upgrades from version 8 to 9 of Blackboard later this year. The development of the iPad and it’s use in teaching and learning is likely to make the uses outlined here for wikis an increasingly practical way to deliver and present materials.


Technical issues with Blackboard’s ‘wiki tool’: 

·       The wikis don't look half as cool as WYSIWYG blogs

·       The formatting of the wiki pages is not as easy as WYSIWYG blogs

·       It takes too many clicks to get into the wiki in the first instance

·       Navigation from the wiki is confusing

·       There is no file hierarchy - you can't structure the content except in one list of pages

·       The page list is automatically alphabetically organised

·       The RSS feed only updates on the creation of new pages, rather than edits and comments

·       There is no easy way to embed material without switching to HTML view. (Less of a problem, more of a disincentive.)

·       The edit window offers a very narrow restricted view of just a small section of the page. This leads to typos and poor layout.

·       The comment function only works on individual pages. 

·       The media player function is not intuitive - auto play is on by default.  It should be off.  You need to add 16 pixels to the height of the video file to see the QuickTime control bar properly displayed.

·       Some formats and codecs (eg. mp4) are not supported.

·       Uploaded files are played in their original format i.e.: without any compression applied by the server.  This means more storage requirements and costs.

·       There is only a limited ability to embed materials.  Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr, DivShare are OK.  But not Google Docs.

·       It's not possible to create a 'templated' wiki in a 'sandbox' and then copy it into the module pages.  

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