Conway developing collaborative writing assessments to aid student learning

Paul Conway

With a grant from the U-M Center for Research on Learning and Teaching’s (CRLT) Gilbert Whitaker Fund for the Improvement of Teaching, Associate Professor of Information Paul Conway will seek to develop assessment methods for evaluating collaborative writing assignments and the use of digital technologies in classrooms.

Conway’s project will examine SI 410: Ethics and Information Technology, an undergraduate course that explores the ethical issues posed by the use of social information technologies, and will make modifications and improvements to the course’s assessment techniques. 

The modifications include introducing new quality assessment analytics from the Wikimedia Foundation. The analytics will be applied by and with students in order to evaluate the quality of collaborative writing in MediaWiki, the software that powers Wikipedia and serves as the course’s writing platform.

Conway will implement and evaluate the impact of the changes on student learning in the Fall 2015 and 2016 offerings of the course, with each term enrolling at least 90 undergraduate students.

Collaborative writing has become increasingly common in undergraduate and graduate courses, but computer-assisted evaluation of writing can be complicated. By introducing cutting-edge analytics into the course’s assessment rubric—and opening that rubric to inspection and manipulation by students—the project will help advance peer-review and grading methodologies and will expose the mechanics of MediaWiki quality scoring for discussion and review.

The project will also utilize an expert panel of three U-M faculty and staff members who have experience using wikis in the classroom, assessing writing, or with information literacy. The panel will offer judgment on the strengths and limitations of using MediaWiki algorithms to measure individual contributions to a collaborative assignment. 

By using MediaWiki for project management and collaborative writing, the implications of this study could have a wider impact that extends beyond SI 410. The project could play a significant role in advancing the art and science of collaborative writing and could help to better explain the complex interrelations of human and digital approaches to student learning as the entire campus moves toward greater reliance on big data, learning analytics, and the use of various electronic systems.

CRLT's Gilbert Whitaker Fund for the Improvement of Teaching awards up to $6,000 to individual faculty members or small groups of faculty proposing innovative revisions to courses or other course developments designed to improve student learning at U-M. 

Posted February 3, 2015