Building a Public Knowledge Base: The Wikicadia Node Assignment

Todd Lundberg, Cascadia Community College

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This page first made public: Oct 9, 2012


The center of this sequence of assignments is a collaborative, "New Media" writing project that involves publishing to a wiki a synthesis of knowledge about how humans inhabit places. Writers work in groups with others interested in a common sub-topic and develop information related to local places that local audiences who are invited to join the wiki may use.

Learning Goals

This assignment is keyed into a set of writing outcomes for an English 102 course at Cascadia Community College:
  • Read, analyze, and assimilate material from a variety of texts to increase knowledge and support research questions.
  • Engage in discussion and group assignments to deepen understanding and develop learning skills related to research and writing.
  • Use an understanding of one's personal values and biases, and those of others, to make inferences and draw conclusions about diverse sources of information.
  • Recognize and apply criteria or standards for clear, original communication to their own and others' writing.
  • Use technology to gather, process and communicate information.
  • Acknowledge others' points of view in order to increase knowledge of other ways of looking at information.
In addition to these goals, learners will demonstrate the ability to analyze and evaluate the health of a local bioregion.
  • Articulate multiple characteristics of bioregion and a basic definition of sustainable human practices in a bioregion.
  • Explain connections between general bioregional characteristics and local bioregions.
  • List three or more local groups involved in caring for a local bioregion.
  • Compose with wiki software.

Context for Use

In a first-year writing course focusing on research, writers need topics having relevance, that are part of an ongoing conversation, and present publication opportunities. By inviting writers to explore local bioregions and sustainable life practices this assignment offers a personally relevant research topic with worldwide interest. This assignment asks a group of students to make a collaborative contribution to a wiki that will aid citizens on the north shore of Lake Washington (or a more narrow audience) to understand aspects of their bioregion. Learners read and write collectively and independently. Groups pool their discoveries to help a real audience consider how: a bioregion is sustaining, might sustain or is failing to sustain some human future; or, how humans are living sustainably, might live sustainably, or are failing to live sustainably in some life place. Beyond thinking collaboratively, learners must cooperatively build a Wetpaint wiki node that both explains and illustrates the topic they explored. As a bonus, the assignment draws writers toward an emerging general education, the awareness of interactive systems and personal responsibility.

Timeframe: This assignment is a "midterm" project. Students will have a thorough introduction in a theme-based research-writing course that continues through the end of the term.

Description and Teaching Materials

First Day Launching Assignment Beginning on the first day of the course when students have their initial collaborative interactions, the groups will spend 30 minutes or more with the included assignment. Prior to this work, writers spend 10 to 15 minutes writing about their own experiences in research writing and living in a place. One of the prompts asks writers to reflect on a place they have inhabited:

In a freewrite, describe a place of importance to you. As you write, let your pen take you into the details about this place that seem most powerful. Once you are happy with your description, write a few more sentences, now reflecting on what your place might say about you.

This activity initiates a sequence of assignments that gives learners a chance to practice skills and develop the knowledge they will need to participate in the wiki project. This project invites (and obligates) writers to publish their discoveries for real readers.

Reading Tasks: In order to collaborate on a wiki node, writers need to develop substantial expertise as researchers on bioregion issues. During the first four weeks of the course, students read selections together to develop a community interest in place and an individual interest in a subtopic. Readings vary widely and in ENG 102 they are augmented by the students' research after the fourth week of the term.

Sample Readings
  • Alexander, Christopher. The Timeless Way of Building. New York: Oxford UP, 1979.
  • Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Trans. Maria Jolas. Boston: Beacon P, 1994.
  • Baudrillard, Jean. America. Trans. Chris Turner. London: Verso, 1988.
  • Berry, Wendell. Recollected Essays, 1965-1980. San Francisco: North Point P, 1981.
  • Berry, Wendell. What Are People For? New York: North Point P, 1990.
  • Cultures of Globalization. Ed. Fredric Jameson and Masao Miyoshi. Durham: Duke UP, 2004.
  • Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyper-Reality. Trans. William Weaver. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1986.
  • Exchanges: Reading and Writing about Consumer Culture. Ed. Ted Lardner and Todd Lundberg. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2001.
  • Hiss, Tony. The Experience of Place. New York: Vintage, 1993.
  • Hooks, Bell. Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery. Boston: South End P, 1993.
  • Jackson, John Brinckerhoff. A Sense of Place, A Sense of Time. New Haven: Yale UP, 1994.
  • Kelbaugh, Douglas. Common Place: Toward Neighborhood and Regional Design. Seattle: U of Washington P, 1997.
  • Langdon, Philip. A Better Place to Live: Reshaping the American Suburb. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1994.
  • Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches from Here and There. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
  • Many Wests: Place, Culture, & Regional Identity. Ed. David M. Wrobel & Michael C. Steiner. Lawrence: U of Kansas P, 1997.
  • McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. "The Next Industrial Revolution." The Atlantic Monthly Oct. 1998: 82-92.
  • Mugerauer, Robert. Interpreting Environments: Traditions, Deconstruction, Hermeneutics. Austin: U of Texas P, 1995.
  • Nabhan, Gary Paul, and Stephen Trimble. The Geography of Childhood. Boston: Beacon P, 1994.
  • Orr, David. Ecological Literacy : Education And The Transition To A Postmodern World. Albany : State U of New York P, 1992.
  • Putnam, Robert. Bowling Alone. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.
  • Richards, Philip. "Leaving the Folk: The Journey out of a Cleveland Childhood." Harper's Magazine Oct. 1995: 76+.
  • Sucher, David. City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village. Seattle: City Comforts Press, 1992.
  • Thayer, Robert, Jr. Lifeplace.
  • Tuan, Yi-Fu. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. New York: Columbia UP, 1990.
  • Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space. Ed. Michael Sorkin. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992.
  • Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Revised ed. New York: Oxford UP, 1983.
  • Wysoki, Anne Frances et al. Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. Logan: Utah State UP, 2004.
Students do not simply read information; they participate in regular seminars to tease out topics of interest to the learning community.

Phase 1: You will need to print out this document and the lecture on seminaring: Attachment "A": Thayer Seminar. It includes Taking Seminar Turns in a Threaded Discussion.

Phase 2:
Responding to the Seminar Turns of Others in an Online Discussion.

Before your students attempt to complete their contribution to the Thayer seminar, they will need to review the lecture on seminaring so that they understand how to contribute. See Attachment "A".

Low-Stakes Collaboration Tasks. By the time the formal midterm presentation assignment circulates, learners have worked frequently in groups. They have been participants in seminars, have worked in writing groups, and have lead class discussion. The focus is on collaborative learning rather than on a cooperative product. They have also frequently assessed their own participation in a group but have not received a "cooperative" grade on a major project.

The "Wiki" Task. In Week 5, learners self-select into a topic-based group based on an interest they have developed from writing on the general topic of LifePlace (the instructor controls the size of groups and helps writers imagine a common venture). Groups do look at various sample sites to begin to imagine the possibilities. The Midterm Presentation-Wiki Node Assignment is included in Attachment "B".

Attachment A: Thayer Seminar (Microsoft Word 43kB Nov3 11)
Attachment B: Midterm Presentation (Microsoft Word 36kB Nov3 11)
Attachment C: Sample Rubric- Group Process Evaluation Form (Microsoft Word 32kB Nov3 11)
Attachment D: Formative Assessment with Sample Contract (Microsoft Word 30kB Nov3 11)
Attachment E: Sample Rubric for ENG 101 and 102 Wiki Rubric (Microsoft Word 38kB Nov3 11)

Teaching Notes and Tips

After an initial meeting, they do a quick evaluation (see Group Process Evaluation Form above) of how well they worked together. As they begin to outline the content, they want to work with and the form that content will take, the instructor becomes an impromptu group member, offering references to common reading and to the samples available. At two points, the groups offer brief, five minute, progress reports that show other groups how much they have completed. The first progress report is the posting of a written plan. The plan at this point has two parts:
  1. Learners develop a title, general storyboard, and an introduction to the wiki site.
  2. Learners create a list of sources the group plans to refer to.
The second progress report is an informal review of the site (akin to a review in a visual arts class). Groups present their draft wikis to the class and talk about what they have accomplished and what remains to be done. At this point, the instructor asks each group to mark a rubric and suggest what qualities they see in the "draft version" of the deliverable.

Wiki sites are available free through multiple providers (WetPaint is, at this writing, one of the most effective tools). These composing spaces work like web-based "word-processors" that manage text, hyperlinks, images, and various other "widgets" and publish instantly to the web. Students learn to do basic composing in a matter of minutes. More advanced design takes a certain amount of playing with the tool and its help features. While a basic approach to developing a WetPaint wiki is included here, it is intentionally incomplete. One purpose of the assignment is learning a novel composing tool with other learners (in this context, teachers are learners too). Teachers using these sorts of spaces do need to do a significant amount of building before learners arrive. Part of that work is simply the work of teaching composition: teachers help students develop a critical vocabulary and establish some important voices in the subject area (this often happens through assigned readings). Part of this work is quite new. Because the assignment requires student groups to publish to a webpage that is itself useful for an audience, the teacher is necessarily a webmaster who establishes a basic guide for organizing the site and publishes alongside learners (using her or his own publication to establish an approach to the task and standards for voice, correctness, and so on). It seems especially important to guide learners to develop group identities (a project name and even a description of the group's purpose in developing the site). As the assignment is being completed, most teachers will find themselves playing the role of co-publisher with groups, offering ideas, new sources, claims, links and images to support, guide, and even challenge the work of learners.


Groups receive a rubric (see attachments in Description and Teaching Materials section) when they receive the assignment. A provisional "grade" on the deliverable is offered at least once during the development of the wiki, and groups can use that "grade" to focus their "cooperative" efforts. At the end of the term, the instructor reviews the wiki to determine what participants did what work. Each participant earns a grade based on her or his contributions (though the cumulative effort puts a cap on what grade can be earned). These groups are responsible for doing several other activities together during the same period, and these activities receive grades that indicate how effectively the groups are working together.

See Attachment "C": Sample Rubric: Group Process Evaluation Form

See Attachment "D": Formative Assessment. As learners set off on the assignment, they sign off on a contract that articulates a stance toward collaborative work. It includes a sample contract

See Attachment "E": Sample Rubric for ENG 101 and 102 Wiki Rubric (Version 4)
Groups and the instructor use Wetpaint to make comments and to suggest "to dos." Throughout the process, the instructor assigns low-stakes journal writes that ask learners to reflect on how working with this group has altered their thinking about the group topic.

References and Resources

The initial resources for this project are the readings listed in the Description and Teaching Materials section and the community of learners in the classroom. As writers turn to the Wikicadia, they have the ability to respond to one another with a variety of tools (posted comments, "to do" comments, additions to one another's work). Part of the site is a page that lists "bioregion projects" This list links writers to the work of "friends of" groups and other non-profit and university efforts to sustain bioregions. Writers will use these sites as models but also add to this list (and a bibliography) the resources that they discover as they do their research.