Reflections

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Though not a formal part of our project's research methodology, the authors of this wiki-paper hoped our own writing process would achieve "deep collaboration," and that that collaboration would be enabled by the wiki we employed in our writing. When we first proposed this article, we had imagined that we would use the wiki as a way to generate and refine our ideas about what we learned from our experiences in different classroom implementations. We also hoped the wiki would provide a means of bringing together the authors whose roles in the research varied widely--instructors who assigned the wiki project, researchers in social networking and technology-mediated communication, and undergraduate student experts in wikiware. As with our students' experiences, it quickly became clear to us how hard it was to achieve deep collaboration using the wiki by itself. Like our students, we became frustrated with the tool, both in terms of its usability and in terms of communication bandwidth--we couldn't communicate enough information quickly enough to find its use satisfying. Despite having had our own training sessions and despite our intellectual curiosity underlying the use of wikis in collaborative projects, we found ourselves using the wiki little and late in our writing process.

There were many specific limitations that dissuaded us from using the wiki more consistently. For example, while the compare-versions feature of Mediawiki would have allowed us to see and compare our changes to the main document as it evolved, this feature was rarely deemed useful by the authors (again, consistent with student experience). Similarly, while we hoped the "discussion" feature would allow us to communicate with one another about the document's progress, we found that it was easier to bracket our notations within the document text itself. Especially earlier in the process when the overarching outline had not yet stabilized, we found ourselves composing text in Microsoft Word, commenting upon others' contributions using Word's comments feature, and emailing documents back and forth as attachments. We also chose to meet face-to-face on numerous occasions, and, as the document progressed, we found that we preferred to work on specific sections either singularly or in pairs. While some of the authors attempted to engage the others via the wiki, scheduling demands and inconsistent monitoring of the wiki for updates pushed us back to email as the primary tech-mediated communications tool for assessing our writing. Thus, not surprisingly, and as with our students, we found ourselves falling back upon old, reliable habits of communication and collaboration. To whatever extent we achieved deep collaboration in our research and writing processes, it was achieved through a combination of face-to-face meetings, frequent email exchanges, individual writing in Word, individual and small-group composing on the wiki, last minute phone calls from office to office, and the numerous updates and "water cooler" exchanges typical of robust social networks in professional settings.

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