Pros and cons for the class
Listed here are some operational benefits and drawbacks of a wiki for RAP's only users, the instructor and his class. This is a reconstruction by the instructor, who is sure that RAP students, could they contribute to this essay, would have several items to add. In lieu of such input, we include several quotations from student evaluations of the class below.
Benefits for the teacher
Easy-to-use technology. After some training broken into four lessons, students were comfortable posting. There were no major tech glitches during the semester, and no student complained of lost or mis-posted work.
Focus. RAP kept student writing specific, concentrated, engaged with other students. When commenting directly on poems, students were forced to connect their observations to text pre-existing in the system in order to post a new entry. The transparency of all student work, along a requirement from the instruction to comment on each other's entries, ensured response to collateral work and multiple citation of classmates' entries.
Access. Since all student work was posted on RAP — including short observations, longer essays, and multimedia projects — the site became a full and easily accessible archive of the accomplishments and interests of the class. Every entry on RAP was attributed to its creator and time-stamped according to its last edit, so it was easy to monitor student activity.
Inspiration. Wiki technology seemed to induce extra writing, posting, engagement from students (see Fig. 1). Some took over 'author' pages unbidden, following a template established by the instructor. If a student was particularly drawn to an author, he or she entered poems by that author into RAP, related images, biographical data, and lists of outside links. Class discussion was enriched by reference to material voluntarily gathered into RAP.
Variation. Projecting RAP during class enabled multimedia to be integrated into lectures and stored for future reference. A graphical project assignment allowed for a range of student projects, including short films, scanned-in drawings, and other creative representations of poet-audience relations (see Fig. 2).
Expansion. Most broadly, RAP gave the class a unique identity, in and out of the classroom. Actual interaction spilled into the night hours that seem so conducive to student activity. And instant messaging function would have extended this attribute.
Challenges for the teacher
Keeping up with new postings. A 'recent changes' list helped. But even with just eight students posting, all fresh material was difficult to track as it came in. For the weekly posting assignment, students were asked to email the instructor with the URL of their three required entries. This helped define a criterion for submissions, and allowed the instructor to measure whether requirements were being satisfied.
Organization. Without some forethought, entries could be scattered to the winds. Author pages brought some order to this site. So did assignment indexes, on which student posted links to their essays as they were uploaded into RAP.
Housekeeping. To ward off disaster, only the instructor was able to delete posts. Students submitted URLs of entries they would like to have cleared out of the system. Cleaning up student mistakes was a minor but steady chore. Additionally, posting raw poem texts involved considerable gruntwork, as the instructor had to locate, enter, and attribute every poem text on the syllabus into RAP. (Students sometimes located and posted text of poetry upcoming on the syllabus themselves, but not always — and not always carefully.) Access to a database of digitized, solidly edited romantic texts would have eased this burden.
Benefits for students
New class identity. "The whole class could focus on poem and comments together." Interestingly enough, students started to refer to each other by their RAP user names on the site as well as in class. For several months, they were bonded together as developers of a brand new tool.
Peer interactivity. The familiar call from students for group activity was answered by a semester-long collaborative project. "I especially liked the electronic aspect of the class & the interactive dimension it added."
New modes of submission. Weekly assignments allowed for more frequent, shorter expression of ideas. RAP's forum let quieter students have a fuller presence in class. Class discussion could steer by ideas that students might have demurred vocalizing in front of peers. Posting requirements rewarded skills usually untapped English class (graphical, technological), encouraged creativity. "Fun."
Ownership. Students were aware that they were working with unpredictable technology, building a project that would reflect their choices and interests. In an immediate sense, RAP was theirs to make what they would of it. "Gave a sense of ownership." This reaction to RAP resonates with claims by Mark Gruzdial, in a report called "Teacher and Student Authoring on the Web for Shifting Agency," about student use of wikis: "a tool that leads to no enforced distinctions between students and teachers can lead to students taking ownership of the collaborative space, finding value in the postings of their peer students, and not finding the information in the space less trustworthy."
Challenges for students
Required comfort with computers. Some students identified as challenged when it came to using technology. While coding on the wiki quickly proved mundane for all students, the attention to detail it required was new and variously daunting to liberal arts students used to more traditional submission methods.
Posting pressure and timing. Weekly posting assignments — due Mondays and often posted late Sunday night — required dilgence, monitoring, and special timing. "The class required constant attention and work." "Weekly snips were useful, but... difficult to start early because there was little already written to comment on."
Visability. Student work could be seen by anyone in the world with an internet connection. Posted instructor comments on work opened essays up to extra scrutiny from peers and visitors to the site. This increased pressure to do well on assignments.