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Collaborative construction of a Hypertext

Dictionary of evolution: a constructivistic- approach of teaching

Michele Notari

Under Construction!!!

1.Introduction - 2.Subjects - 3.Method - 4.Results - 5.Conclusions


A hypertext seems not to be adequate to be used as a tool for learning new abstract concepts and to introduce students in a new subject. The hypertext induces students to switch around without understanding the main purpose of the text (literature...)and the danger of getting lost in the text is also more elevated than in a linear ('book-type') text (literature...). This concerns the pedagogical use of a hypertext when it is used for students as consumer.
Another approach is to let create a hypertext by students.
The SWIKI , a Wiki tool created by the CSL offers a excellent free and open source software to produce a hypertext with easy editing, historing and controlling tool.
To intensify and support interaction among working groups a scripting strategy proposes by Dillenbourg (2002) was adopted.
After the learning activity unit 23 high school students of the age between 17 and 18 were asked to answer a questionary about their work. None of the students knew the software before. All studens had knowledge about computer, internet and what links are.

Introducing the subject 'evolution' on a high school with this tool brought the following result:
Summary of the students reports:


1. Introduction

1.1. Implication of the subject and embedding into curriculum

Evolution is part of the biology curriculum of high school students of the 11. year after starting school. Students already have notions of genetics, taxonomy and development of the species but the concept of a scientific theory has never been mentioned. The abstract approach of the definition of a theory based on a certain amount of hypothesis which keep its value until one of the hypothesis turns to be false, seems to be difficult to understand. It is also difficult to separate the term 'theory' from throughness or faith.
Every student already had an idea about a possible origin of living organisms and the way it passes its genetic information from one generation to the next one. So they can imagine how genetic information and through it live can survive through time.
These representations of a possible ongoing of organism could lead to a hypothesis about evolution of organisms. I don't think that the students could imagine the impact of such a hypothesis on human society of the time when Darwin proposed it.
The global aim of the learning unit was to get student 'deeply' involved in difficulties of formulating definitions about evolution.

To render these terms and concepts a little bit more concrete a 'dictionary' of evolutionary terms had to be created and every term had to be defined.

1.2. Technical introduction / Timelines

Before starting work on the dictionary the students were introduced into the capacity of the Swiki. On a beemer the structure of the dictionnary was explaned an short editing example demonstrated. On the homepage of the Swiki a short description of the possibilities is presented:

Picture 1. On the left side the menu bar of the Swiki-tool shows the different working possibilities. The Swiki runs on a common Browser and perits editing from everywhere. Clicking the icons on the the left menu bar permits editing, uploading of pictures, comparison of versions, going back to the Swiki homepage, followup changes, searching text and seeing a help tutor. The 'versions' and 'history' tool are well adapted to see the 'evolution' of some pages.


Introduction (technical work / practical example; 'no hands on' 30 minutes
Work on the dictionary (3 - 4 different tasks) 4 lessons (180 minutes)
Questionary 30 minutes


2. Subjects




3. Method

4. Results

It is not a real experimental situation who leads to all results. So the following statements have a more qualitative than a strong quantitative value. In fact too many parameters interact and can falsificate the results. So the research can just show a trend rather than a scientificly proved statement. Working on real learning situations which are embedded in a curriculum can not easily be reflected in experimental situations.

After the dictionary was 'finished' the student were asked to answer a questionnary. The following results show a part of their answers. All anwers have been compared on a table and descripted on the following diagrams.

This is a first approach of evaluation. The multiple-choice type answers of all students are compared. In a second part the text answers are evaluated and the the answers of the couples can be compared. No comparison of the two classes will be done.

4.1. Feeling while working wiht the system:

First of all they liked work with the Swiki quite well. 17 of 23 persons felt comfortable while working with the system, 5 had some problems on it and just one person did not like the work with the system. The students found working with the computer was fun (11 agree totally; 8 agree partially, 2 do not agree; 1 no answer; N= 23)

cmfortable with the system

Diagram1: comfort to work with the system


A question about editing pages and articles on the Swiki also showed quite a easyness to edit new pages: 11 persons had not problems with it while 9 had some problem. To edit a new page a work with links has to be done. A control question further on the questionary showed that editing is not complicated and did not obstruct work (17 did agree with this, two did agree partially and 1 did not agree at all ; N= 23)

graphic edit new pages

Diagram 2: Difficulties to create and edit new pages

4.2. Getting lost within the hypertext:

Many newbies who have to learn concepts perfere to read this concepts on a plane (book - type) text. To create new representations a hypertext seems not to be so adequated. Students were asked to describe where they felt lost during work. 17Students did not felt lost while 5 partially and one felt lost in the hypertext (N= 23).

getting lost in the hypertext

Diagram 3: To get lost within the hypertext

4.3 Learningerfficirncy / Interactions among students:

To have a high impact with the learning subject and so support eficiency of learning many interactions between couples and among the learning community are favourable. The asked students saied not to be so efficient while working in couples and wiht the system. The question: 'We were efficient' was answered by 17 Students: 'agree partially', 2 students did 'agree totally' and 2 students 'did not agree'; one student did not answer the question. Asking them if they would be more efficient whether they would have had to work alone they answered: 6: 'agree totally'; 5 'agree partially'; 10 'do not agree' and 1 'no answer'.

So the students did not specially felt efficient but they interacted quite much within couples and the learning community and they argued about concepts they had to define.

Interactions among pears

Diagram 4: Interactions among couples