Creative destruction

Anyone who has tried the Towers of Hanoi puzzle will know that it looks simple, but can be extremely complex to complete within the minimum number of moves. It drives some people mad. You can try it online here, but which ever way you do the puzzle it takes time and patience. It's not so much the amount of moves needed to complete the puzzle. It is the counter-intuition that often baffles. To complete the Towers of Hanoi problem, you must first build and then destroy what you have built to reach your target.

Using wikis for collaborative writing is a little like solving the Towers of Hanoi puzzle. When two or more people work on the same wiki page, there is often a lot of deletion, modification and overwriting - a kind of destructive creativity - that goes on as the content is refined and polished. 

From my recent research I found that many students don't like the idea of their content being deleted or modified. They feel a sense of ownership for what they have created. Some of them want sole credit. Or it is simply too strange for them to accept. And yet wikis, as community spaces, are by their nature, a 'free for all'. The polishing and refining process is something that students do all the time when they are completing an essay. 

So why do they falter when faced with community editing? Perhaps they feel they have lost some control. Or perhaps it seems illogical to delete content to make it better. Similarly to the Towers of Hanoi, content management on a wiki can appear to be counter intuitive - but to create, sometimes you must first destroy. To build you may need to dismantle first.

Image source by Kenjiys

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creative destruction by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


I have found that providing a template for group (or even individual) wiki projects makes it easier for students to work in wikis. I also find it makes assessing them easier because you can focus on the content.

Here is a link to a sample group project wiki template -
Kiwiboz said…
Maybe it's because you should really use wikis when you are ready to publish the finished product. There are many web 2.0 tools that can be used for collaborative editing before the final product is published. Wikis are quite 'clunky' if you try to use them for editing.
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks Nancy. That's very helpful.
Steve Wheeler said…
@Kiwiboz thanks for your comments. I have never found wikis to be innappropriate for on the fly editing with my student groups. What I do find is that the groups do not like to change or edit each others work for fear of offending each other. It takes a long time for them to come to understand that when something is posted to a wiki it no longer belongs to one person. It is now the shared content of the entire learner community.
Jacques said…
Isn't this an example of the «socio» in socio-constructivism? Same applies when co-constructing a 1-pager on an Etherpad page - or other similar collab text editor - or how a Wikipedia entry gets modified over time (trying to recall a video showing an accelerated time-framed example of how an entry evolves). Focus is on the product, not your specific iteration of it,IMHO. Shared vision, constructive feedback, leave your egos behind...

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