The TeachArt Wiki
A number of years ago while taking a break from grading the term papers of a large survey course in which students were assigned to visit a museum and write about an artwork of their choice, I commented to my wife and colleague, Guey-Meei Yang, about each semester feeling like the movie Groundhog Day as I re-experienced the same artworks from our two local art museums through mostly inadequately researched and hastily written papers. I was also discouraged that many of my comments and suggested corrections made on student papers would end up unread as part of the end of semester debris field to eventually find an unfortunate, yet fitting end in a trash or recycle bin. More discouraging was my knowing sense of déjà vu that these papers would all magically reappear to me in a similar fashion at the end of the subsequent semester by different authors but with many of the same problems. The glimmer of light for me in this perpetual cycle of term paper reincarnations was the thought of improving the writing skills of a few rare souls along the way and that at least this assignment gave students the opportunity to experience actual art in a museum and the possibility that they may have caught an ember of interest or relevance that was not there before. Guey-Meei, who at that time had become enthusiastically interested in exploring the educational potential of Web 2.0 social technologies within her field of art education, encouraged me to consider jumping on the wiki bandwagon and in the spirit of these new social technologies to do it in a collaborative way with her—just like Phil and Rita in the movie walking hand in hand into the snowy digital horizon. With that image in mind, “I” now becomes “we,” as this posting has two authors.
After doing planning and much research and experimentation on different wiki platforms we eventually created our wiki on wikispaces.com, which we named TeachArt Wiki. We intended the TeachArt Wiki to be a shared users driven platform for interactive and collaborative research and writing assignments for any faculty, art historians and art educators in particular, who assigns such work. We implemented the use of the TeachArt Wiki in our undergraduate and graduate classes hoping it would benefit our students by engaging them with the idea of shared authorship, collaboration across disciplines, and the pride in the creation of something more enduring and meaningful that others could actually use as an ongoing collaborative public resource. To start our idea was that the students in art history classes would write content entries on artworks and students in art education classes would expand each entry by designing art lessons and appending them after the end of the content entries all the while students from current and later classes would be building on the learning of others through editing, revising, and expanding the initial entries as well as adding new ones semester after semester. Since we have already published a study of the TeachArt Wiki and its collaborative educational potential from an art educational perspective, in the remainder of this brief posting, we will focus more on its relevance for the art history and art education classrooms and encourage others to consider using this or similar wiki platforms as a robust writing tool to facilitate peer to peer interaction and construction of knowledge.
Our general design of the TeachArt Wiki was modeled after Wikipedia in the sense of intending it as a shared platform for students to continuously co-construct and reconstruct knowledge about art and ideas for teaching and learning, but more specifically to meet the needs of the classes we both teach on a regular basis. We decided to base the design of our wiki on each of our discipline specific assignments we regularly assign—the artwork analysis term paper and the art lesson plan. For that reason a TeachArt Wiki entry has two main components: the first component is the content (artwork) entry with information about an artwork and the second component is an art lesson. We created a set of guidelines to make all the entries consistent. Each content entry is divided into several written sections including an introduction, description, formal and contextual analysis, and personal interpretation. The lesson entries are also divided into sections that include objectives, enduring idea, key concepts, lesson steps, and references. The content entries are based on the scaffolding structure of art history assignments that included a description paper, annotated bibliography, and an analysis paper that were sequentially assigned. Like scaffolding for term papers this helps curtail haphazard writing in which judgments, descriptions, interpretations are jumbled together. It helps students organize their thoughts and is useful for the distribution of labor for group wiki writing assignments. Moreover, in the wiki format having these in separate sections makes it more conducive for editing and revision as the writing follows a more consistent and natural progression of thoughts and ideas that can otherwise make revising more difficult. The same logic applies to the lesson plan component only that we allow and encourage appending multiple lesson plans to each TeachArt Wiki entry.
We both employed scaffolding structures when using the TeachArt Wiki in our classes. Some of the specifics varied from class to class, but in general students in our classes are first asked to individually or collaboratively revise and expand an existing entry before writing their own new entries. In this way they would become familiarized with the structure and content of artwork and lesson entries and develop collaborative dynamics as well as help build writing skills. In our experiences over several semesters we both found that students were often hesitant to revise the work of others because of an ingrained sense of individual authorship. Often students would make minor editorial corrections rather than more substantial editing or rewriting. It takes demonstration, modeling, and guided practice for students to understand writing as collaboration and the differences between copyediting, rewriting, and structural editing.
Like Wikipedia some TeachArt Wiki entries have markedly less quality than others. Not surprisingly the more successful entries are those that were created or edited by art majors and more advanced students. From the very beginning one of our concerns and hesitation with the idea of user created collaborative wiki content is the same view that many share about Wikipedia—quality control and that the resulting work may not all be up to a reasonable standard for a public resource. However, any feeling of hesitation has been overruled by our belief that the interactive process of group editing and writing on the TeachArt Wiki platform is very meaningful. It allows students to experience the authentic process of writing as a collaborative editing and rewriting endeavor, not a lone wolf process or solo adventure. Judging from its young development of just a few incarnation cycles, its overall quality is encouraging but can use more help for ensuring all entries obtain the needed quality. It just may take the help of a larger collaborative community and many more constructive reiterations.
 The homepage of TeachArt Wiki site provides further explanatory materials and guidelines for anyone to get started (http://teachartwiki.wikispaces.com)
 For our publication and more thorough explanation of the TeachArt Wiki site, its pedagogical underpinnings, and its effects on student learning, see “TeachArt Wiki: A Collaborative, Interactive, and Dialogical Platform for Teaching and Learning Art,” co-authored by Guey-Meei Yang, Tom Suchan, and Rina Kundu, Art Education Journal, July 2011, pp. 48-53. After creating our wiki site we also helped establish an autonomous Chinese language version in Taiwan that follows similar guidelines and principles (see https://tw-teachartwiki.wikispaces.com).