When I set out to do a review of a pedagogical tool to facilitate student-centered learning by fostering engagement in either a hybrid or online-only course, I intended to focus on the a variety of tools embedded within Desire2Learn (D2L) that could be used for just such a purpose, but the uniqueness and complexity of Wiggio, a productivity platform used to facilitate group meetings and collaboration, necessitated an in-depth look at this particular tool. The capabilities offered by Wiggio are not new, but what Wiggio does that many platforms do not is offer a combination of capabilities that is usually achieved through the use of multiple platforms or programs, and while Wiggio is embedded in D2L, those who do not use the D2L learning platform can still benefit from Wiggio.
Wiggio, which is marketed primarily to academic communities, offers a host of productivity and collaborative tools ranging from a convenient method of setting up a face-to-face meeting to holding group meetings in video chat while synchronously working within a word-processing program. The FAQ section gives a quick run-down of the offerings: “mass messaging (emails, text messages, voicemails), scheduling, file sharing and editing, polling, conference calling, video conferencing, and project management” (Wiggio.com). The program is entirely web-based and requires no software downloads. Users can access a free version of the platform by making an account through Wiggio’s website, but there is a premium version available, such as that embedded in D2L. Wiggio can be used to set up a group by first defining asynchronous group communications such as listserv email exchanges, receipt of short messages by SMS and longer messages via email, receipt of a daily summary of communications, or discussion boards with no mailed message. Once a group has been established, group members are invited. Text-based or video messages can be sent by group members to other group members from within the platform. Rather than having to upload a video message, the program includes an embedded video recorder. Without changing navigating to a new webpage on the Wiggio site, group members can share files, share links, launch a meeting via teleconference or video conference, create a to-do list, create a poll, send a message, or schedule an event or meeting on a group calendar. Sub-groups can be created within established groups. The meeting platform allows users to chat via text, share files, share a desktop, share video and audio, use a whiteboard, and synchronously edit a shared document. This combination of capabilities is akin to adding Google Docs to WebEx in an interface that also allows for file sharing, emailing, text messaging, video messaging, surveying, and calendar scheduling. Wiggio has a bit of a minimalist feel, and there may be fewer bells and whistles in the combined interface than may be found in systems that offer similar capabilities separately, but Wiggio’s developers argue that the features that are left out aren’t necessary for productivity and collaboration. This argument is convincing because it’s likely that Wiggio users will feel that the convenience of a one-stop-shop for group communication and productivity outweighs the loss of a few features that they could do without anyway.
A survey of the capabilities offered by Wiggio clearly suggests that the platform can be used to encourage student engagement in an online or hybrid course, but the question of how the platform can be used specifically to support best practices in online writing pedagogy remains. Perhaps one of the first places we should look for guidance on the value of Wiggio in online writing instruction would be the “Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction” published by the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Principle 11 states that, “Online writing teachers and their institutions should develop personalized and interpersonal online communities to foster student success” (Oswal). In the rationale for the development of this principle, the authors explain that a feeling of connectedness to each other and the instructor helps students be more successful. While encouraging student engagement with the goal of student success in mind is a worthy goal, best practices in writing pedagogy call for strong student engagement because it encourages students to grapple with theoretical concepts it helps them to understand writing as a social activity. In “Mediating Power: Distance Learning Interfaces, Classroom Epistemology, and the Gaze,” Kevin Eric Depew and Heather Lettner-Rust apply Paulo Friere’s advocacy of “problem-posing education” to composition pedagogy by claiming that a participatory and liberatory approach to composition, much preferable to an instructor-centered approach, can be facilitated “through experiential and participatory activities, such as open dialogue, collaboratively designing or modifying assignments and allowing for student interest to alter the direction of the syllabus as a means of creating an egalitarian dynamic among students and instructor” (177). Such a participatory and liberatory approach requires a class design that allows for such open dialogue to take place. InBlended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines, D.R. Garrison and Norman D. Vaughan advocate for the development of a Community of Inquiry which requires that students have the opportunity to express themselves openly, that they have opportunities for reflective and interactive learning, and that students are guided by a teacher who provides “students with a highly interactive succession of learning experiences that lead to the resolution of an issue or problem” (25). Common distance education tools, such as discussion threads and blogs, do allow for some dialogue to occur, but participatory and interactive activities are often difficult to facilitate within learning management systems, and often the conversations that take place within discussion boards (the most common tool for facilitating group communication) are aimed at satisfying the instructor rather than being an organic and student-driven exchange of ideas. As a solution, many instructors have turned to the use of multiple supplemental tools (such as Google Docs) to achieve pedagogical goals. By offering several tools for facilitating collaboration, Wiggio allows for the development of this kind of participatory class environment. In “A MOOC with a View: How MOOCs Encourage Us to Reexamine Pedagogical Doxa,” Halasek et al., describe how a MOOC that they created challenges the notion that MOOCs cannot support effective pedagogical approaches to the teaching of writing. Halasek et al., found that the large enrollment in the course prevented them from taking what they call the “Teacher Knows Best” role (the teacher provides the instruction and feedback) and required students to take a larger role than the “Attentive Student” role (the student listens to content and follows directions; in fact, the roles seemed to have reversed here (157). Halasek et al. found that “no longer solely (or even largely) responsible for the shape of the course, the direction it took, or how the participants engaged the material” (160). Though the CCCC recommends an enrollment of no more than 20 students in online writing courses and the MOOC that Halasek et al. created had an enrollment of tens of thousands, we may be able to learn something from the way in which the MOOC encouraged student-centered learning. Perhaps the multiple ways in which students can interact in Wiggio and the participatory activities it allows could facilitate this type of role-reversal in online composition courses.
If we can use Wiggio to challenge the “banking concept of education,” what strategies might we use in order to do so? Ken Gillam and Shannon R. Wooden suggest an ecological approach to the teaching of composition designed to help students understand writing as part an ecological act done within a community and for a specific purpose. The assignment sequence incorporates distribution, emergence, embodiment, and enaction. The ideal online course incorporating these principles, according to Gillam and Wooden, would include scaffolded assignments beginning with group negotiation of a topic of exploration, data collection via a group constructed survey, multimodal presentation of findings, a collaborative annotated bibliography, and an individual final project (a problem/solution paper accompanied by a reflection paragraph). Another example of a collaborative assignment sequence is described by DePew. In order to facilitate students’ development of rhetorical literacy and a sense of audience awareness, he suggests students use literacy narratives to develop a literacy survey, the results of which they will use to compose a corroborative report. How might Wiggio be used to facilitate these assignment sequences described by Gilliam and Wooden and DePew? Wiggio can be used to facilitate group communications in a variety of modes (email, text, teleconference, video conference, video messaging, and video conferencing). Surveys can be created within the Wiggio interface. Without leaving the interface, students can collaborate synchronously on projects and easily provide their peers with feedback. While it’s very possible for students to conduct such collaborative projects with other technological tools, Wiggio offers all of necessary tools in one interface.
CCCC. “A Position Statement of Principles and Example Effective Practices for Online Writing Instruction (OWI).” http://www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Groups/CCCC/OWIPrinciples.pdf (2013): 1-35.
DePew, Kevin Eric. “Preparing Instructors and Students for the Rhetoricity of OWI Technologies.” N.d. M.S.
DePew, Kevin Eric, and Heather Lettner-Rust. “Mediating power: Distance Learning Interfaces, Classroom Epistemology, and the Gaze.” Computers and Composition 26.3 (2009): 174-189.
“Frequently Asked Questions.” Wiggio.com. 2001. Web. 16 June 2014.
Halasek, Kay, et al. “A MOOC With a View: How MOOCs Encourage Us to Reexamine Pedagogical Doxa.” Invasion of the MOOCs: 156.
Garrison, D. R., and Norman D. Vaughan. Blended Learning in Higher Education: Framework, Principles, and Guidelines. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.
Gillam, Ken, and Shannon R. Wooden. “Re-Embodying Online Composition: Ecologies of Writing in Unreal Time and Space.” Computers and Composition 30. Writing on the Frontlines (2013): 24-36. ScienceDirect. Web. 28 May 2014.