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Germans Remember More From Wikis Written by German Soccer Fans

2012 November 14

ResearchBlogging.orgAlthough the title of this article may seem a little odd, that is exactly the finding that Matschke and colleagues[1] describe in a new article appearing in Cyberlearning, Behavior, and Social Networking.  This was not precisely what the authors set out to discover, however.  What they actually wanted to know was this: Do people remember more from wikis when they identify that the wiki is written by someone within their in-group?  The study was conducted around the height of patriotic German support for the national football (soccer) team in the 2010 World Cup, so the researchers decided to use “written by a fan of the German team” as the in-group.

The study went like this: seventy German-speaking university students were brought in for a “study about wikis.”  First, they read a textbook entry on fibromyalgia.  Next, they were told they would contribute to a wiki entry on fibromyalgia that had been contributed to by all previous study participants.  In reality, this was not true – all participants saw the same wiki.  After verifying an affiliation for the national team with an IAT and receiving a bit of training on editing wikis, participants were told to create a wiki username that indicated they were fans of the national team.  Participants were then randomly assigned to either an in-group condition (where wiki entries were portrayed as written primarily by fans of the German team) or an out-group condition (where wiki entries were portrayed as written primarily by rivals of the German team).  The authors explain:

The nicknames either indicated that four out of five previous authors were fans (ingroup condition, e.g., ‘‘black-red-gorgeous’’ in reference to the German national flag) or foes (outgroup condition, e.g., ‘‘black-red-gruesome’’) of the national team.

Next, participants spent 50 minutes attempting to increase the quality of the wiki entry.  Finally, they completed two post-experiment measures: knowledge integration (which tested the degree to which they integrated information from other authors on the wiki with what they read) and factual knowledge.

Although it doesn’t test it directly, this somewhat speaks to online class projects – for example, when students are assigned to work on a wiki collaboratively.  Do they actually learn from the activity, and what affects their learning?

As demonstrated in this study, shared affiliations with other learners are potentially important.  Students in the in-group condition had greater integration and factual knowledge than those in the out-group condition.  Thus, it appears that the success of collaborative online learning efforts is affected by interpersonal/social factors.  Especially compelling is that the manipulation was not very “strong” in the classical sense: the only communication about group membership was through the form of the username.  However, this was made exceptionally salient to participants by instructing them to give themselves an in-group nickname and providing an IAT.  This was also a lab study, with paid participants.  So it’s unclear how much this affects learners in real situations, with external demands (like getting a good grade, the unfortunate goal of most undergraduates).

At the minimum, we can conclude from this study that social factors may influence the degree to which people learn in collaborative online environments.  Unfortunately, a great deal more work needs to be done to identify if this is something we should worry about in “the real world.”

  1. Matschke, C., Moskaliuk, J., & Kimmerle, J. (2012). The impact of group membership on collaborative learning with wikis Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0254 []
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