Blog Post

Something Wiki This Way Comes?

This semester is my first as a "stand-alone" instructor, teaching an upper level History course. Given my interest in technology and teaching and an eye to the fact I'm on the job market this year, I decided to step into the wilds of the course wiki. While to some the use of a wiki might seem rather ho-hum, in my department a collaborative writing project utilizing a dedicated course wiki is virtually Star Trekkian. I, and my students, are virtual guinea pigs.

I have to admit I was at first rather glib about the whole thing. I mean, how hard could it be? I'm no idiot. I'm familiar with Wikipedia and understand, at least on the consumer level, how a wiki works. And, being the highly trained scholar that I am, I read (and read and read) articles, blogs, and websites galore on the fine art of the wiki. Nothing prepared me, however, for the complexities involved in constructing a wiki from the ground up (with a little help from Confluence). And as I discovered, no one on campus (at least that I could find this summer) had designed a collaborative writing project quite the way I envisioned mine would be. Everyone was excited about the prospect, but the more people I talked to, the less excited and the more nervous I became. What had I gotten myself into? I had to consider: would it be public access? how will I structure evaluation of my students' projects? what part will be individual versus group responsibilities? what have I not taken into consideration? 

Then there was my own steep learning curve, and (horrors!) actually having to teach my students how to use it. Because as it turns out, out of 30 students, only 2 had actually used a wiki before, something I found quite surprising. Where were all those students I'd had while I was a teaching assistant for our large survey courses, who snickered about our archaic technology (overheads) and knew instinctively how to hook up a laptop to an LCD projector without consulting an instruction booklet? Well, they weren't history majors. Which brings me, in a rather longwinded way, to the point of this posting. For all the data mining, cloud computing and highly advanced technology research being done on this campus, there is still an intellectual and geographical divide when it comes to application at the teaching level of humanities and technology--when oftentimes in Gregory Hall for example, a "smart room" means making use of an overhead projector, a DVD player or lugging an LCD projector to class three days a week. My ITS room in Noyes Lab this semester was something of a revelation. And I've gotten quite used to having it.

And I have to consider: if I hadn't been given the opportunity to teach in a technologically-equipped classroom, would I have ever considered our wiki project? Probably not. And I think my course (and my students) would have been the less for it. Because as it turns out, for all its growing pains, our wiki has turned out to be quite something, limited only by my students' imagination. And, of course, by classroom technology.



you hit on a good point, in re: differences btwn different disciplines and their use of technology.  it is frustrating when realizing the vast differences between skills of students of different departments and how it makes my job that much more difficult when trying to get them to use something as simple as YouTube or a search engine other than Google.  some know SPSS like they wrote it themselves, others have a healthy blogroll of fans, others still are completely confused as to who to call when their email is locked.  

i am wondering if the solution isn't more directed technology classes, given by the university. when i started at missouri journalism in 1997, taking a computer course was required - one in web design and news principles and the other in basic computing. sounds silly now probably, because there is much greater access to computers, but at that time, it was a big deal to have a computer lab in my dorm (that makes me sound so old, i know). what those classes did, was ensure all J-School students had the same base knowledge about how to get our work done efficiently. i wonder if this isn't the way to even the playing field among the disciplines, by creating a 3-tiered university mandated computing course at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced level.



Would you use the wiki again, another semester? Or was this a one shot deal for you?


Hi Karen,

What host did you use for your wiki? I will be starting my own "stand alone" teaching in the Winter/Spring term of '10 with a rhet/comp course. Our program has us using pbworks. While working over break to build my wiki, I've found pbworks to be very accommodating and straight-forward to use. I have also found that I feel much more invested in constructing daily lesson plans and overall course content with the wiki format than if I had been doing a paper-based course. For example, in organizing the pages and making them (hopefully) accessible for the students, I have had to think through how different page elements (course elements, themes, etc) fit together. And by fit together, I mean well organized and useful for both the presentation of that day's lesson and also when a student (again, hopefully) goes back to the page for a refresher. What are your feeling on this? Can you say more about how the wiki format caused your teaching, or class construction, to change?