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November 15, 2007

Another View of Wikis in Classrooms

Hillary Burgess sends along a description of her own long experience with using Wiki in classrooms. Note the kind offer to help Wiki newbies at the end of the note. Anupam Chander

Wiki - Paperless communication with students.

By Hillary Burgess, Adjunct Professor, Rutgers School of Law - Camden

What Wiki Is:

If you’ve ever visited wikipedia, you’ve seen wiki software in use. Wiki software is one of the fastest growing technologies used by fortune 500 companies.

The software allows users to create and revise documents using any standard Internet browser. It also saves a copy of every version you create, so it’s great for policy manuals in the work force, shared group projects, and drafts of course papers. Most wiki software is freeware, so it’s the right price for all budgets!

Benefits Of Wiki:

I’ve used wiki technology in my classroom for several years. (Eg. http://prof.hillaryburgess.com/ then click courses.) I’ve found it very helpful for me and the students, so I thought I’d share how I’ve used it in my courses.

I keep all of my important course documents available on the wiki. By putting this information available on the web, students have access to it whether or not they have their syllabus or assignment schedule in hand. On the first day of class, I give students a one-page document that tells them how to navigate to the course page, read the syllabus, and locate the assignment schedule. This one page document saves the university the paper and photocopying expenses of the syllabus and assignment schedule, too. Plus, as we modify the assignment schedule over the course of the semester, I don’t have to re-distribute; students just check the online version.

Because the basis of wiki is being able to modify documents from any web browser, I don't have to have any fancy software to create sound web pages or modify the content of my web pages. As such, I can develop my courses from any computer with an Internet connection and a web browser.

I have students post their papers to my wiki. I’ve found numerous advantages to having students post papers online. I have papers due at times not linked to class, so I avoid students skipping class and rushing in 2 minutes before class is over to turn in their paper “on time.” Also, when students are off-campus the day an assignment is due, there’s no reason for extensions or early submission, students just turn the paper in from wherever they are. (I even had a student submit work from Italy one time.) Finally, I have a LOT less to lug around and can grade papers anywhere I can find a private computer with Internet access.

I give students feedback on the wiki. I protect the feedback/grade page so that only the individual student can see the feedback, though my in-line (margin) comments can be seen by all. Giving students feedback becomes easier, too. I put my margin comments right in their text, but I have a standard feedback page that contains all of the comments I’ve ever given to any students. I reuse these comments and customize them as needed, deleting the ones that don’t apply to the current student's paper. Since we tend to give the same or similar advice over and over, I’ve found this common feedback page allows me to provide extensive, thorough, and detailed feedback in less than 5 minutes per student (not including reading and commenting in-line).

Another advantage is that I am introducing students to a technology that many have not had experience with, but very well could as they begin their careers. That said, most students have read entries on wikipedia already, so they have some familiarity with wikis. Some students have even edited wikipedia's pages! Since wiki literally allows students to “write” web pages, I’ve also built up the technical aspects of their qualifications for their resumes. And since it's the fastest growing technology in fortune 500 companies, knowledge of how to use this technology could give them an edge.

I’ve found that the students adjust to using a wiki very quickly and many of them come to rely on the convenience of having course documents available and turning in papers online. Some students are more resistant, but I just keep reminding them that they are building their resume and learning a technology that they might be expected to use in the work force.

The software is easy to install and fairly easy to customize. I allow everyone to see my course documents, but only students in a class can see each other’s work (they work collaboratively), and only each individual student can see his/her private feedback and/or grade. These security measures take some work, but are fairly easy to understand.

A question I get a lot is, “why not just use WebCT?” The main argument against WebCT is that students will NEVER use WebCT software in the business world, so we are making students learn a technology that doesn't translate into business skills. As much as possible, I try to keep all learning connected to a learning objective that translates into knowledge or skill-building students could use in their future careers.

Other Applications for Wiki:

I’ve used the software in my doctrinal courses (both undergraduate and graduate) in keeping with my philosophy that “every class is a writing class.” (hat tip The College - U Chicago) I’ve also used the software with my writing courses, primarily because of the version tracking and document compare (with any version) features. Also, every time wiki saves a version, it provides a time and author stamp - very useful for grading full/no credit assignments.

Finally, I can see how it would be an excellent tool for ASP, both as a repository and as an interactive tool. It would be easy for faculty to post sample exams and sample answers (either emailed to you to post or posted directly) without having to use the network department. Faculty could comment on sample answers - what made them good, for example - without a lot of document exchange. And, all of the information could be accessed online.

Wiki could also be used interactively for tutors to help at-risk and 1L students. The students could post briefs, outlines, etc. online and the tutor could give feedback. (Though, I would still recommend that tutors meet with their students!) Students could also use the technology (with permission) to facilitate sharing study group documents (though I'm not a big fan of study groups divvying up outlines since students learn and review the material best by outlining themselves) and even for chat-group style questions about the material. Obviously, the interactive piece would only be useful for students who are already familiar with the technology.


If you’re interested in wiki, you can visit my site ( http://prof.hillaryburgess.com) for samples. If anyone is interested in incorporating wiki technology into your courses, I can walk you through the installation process and/or offer tips that I’ve learned over the years to make the process more efficient.

November 15, 2007 in Technology -- in general | Permalink


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» Wikis in the Law School Classroom from University of Chicago Law School: The Electronic Projects Blog
Hillary Burgess, an adjunct prof at Rutgers School of Law, has posted a very interesting article on the Law School Innovation blog about the ways that she uses wiki software in the legal classroom. If you teach a class at [Read More]

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