Home > Teaching > Wiki-based learning: a proposal for college science courses

Wiki-based learning: a proposal for college science courses

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about teaching methods, and here’s one I think we should try in biological sciences: wiki-based learning. The goal of a semester in evolution/population biology would be to produce a professional quality free textbook. This would be the equivalent of a ‘wiki-sprint’ where students would each be responsible for a topic. Students that are particularly active can receive the role of editor. No exams; all grading is based on participation and quality of wiki-work. The intervention of the instructional staff should be minimal. All incentivization will be social or based on quality of work.

This incorporates project-based learning, and “scientific teaching.” Students are asked to produce something whose quality they can all see. They can check each other, edit each other. Those who trash-edit/vandalize can be seen by everybody, not just the instructors.

Students should be encouraged to incorporate other free materials. The quality of the material will always be subject to review. They will learn about copyright, authors’ rights and the re-use of material (which is a fundamental part of science). It will be very difficult for students to receive a good grade if they wholesale copy other wikis (for example, those of previous semesters). They wouldn’t be actively participating. However, it will be good to copy and incorporate from previous semesters, as they can learn how to improve the material. They will need to understand the material to improve it.

This would not be a special class. This would be the standard course in evolution, probably a required class. What would be the role for the instructors? TAs would show people how to use Wiki software (easy!) and advise them on topics. The professor’s job would be to clarify good topics for articles/chapters. The overall goal is synthesis. Students can learn terminology and concepts on their own. However, to synthesize topics, they can use the project. The role of the instructor in synthesis is what? Mainly in advising people on good topics for articles, philosophical directions and coordinating between students, rewarding students with the title of editor, etc. The professor could also steer students in the direction of good primary literature and advise them on scientific writing style. “Lectures” would consist mainly of reviewing articles and critiquing them as a class.

What do you think? Something similar has been done at CMU in electrical engineering. Does anyone have the means for trying this out?

  1. January 17, 2012 at 16:23

    On second thought, no awarding of “editor” by the instructor is necessary. This creates competition. If there are students who are exceptionally good editors, they will do it anyway.

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