Course wiki facilitates student participation and course design

At 4:05, when ENV 186S/PubPol 187 is scheduled to end, students enthusiastically continue their discussion, not noticing the time.  Students all contribute, and learn from each other’s experience.

Dr. Rafe Sagarin enthusiastically described how he designed his first undergraduate course at Duke, “From Water to Washington: Marine Science and Policy.” This capstone course serves students with a diversity of backgrounds and majors; this diversity has been transformed from a challenge to a benefit. Dr. Sagarin adapted a method used for professional meetings with diverse participants, called Open Space Technology, in which the participants direct the agenda.

How?  On the first day of class, he gave the students large sticky notes to answer the following three questions: 1) what are you excited about in this course?  2) what do you want to learn about? and 3) what can you teach the class about?  He organized the notes into themes on the board, and his course outline emerged.  The general plan is that students teach other students what they want to know.  In places where the answers to questions 2 and 3 did not overlap, he filled in gaps with lectures.

The course is organized on the wiki within Blackboard.  Each person in the class facilitates a class period.  This student creates a new wiki page, with a description and a link to a selected article.  All of the students are required to read the article, and to contribute a paper, website or YouTube video with a brief explanation that relates to the topic on the wiki page.  Then, for each class meeting, almost every student has something to say. Although students are only required to read the assigned article, they often read each other’s contributions and make connections in class.

Dr. Sagarin says the technology has allowed him to get all of the students involved in the course in a way that was not possible previously.  The wiki offers accountability – he can tell instantly who has contributed.  He finds there are not many technical difficulties; only one student can edit at a time, and sometimes the student-contributed links do not work as they should.

In this course, both students and the instructor are learning enthusiastically.  Dr. Sagarin observed that students are much better presenters than when he was a student.  His students are poised, clear, polished and skilled at leading discussions and soliciting contributions, and he has learned from them.  He points out that the student contributions bring a much wider scope of work into the discussion than he would ever be able to.  It’s a great example of successful use of “the wisdom of crowds,” also famously leveraged by Michael Wesch, who points out that collectively, students bring a tremendous amount of knowledge to the classroom and that it should be used.  Dr. Sagarin is proud of what his students bring to his classroom and what he has learned from them.


Using the wiki in Blackboard

Using blogs and wikis in the classroom

How to organize your course with a wiki

Grading student contributions (parts 1 and 2)

Andrea Novicki

Author: Andrea Novicki

Andrea helps faculty use technology effectively and efficiently in their teaching. She works primarily with scientists, using her biology background, love of science and teaching experience. Her current enthusiasms include online science education, active learning (especially team-based learning) and assessment.