Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Wiki Experiment… Day 18

It is now about 18 days since the Anthropology and the Human Condition Wiki went live. We have also now completed three weeks of the semester at NUS. I’m very encouraged – delighted, to be honest – with the results of this “experiment” in participatory learning so far. The Wiki format is bringing forth lots of thoughtful engagement with the topics and ideas in the course. Still early days… but bravo to all you brave souls who have gotten on early and boldly gone where no NUS students have gone before…

That said, a few reflections on using the Wiki, getting it going, and keeping it active…

THE FEAR OF WIKI… We met with the first two small-group discussion sections this week. It is clear that there is still a lot of uncertainty – and anxiety – surrounding the Wiki. What exactly are we supposed to DO with this thing? What exactly is required of us? I’ve created a page on the Wiki to try to allay some of these fears and calm nerves. But ultimately I believe all of this will be resolved in the end (and only) by participants – students – getting on the Wiki and working with it. The goal, expectation, hope is that this will be a transformative experience and the 70 or so participants in the course who started with little or no idea what a Wiki is let alone how to edit and create one will become saavy consumers and producers of this form of Internet-mediated communication.

MAKING THE LEAP, from discussion, blogging, chatting, and so forth to Wiki… So far, participants have added much more content to the discussion threads on the Wiki than to the main Wiki pages. As one of our participants in discussion sections today pointed out, the discussion thread area feels much less intimidating than contributing to Wiki pages. It is a space where participants feel more at ease commenting and expressing their take on things. So why Wiki at all? Because as pointed out in the same discussion, information is easily lost and hard to find in discussion threads. And the threads themselves are hard to follow. Wiki’s are set up to present a more concise, accessible – dare we say authoritative? – presentation of ideas, information or whatever.

FRAMING AND INCENTIVES… If you troll around various Wiki’s and similar media (like discussion forums), the fact is that most are the creation of a very small number or even just one dedicated individual. (Take a look at members and their contributions on Wetpaint wiki’s for example – often it is just one person adding substantial content.) Nothing wrong with that. But part of the power of the Wiki comes in harnessing the power and participation of as many members as possible. Moreover, for a course Wiki, my goal is for all the students to learn the Wiki format itself. To me, the best way to do this is to recognized that participation (time spent; blood, sweat and tears shed) by making it part of the graded evaluation. The cynical teachers out there (and I’m one of them sometimes) will bemoan the fact that ‘students never do anything except for a grade’. But turn that around a bit: As mentioned, the grading component gives recognition to this being an important part of what the students do in the course. In addition, students at NUS have lots of classes (five generally) with lots of instructors asking them to do lots of assignments all semester long. Is it fair to ask them to step up and “voluntarily” contribute to something like a Wiki… then moan and complain when they don’t?

FORM (FORMATTING) MATTERS… As one of the teaching assistants in the class emphasized, it is important to pay attention to formatting – and generally how the pages look – as well as the content. Formatting matters in terms of how accessible the material is. And let’s face it, plain old visual appeal makes a difference (at least one participant has said they think the Anthropology wiki background graphic is rather ugly… probably true… it seemed the best choice of those available at the time so leaving it for now… perhaps the class wants to find a better, more appealing one?… But, I digress.) The point is that attention needs to be given to formatting – including recognizing and rewarding that as part of “participating” in a course Wiki like this.

All for now… stay tuned to see how things evolve… or better yet, join us on the Wiki 🙂


August 30, 2008 - Posted by | Teaching | ,


  1. I have a colleague who is experimenting with a wiki for his class–just 40 students. He has built into his system graduated points for percentage of class participation. 100% gets full points added to all student grades, 80% less, 69% far less. Just sharing ideas. (And looking to steal any that work. :-))


    Comment by Pamthropologist | August 30, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for the comment Pam.
    I did a search for anthropology course wiki’s. Searching on and on google, I could only find 3 in addition to my own that are publicly available (only 2 are currently active – Mike Wesch’s at K-State and another good one at Metropolitan State U in Minnesota). Those – plus an anthro grad student’s wiki – are on my Wiki front page. I was a bit surprised at how few I found. (Others, perhaps, are ‘closed’ – not publically available; or maybe there just aren’t so many as I expected to find.)

    Comment by socect | August 30, 2008 | Reply

  3. His (Poli Sci) is on Black Board. So, its closed. Black Board’s version of a Wiki leaves a lot to be desired. I suspect it turns more faculty and students off to the process than it attracts. However, my college is very sensitive to starting up our own independent sites. They like to be in control of all content and interaction. They can’t quite get the idea that open=more transparency=more appropriateness of interaction. Or something like that.

    Comment by Pamthropologist | August 31, 2008 | Reply

  4. So far, I’m extremely happy with how the Wiki project is going. I am half-expecting at some point that some administrative type here is going to come across this and freak out: “It’s out of control! Undergrads gone wild! Thinking freely! Posting comments! Open access discussion and debate! Civilization as we know it coming to an end! Oh, the humanity!”

    Seriously, I am working in Singapore after all… for all the things our little island is praised for (wealth, clean living), openness of thought and discourse are not among them (not yet anyway). BUT, this is (we hope!) the new Singapore of the 21st century – where creativity, innovation and inniative are the buzzwords of the day (from the Prime Minister on down). So I’m planning to stick to my guns and try to demonstrate that as you say openness = more; obsessive control = stagnation.

    Hoping I can pull it off (not just for me but because I really believe it is best for our students… and dare I say for Singapore as well). If not, I’ll be emailing you for the latest list of job ads from your college… 🙂

    Comment by socect | August 31, 2008 | Reply

  5. Heh, this administrative type is all for openness. =) Sometimes, it’s not so much administrators than some faculty staff who prefer to keep things within a walled garden. Every new service we roll out is usually followed by: “Can we make it private?” I think one reason is that some educators do not want to allow successive batches of students to access things from previous semesters.

    Comment by Kenneth Pinto | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  6. This is a good point. One major challenge is to think about how an open course Wiki can operate over several years. It is something I’ve been thinking about – and have some ideas – but it will definitely be one of the important challenges to building a successful approach to incorporating a Wiki-platform in learning.

    Comment by socect | September 9, 2008 | Reply

  7. ‘One major challenge is to think about how an open course Wiki can operate over several years’

    Yes, here in NZ one of the hot topics in education at the moment is how to build communities of learning / communities of practice. But this is not easy when everything is locked in a walled garden, or when wikis and other resources have a life span which is tied to the current cohort. A community needs some degree of continuity to be sustainable and viable.

    Comment by Paul Left | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  8. […] last time I updated my thoughts and experiences on Day 18 of the Wiki Experiment. It is now about day 180. And it may be day 1800 before I update again. I hope no one out there is […]

    Pingback by Wiki Wiki Boom Boom « Socect’s Weblog | April 28, 2009 | Reply

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