Socect’s Weblog

Unsettled Thoughts/Works in Progress

Wiki Wiki Boom Boom

I don’t know what the title of this post means…
Just a rhythm bouncing around in my head…

Here is what this post is about:
I have now finished two semesters using wiki as a platform for participatory learning. It has been a booming success.

The 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 holding their breath for my posts.

In the first semester of this 2008-2009 academic year, I used wiki for SC2218: Anthropology and the Human Condition (an undergraduate, introduction to anthropology course with an enrollment of 68 students) and SC6214: Gender, Culture and Society (a graduate seminar with an enrollment of 10).

In the second semester, just completed, I used wiki for SC2220: Gender Studies (an undergraduate, introduction to gender studies course with an enrollment of 145 students).

While all of the wiki “experiments” were useful and successful (IMHO), I’ve been most impressed by the amazing work and outcomes of the most recent wiki; in part because I built on some things I learned in the first semester.

The main benefits of the wiki medium were:

1. Students contributed very substantially to the course content.They brought into the course, via the wiki all manner of valuable, thought-provoking, useful and even hilarious (but relevant) material – from book reviews to current news items to YouTube videos to songs to you-name-it. For a small sample, take a look at the page of my favorite things on the SC2220: Gender Studies wiki. As the instructor, I learned about all manner of things – from a documentary on the “Sworn Virgins of Albania” to latest findings in primatology to “the mom song” (hilarious, check it out), which I did not know about and might never have stumbled across. Those are just a very few of the great items contributed. Just as great is the commentary and discussion of these by the students who posted them as well as replies by other students. And in some cases, insightful valuable contributions were not references to external sources and materials, but reflections and commentary by students themselves, on such topics as Islam and Gender (started as a discussion thread by one student, then re-created as a ‘page’ by another) and on Islam, Gender and Culture, contributed by Muslim students in the course.

2. The Wiki provided a window into students’ thoughts, perspectives and understandings.The basic format of large lecture classes at NUS (with 100, 150, 200 or more students) is a two-hour lecture once a week supplemented by two-hour “discussion group” (or “tutorial”) sessions every other week. The “small groups” in tutorials are made up of 25 students. Attempts at discussion in tutorials are often met with long stretches of painfully awkward silence and more often than not when discussion does get going, it is dominated by a few students. I’ve used all kinds of techniques to try to overcome the deficits of this format, but the bottom line is my access to what the students are really thinking and understanding about the course material is extremely limited. With the wiki, my knowledge about the students’ understandings and ideas was radically transformed and multiplied many fold. As an educator, this is invaluable in allowing me to speak much more directly to the students. It allows me to engage with the issues they care about and identify their concerns and important points of course content that may be misunderstood.

3. The Wiki inspired peer-to-peer learning. Ok, I have little or no direct evidence of this (other than the engaged, back-and-forth discussion in the wiki!), but I can’t imagine that if I as the instructor learned a lot that the students did not learn just as much if not more from each other. This harnesses the network effects that Mike Wesch discusses in his Portal to Media Literacy lecture (it is fairly far into the video/lecture; but there is a very nice discussion with diagrams of the network structure of classroom learning; watch from min.42-45).

4. The Wiki make “participation” far more transparent.In so far as part of my job as a university professor is to  evaluate the students (that’s why we give grades and write letters of recommendation), the wiki is very valuable in making students’ contributions far more obvious and accessible. Part of the built-in architecture of the Wetpaint wiki platform that I’ve used includes a list of “members” each of whom has her own pages, listing (among other things) all of the contributions she has made to the Wiki. It provides a quick quantitative overview (number of page edits; number of discussion thread contributions; number of words and other material added!). More over, the list of each students contributions is hyperlinked, connecting me directly to those contributions. When it comes to the evaluative stage of the course (not my favorite part of teaching!), I can very quickly access everything each student has done on the wiki and quickly browse/read through all their contributions – student-by-student. This is much, much easier and more accurate (IMHO) than trying to take notes or recall the flow of discussion participation in the 25-student tutorial sessions.

5. The Wiki provides great participatory flexibility.With the wiki, students (and teachers) can “participate” in the course any time day or night (if they are online or have access to an internet connection). This is an obvious but important value of the wiki. For students, if they have a brilliant idea or comment 10 minutes after a class or tutorial session ends, in the traditional format (classroom attendance) it is difficult if not impossible to make that contribution. With the wiki – no problem. They can post their ideas any time. Also, the wiki provides much more space (and time) for students (and teachers) to develop their ideas more fully than a rushed classroom session.

So, those are some of the things that made use of wikis a great success in my opinion over the past two semesters using them. It was also very rewarding, in that I felt like I got to know the students in my classes (especially the large classes) better than I ever had in the past. Our “mass education” system is not only alienating to students but to professors as well. Most of us cringe at the large lecture structure, which inspires pontificating to the masses but not interactive (Socratic?) teaching-and-learning. It is also deeply depersonalizing to stand in front of a hundred or two-hundred students (who of course, all insist on sitting way, way in the back, up by the rafters!).

That’s all for this post. I plan to write more soon about what worked and what didn’t… when I have time (this week, I hope, but as I said, don’t hold your breath!)

Wiki Wiki Boom Boom
Wiki Boom Boom
Wiki Wiki Boom Boom
Wiki Boom Boom

Has a nice rhythm to it… don’t you think? 🙂


April 28, 2009 - Posted by | Teaching


  1. Thanks for this Eric. Had been wondering about using wikis. I currently use rather one-way blogs (I post, they comment) which works OK for a certain purpose.

    But a peek at your class wiki reveals much richer possibilities than I had contemplated.

    Comment by Paul Barter | April 28, 2009 | Reply

  2. Dear Prof Thompson,

    I was from your SC2220 class last semester during early 2009. Am now doing a teaching course in NIE, and now we are on about the benefits of wiki. Your site came up when I googled it. Just want to say thank you for your contribution!

    (And ps: I enjoyed your class v much 🙂 )

    Warmest Regards,


    Comment by Elim | September 9, 2009 | Reply

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