Wikis for Collaborative Teaching

I experimented with a blog in a large law class this spring, but the results so far have been disappointing, not least because the technology doesn’t work well.  In order to create a blog-based forum to which only (but all) enrolled students can post, I tried CALI’s Classcaster — but the submission plugin doesn’t seem to work with IE.  Alas.

Today, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I learned that my Pittsburgh colleague Luis von Ahn, at Carnegie Mellon (and recent recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship), uses a wiki (a TWiki, actually) to manage collaboration in his undergraduate course on “Great Theoretical Ideas in Computer Science.”  I suspect that he’s not the only university faculty member to implement a class wiki.  Applying the wiki model to law school teaching, though, might be new.  Is it?  I imagine dumping a lot of professor-side course content into a wiki (cases, statutes, other readings, with permission as necessary), and encouraging students to collaborate on things like case briefs, course outlines, responses to old exam questions and classroom and other hypotheticals, and role playing exercises.  Is this workable?  Sensible?  Have others tried anything like this in law schools?

7 thoughts on “Wikis for Collaborative Teaching

  1. I have created a wiki http://www.casesofinterest.com in part because I think blogs are too ephemeral to produce collaboration and long term contributions.

    That said, I’m not teaching my first class until Fall 2007, so I haven’t had a chance to test it with a class yet and have no idea how well it will work in practice. I hope to soon!

  2. I’ve bad nothing but bad experiences with TWiki. I’d recommend MediaWiki, because what students learn there will carry over directly onto Wikipedia and many other thriving wikis.

    If you trust your students not to leak the username/password all over the place, it’s easy enough to set up any wiki you like with HTTP access controls — one username/password pair just for access to the server, which is known the the whole class. They can then set up their own accounts for purposes of signing their posts on the wiki itself.

  3. Mike,
    The problem with Classcaster is that the password plugin doesn’t work right with Internet Explorer and it breaks the submission plugin. If you turned off the password plugin, submissions would work.
    If you are interested in trying a wiki format, drop me a note. While CALI is not formallly providing a wiki service we are setting up a limited number of course wikis as a pilot program.
    Elmer

  4. My husband had a class wiki that didn’t do much, and a somewhat more useful wiki for a research seminar that collected information about Washington history. I think you have to ask what a wiki will add — will people really create links between entries, add commentary, etc.? How much does persistence matter?

  5. Mike, I’ve had class blogs for a few years and love the results. I use Typepad. The school pays for my account–the paid account allows for password protection and creation of an unlimited number of blogs. I cited student privacy concerns to justify the small fee.

    Creating accounts for every student was a nuisance until I found a workaround. All students use a single guest account and have to include their names in the post. I suppose this raises the potential problem of anonymous posting and unauthorized editing. It has yet to be a problem–our students are largely decent, well-mannered, law abiding Midwesterners. YMMV

    Getting good content requires some guidelines on posting and minimum posting and commenting requirements. There are usually a few who really take to it and give the blog a lot of life.

    The reason I have the blog is to help the students learn better by engaging with the material outside of class. It seems to work. They have really pleased me and frequently exceed my expectations. They give me a lot of great discussion material for class.

    I’ve considered adding a Wiki, but I’m trying to consider carefully the pedagogical purpose for doing so. One thing in particular that has held me back: It would be yet another aspect of class to administer and maintain.

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