Does Research Inform Teaching (or vice versa)?

Last Spring I used a wiki to teach a senior seminar in macroeconomics. The wiki provided a parallel out-of-class universe for the course. At the time, I knew only the basics of what wikis were about, so we were very much “learning to fly” which was the metaphor for the class experience. I gave a presentation about this experience at the 2005 UMW Faculty Academy.

In a little over a week, a couple of students and I will be giving a revised version of that presentation at the 2006 ELI conference in San Diego. Over the last several months we have been researching wiki theory and usage in preparation. Not surprisingly, I think I’m finally beginning to get wikis. In reviewing what worked and didn’t last year, I’ve come up some of ideas about how to make better use of the wiki in my senior seminar this semester compared to last year. Here are a couple of them.

*Collaborative List Making—When I first heard about using wikis to create lists, I admit my first reaction was underwhelming (sorry Brian!). I no longer feel that way. My seminar this semester is titled, “Contemporary Economic Issues.” To encourage the students to buy in to the course, I decided to let the students choose the issues we would study. To that end, I asked each student to bring three choices to the first class. I sent them the list of past topics from the course, but told them they needn’t limit themselves to those topics. The first use of the wiki was to post their choices. I then sorted and collated the topics to determine the top choices. The most popular topic and the first one we will investigate is globalization. The next task will be to develop a list of references for the topic (another list). This list will turn into an annotated bibliography when students post their notes from the readings.

*Wiki as process vs product—One way that wikis are superior to traditional webpages is that they have a certain organic nature. What I mean is the ability to use and reuse wiki postings for different purposes. I’m probably way out of my element here, but if you think of wiki postings as data records, then the wiki can be seen as a database, where we can sort and organize the records in different ways merely by creating new links. In creating the ELI presentation I found myself using pages of notes developed during the research process and turning them into products—pieces of the presentation, just by creating new links.

I plan on learning a lot more about “power uses” of wikis this semester. Feel free to follow along with my seminar.

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