As a university student, Avnish Desai was advised by his professors to never rely on Wikipedia content alone for his research. “In fact some discourage us from even using the Web site as a source of basic research,” he said. Now, as a fourth-year student in finance and corporate communications at the Singapore Management University, Mr. Desai, 24, has been asked as part of a class assignment to help create his own wiki page on digital media in India. Although wikis, with their collaborative approach and vast reach online, have been around for at least 15 years, their use as a general teaching tool in higher education is still relatively recent. But an increasing number of universities are now adopting them as a teaching tool. As part of that trend, a handful of Singapore universities are using the wiki platform as a way to engage students.
Michael Netzley, assistant professor of corporate communication in the business school at the Singapore Management University, said students’ learning improved when they embarked on wiki projects. “Rather than trying to read a textbook and regurgitate it for an exam, in order to write coherent segments, you have to actually intellectually understand it and be able to craft your own words, and that is a higher level of learning challenge,” he said. “All the research on learning theory suggests this is in fact a better way to learn.”
Mr. Netzley, whose students include Mr. Desai, started using wikis as a teaching tool in 2007. This semester, he asked the students in his Digital Media in Asia class to document the digital communication landscape of a given country, build a wiki page, and then conduct a one-week public relations campaign to promote it. “I am trying to simulate exactly what would happen if a P.R. agency takes on a new client in a new market and must start from scratch,” he said. Working collaboratively, editing each other’s work publicly and getting feedback, sometimes from outside the classroom, can make many students uncomfortable at first. “It’s not something that we’re used to,” said Stuart Lee, an undergraduate who took Mr. Netzley’s class and helped create a wiki page on digital media in Japan. “We usually see the professor as the gatekeeper of information.”