All aboard the Wiki train!

I’ll start with a question:

How many of you have heard people throwing around the term “wiki” as a collaboration tool, but have no idea what a wiki actually is?

Yeah, I thought so.  And yes, Wikipedia is a form of a wiki.  The idea behind a wiki is that visitors can easily contribute to a conversation, participate in a dialogue, potentially even edit a collaborative document.   Within our medical school and residency, we use Canvas for our learning management system, and the discussion feature within Canvas provides a form of a Wiki, in which anyone enrolled in the course can start or contribute to a discussion.

I’m a big fan of collaborative learning exercises, although they are admittedly difficult to create for clinical medical students.  I’m also a big fan of participating in asynchronous discussions and learning, as evidenced by my activity on Twitter and the premises underlying our group’s development of the IGSJC.  I spent two years trying to figure out how to get my surgery students to use the Wiki/ Discussion feature in Canvas, and I currently have some hope that I might have cracked the code.  I mean, if my friend Jonathan White can successfully implement Wikis with his students, why can’t I?

When I first wanted to implement the Wiki, I reached out on Twitter and…crickets.  I was unable to easily identify anyone who was routinely using a Wiki in medical education, at least through social media crowdsourcing.  I knew if I “required” Wiki participation, it was destined to fail.  Sure, the students would participate, but if it’s one more mandatory thing, there’s often a certain lack of enthusiasm that goes with it; one study in undergraduate and graduate students showed that a group of students with required Wiki use were ambivalent at best about its value, as opposed to a group for whom it was voluntary.  Knowing that Wikis aren’t yet widely used, I wanted to help the students see what I perceive as the value as a place for discussion and team-based learning.  I tried encouraging the students to post their Power points from their mini-Clinical Pathology Correlation sessions, nothing.  I tried encouraging them to share things they looked up for their specific rotations, and again, nothing.  Honestly, I felt like I was hitting a wall.

Now to air some dirty laundry- last year we had a higher-than-expected (and higher than is acceptable) rate of failure on the NBME Surgery Subject Exam.  It’s an admittedly difficult exam to help students prepare for, primarily because it contains plenty of questions that are, at best, only peripherally related to surgery.  I’ve struggled with how I can better prepare them without teaching to the test, and I realized that the Wiki is my chance!  We’re now using the Wiki for me to post a question (hopefully related to surgery and that they are likely to see content from on their exam) twice a week for them to discuss.  I’ll admit that I am incredibly excited even though I’m only about 6 weeks into the experiment with the participation so far; no, not everyone is talking, but I’m seeing discussion, and I’m seeing students ask each other questions as well.  It’s definitely a start.

So, thoughts on how you are using a Wiki or might use one?  It just makes sense to me, but getting it off the ground has not been easy.  Updates to follow- both on shelf scores AND Wiki success!