Associate Professor Robert Ormrod from the Department of Management, Aarhus BSS, started teaching three years ago. Back then, he had a classic approach to teaching, but he felt that the students lacked motivation. Ormrod attended the Centre for Teaching and Learning’s (CTL) Go Online course and began using an online wiki to activate the students and get them to present and discuss what they had learned in a new way.
Article originally published in Cultivate magazine ed. 06, June 2015
“The course inspired me to think about how I could, in short term, include the various tools we were given. But also, I began considering how I could use the tools more globally, in the long term, in order to increase the teaching reach”, Robert Ormrod explains.They sit in different rooms, maybe even in different countries, but they work together. At other times, they work alone in creating an online product, which shows an understanding of all the theories of one course. The students of the post graduate elective course Stakeholder Theory and Crisis Management produce wiki-sites as part of their coursework. And when the course finishes, the exam is centered on each student’s self-made wiki-site. For the course lecturer, Robert Ormrod, his new wiki teaching methods have all been inspired by CUL’s course Go Online.
Robert Ormrod began teaching the MA course Stakeholder Theory and Crisis Management three years ago. He started the course with a classic approach to teaching; first he would lecture for an hour, then the students would do group work, and finally the students would present their group work to the rest of the class. But he found that his students lacked motivation. And some students did not appear comfortable with presenting in front of the class. “The students seemed to love the theme, but not the methods of learning,” says Robert Ormrod.
Then Ormrod attended CUL’s course Go Online — and he had an idea: He thought of using the online wiki format to engage the students, and to encourage them to present and discuss what they had learnt in new ways. “The course inspired me to think about how I could, in short term, include the various tools we were given. But also, I began considering how I could use the tools more globally, in the long term, in order to increase the teaching reach”.
The MA course Stakeholder Theory and Crisis Management is an elective course taught in English. However, as the lecturer also understands Danish, Danish-speaking students are allowed to do their final exam in Danish. The course is open to all Social Science Students as well as international students. Today the course has a cap of 30 students enrolled. The very mixed backgrounds of students mean that the class consists of what Ormrod terms “an educational melting pot”. For this particular mix of students and educational backgrounds, Ormrod found it important to use a method of teaching which enabled students to work together on a product.
At the first day of the course, each student is allocated a small group, and each of these groups are assigned one empty wiki-site. The way in which each of the sessions is taught is in blocks of two hours. The first hour appears quite typical when it comes to university teaching. However, the following hours are slightly a-typical. As Ormrod explains it:
“The first hour is a traditional lecture with me standing pointing at the PowerPoint presentation. My PowerPoint presentation always ends with a set of questions related to the material that we have been through for that particular session. The second hour is dedicated to answering these questions in small groups of two-three, max four students. Then the students get together around a computer screen, and instantly start working on answering the questions of the day through their group wiki-site”.
Working together in groups, the students create an entirely new wiki-site which gets enriched every week. According to Ormrod, the students are often so eager to begin creating their wiki-site that they skip the break after the first lecture, and start creating their wiki-site right away.
“I thought that using the wiki gave me a new opportunity to develop my argumentation, not just with theory and literature, but with statistics taken directly from the stock market, from an annual report of a company-website and not least with video and quotes directly from the source.” René, student
As the course proceeds, so do the wiki-sites. In this way, each of the sites progress with the students. Ormrod talks excitedly of the process of following the wiki-site progress: “For each week the students will need to make a new page on their site. But they also need to link to other sites, or to articles in the press or YouTube videos — in this way enriching their wiki site. This is really to make the students compare and use other sources and cases in practice.”
In the end, the course is finished with a written exam. Of course, this exam is not written in a traditional way, but through wiki-sites. The final wiki-site could look similar to this one, made by one of last year’s students of the course, René:
“Normally I am quite quiet in group work, and I do not like to force my ideas on a group. But the use of wiki-spaces gave me the possibility to express my ideas before the group work began and then I could finish the online task ahead of the other students, so they could read it through. In that way, I could express the points I thought were important without having to do it in a group-setting.” Karoline, student
But are the students as excited about the wiki way of teaching as lecturer Robert Ormrod is? CULtivate asked students of the course just what they thought of the wiki-method of teaching. And indeed, all the students asked expressed a similar excitement with the wiki-teaching methods.
René who attended last year’s course highlights the teaching methods as one of the primary reasons he chose this specific course: ”Well, I did not just choose the course because of the teaching methods, but it was a significant factor for me choosing the course. I thought that using the wiki gave me a new opportunity to develop my argumentation, not just with theory and literature, but with statistics taken directly from the stock market, from an annual report of a company-website and not least with video and quotes directly from the source.”
To many of the students of the course, the opportunity to create a product which can be constantly updated and enriched made for a very satisfying way to learn. Also, the very technicality of working for the web were important. In a world where the Internet is increasingly dominant, not only web-design students, but students of social sciences too feel it is important to have an understanding of the workings of the web.
As René put it: ”I think it really appealed to me that I could constantly build my assignment. There was always a link or a video which could aid the understanding or help visualize a question. On top of that, the technical and visual aspect of creating a Wiki was crucial for me, and this definitely made the teaching more interesting, relevant and easier-digested”. Karoline, another student from last year’s course, expressed that she found it “exciting to use all the everyday-technology in the teaching”.
Another positive point highlighted by students is the way that the wiki-group-work allows for new ways of collaborating in groups. Former student, Karoline, was particularly happy with collaborating online as she finds the traditional methods of group work uneasy: “I am very introvert,” explains Karoline. “I really prefer working alone, and like the control I have when I work on my own. Normally I am quite quiet in group work, and I do not like to force my ideas on a group. But the use of wiki-spaces gave me the possibility to express my ideas before the group work began and then I could finish the online task ahead of the other students, so they could read it through. In that way, I could express the points I thought were important without having to do it in a group-setting.”
After Ormrod changed his teaching methods and began using online wiki sites for coursework, the student motivation was increased, and so were the student grades. To Ormrod, implementing the wiki in his teaching creates a new opportunity for learning in several different ways.
“First the students learn in the traditional way during the initial lecture. During this lecture, students write notes down, which brings a different form of learning. Then, there is the group work which gives way to peer-to-peer learning. In the group work sessions, if one student has not understood a concept, then the others might have understood it — and if not, then I am always accessible in that session.” The different ways of learning have been essential to Ormrod in planning and structuring each day of teaching the course. “What I am trying to do, is to get as many different forms of learning to go together”.
To Ormrod, one of the particular forces of the wiki-sites is that students spend less time explaining a case, thus giving more time for analysis. “If students want to give an in-depth description of a case, then they could just link to the case website or show the case through a YouTube link,” says Ormrod.
During the last course, one of the students broke a leg, which forced her to miss 5 weeks of the teaching. This gave Robert Ormrod an idea: “In my course, you need to participate in the lectures and in the wiki-group work, but she of course had access to Skype, so she could follow the lecture in that way and contribute to the wiki-site from another location”. So, Ormrod Skype-broadcast his lecture and after the lecture, the girl with the broken leg would still work on the wiki-site as per usual, just from another location. In this way, despite not being physically present, the student could be a part of the course, and contribute to course-work at the same level as all the other students. For future courses, Robert Ormrod hopes to build on the idea of distance-learning, potentially teaching students who are all placed abroad, but all work on the same wiki-platform.
By giving feedback, students strengthen their knowledge and retention and they practice arguing for their opinions. By receiving feedback, the students get an eye for good and less good aspects of their assignment.
The activity makes it easier for the students to read and understand long and/or complicated texts. The students practice presenting and arguing. Everybody participates and takes responsibility for a part of the text.
The students learn to collaborate on information gathering and joint construction of knowledge.