Wikis as Reading Tools

A common problem in teaching advanced undergraduates is helping students to draw broader theoretical and conceptual lessons from the readings that they do. In the past, I have especially struggled in seminar-style courses, where I presume that students come to class having done the reading and ready to discuss it. Why were students having such a tough time discussing, say, corporatism after reading Governing the Market?

I have come to realize is that most undergraduates, including the very best ones, read course materials differently than most faculty expect them to. There are lots of ways that this is true, but particular issue is, students gloss over terms of art, especially those that happen to look more or less like words that they already know. To give an example, if a student encounters a word that she’s never seen before, something like prebendalism, she is likely to pause to look it up. But if she encounters a word like corporatism, or agency slack, or mercantilism, she will breeze past it without pausing to reflect on it or what it means. As a consequence, this student will not only miss out on that term of art, she’ll also miss the broader point of the reading tied to it.

It’s not the student’s fault, of course. They are not to be held responsible for knowing which familiar-looking words are the important ones. The question for the teacher, though, is how to focus the student’s attention on those terms in advance?

The solution that I use is the “Course Wiki.” As I described some years ago, the wiki works like this. First, I scan all of the readings and identify four or five key terms in each that I want the students to know. Then, I assemble a wiki page (using Blackboard) that contains each of these terms—organized by week to keep things manageable. Then, students construct the wiki themselves, defining key terms, explaining where they show up in the reading, why they matter, and (in the best cases) how they relate to one another. I assigned the “wiki updating” task to each week’s seminar discussion leader, so that teams of student collaborate to do the editing each week, and others can watch their progress.

The best part of wikis is not their construction, but how students use them. All motivated students end up looking at the wiki before doing the reading, and this gives them a sense of where they should be directing their attention as they do it. The activity also creates a kind of seminar community, because all students rely on one another to do a good job with the wiki—if not, everyone suffers. In the several times I’ve used wikis, I’ve also come to understand that it’s a useful way to help students navigate sources found online. Under what conditions are wikipedia entries good clues for what we mean with a particular term? When do they need to look elsewhere?

This semester I’m using a wiki once again for my Asian Political Economy seminar (syllabus [PDF]). Here is the list of all the terms that they’ll need to define and understand this semester. Can you get them all? Better yet, can you explain how they matter for the political economy of contemporary Asia?

Accommodativeness, Adverse Selection, Agency Slack, Allocation Breadth, Allocative Efficiency, ASEAN-4, Asian Tigers, Asset Mobility, Asset Stripping, Big Bang, Big Push, Block Vote, Bureaucratic Capitalist, Bureaucratic Centralization, Capital Controls, Central Committee, Centralization and Powerlessness, Chaebol, China Model, Citizen Revolt, Clientelism, Collective Rights, Colonialism, Command Economy, Commitment, Common Market, Competition vs. Privatization, Competitive Liberalization, Contagion, Convergence, Cooptation, Coordination, Coordination Problem, Corporatism, Creative Destruction, Credible Threat, Daitou Zhifu, Decentralization, Decommodification, Delegation, Deliberation Council, Demand Groups, Democracy, Democratic Values, Development versus Growth, Developmental State, Diffusion, Disarticulation, Distortions, Distributional Conflict, District People’s Councils, Doi Moi, Dual-Track Price System, Economic Governance, Economic Rents, Efficiency Costs, Embedded Autonomy, Embedded Mercantilism, Embedded Particularism, Endogenous Technological Change, Ethnic Chinese Capitalism, Evolutionary Reform, Exclusionary Corporatism, Export-Led Recovery, Expropriation, Externalities, Extractive Institutions, Faction, Factor Mobility, Federalism, Fence-Breaking, Fiscal Contracting, Fragmentation, Franchise System, Gaige Kaifang, Gini Coefficient, Growth Accounting, Hajj Network, Hard Budget Constraint, Hawthorne Effect, High Performing Asian Economy, Household Responsibility System, Human Capital, Ideas, Ideology, Incentives, Indirect Rule, Individual Rights, Industrial Development Bureau, Industrial Policy, Informal Institutions, Informal Sector, Institution, Institutions of Private Property, Interethnic Complementarity, Interjurisdictional Competition, Internal Trade, Keiretsu, Land Dispossession, Liberalization, License Raj, Lost Decade, Macroeconomic Stability, Majoritarianism, Marketization, Middle Peasants, MITI, Monopoly, Mutual Hostages, National Champions, National People’s Congress, Neopatrimonialism, Neoutilitarian Theory, Networks, Norm Entrepreneur, Oligarchy, Owner Control, Panchayati Raj, Path Dependence, Path-Breaking, People’s Political Consultative Conferences, Persistence, Personalism, Pluralism, Policy Risk, Pork, Pre-Modern State, Precarization, Price Scissors, Princely States, Private Property Rights, Private Taxation, Pro-Social Behavior, Property Rights, Protective Repression, Red Capitalists, Redistribution, Regime Type, Remodelling Thesis, Rent Seeking, Schumpeterian Rents, Scope of Authority, Screening, Sequencing, Side Payments, Single Member District, Single Nontransferable Vote, Social Exclusion, Sogo Shosha, Sophisticated Geography Hypothesis, Structural Adjustment, Synthetic Control, Systemic Vulnerability, Technocrat, Total Factor Productivity, Township and Village Enterprises, Transaction Costs, Transborder Regionalism, Tripartite Negotiations, Troika, Twin Crises, Unitism, Vertical Investment, Veto Player, Volatility, Zaibatsu

Comment 1

  1. Theo McLauchlin August 29, 2017

    Thanks for sharing this. I’m going to be giving it a try for my International Security seminar — going about it a different way, as a way of participating for those who are reticent to do so.

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