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Blog: helping students make connections using wikis

10 June 2013

Abbie Willett reports on this year’s final ‘Summits and Horizons’ session, where Dr David West explained how School of Pharmacy students are learning to think in a connected way through concept-mapping and wikis.

Concept map for UCL School of Pharmacy wiki project

At last week’s Summits and Horizons workshop, which was the sixth and final session in a series organised by CALT and ELE, Dr David West presented the Integrated Therapeutics Project, which won the first ever team prize at last year’s Provost's Teaching Awards.

The aim of the project is to teach students to make connections between the different pockets of knowledge they learn as part of their studies – as David put it, “it’s about joining up Pharmacy”. The project sprung from a need to remedy students’ apparent unwillingness or inability to actively make these connections themselves. This idea of integration and interconnectedness is an important concern throughout higher education, as students are increasingly expected to be able to apply their knowledge and skills to practical tasks from the moment they enter employment.

The Integrated Therapeutics Project lasts 13 weeks and is worth 20% of the overall module mark. Students are each assigned five topics, randomly allocated by the project team, from which they must produce a concept map showing how the topics fit together. A Wiki (Pharmacy uses MediaWiki) is utilised in the first stage of the project, when topics are formed and links made. The purpose of this part of the project is for the students to describe their topics in the context of other topics by [hyper]linking between them. The concept map itself is constructed in PowerPoint although some students first construct them in a concept-mapping program and then import them into PowerPoint. By the end of the process, it is hoped that the way students think about how topics relate to one another has been altered and connections made.

This project is a brilliant example of technology enabling what would otherwise be difficult, which is really the whole point of the Summits and Horizons series. The workshops have intended to showcase ways in which technology can assist and enhance the teaching we do. We can use social media to increase interaction and engagement with and between staff and students. In the case of lecture-flipping and mobile devices, technology can enhance the interactions we have with students, enabling us to get the most out of our contact hours. And of course, technology can make giving feedback faster and better. Likewise, this project would not be possible without the wikis that enable the students to link between their topics: the key message is that nothing happens in a vacuum and it seems unlikely that this would be as easy, or even possible, to convey without technology.

Summits and Horizons has also been a platform for discussing the problems involved in technology. All the speakers have been aspirational but at the same time realistic about what can be achieved. David talked about the time it takes to get these complex projects up and running – a common message from the sessions’ speakers. However, the impression I’ve taken from every talk I’ve attended this term is that while ambitious e-learning projects do take time and dedication to launch and maintain, the end product justifies the initial input.

A second series of Summits and Horizons lunchtime workshops will run next year. If you have any feedback from this year’s sessions or suggestions for next year’s, please contact Nick Grindle (n.grindle@ucl.ac.uk) or Clive Young (c.p.l.young@ucl.ac.uk).

Page last modified on 10 jun 13 14:46


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