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The Wiki Approach To Teaching: Using Student Collaboration To Create An Up To Date Open Source Textbook

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

ChE: Innovations in Student Learning

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.1485.1 - 12.1485.11



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Paper Authors

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Danial Hohne University of Michigan

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Leeann Fu University of Michigan

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Barry Barkel University of Michigan

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Peter Woolf University of Michigan

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract


We present an approach to teaching whereby students and faculty collaborate to explore subject matter through the creation of articles for an open-source textbook viewable using the wiki format. In this approach teams of students wrote sections of a new textbook for a senior level Chemical Engineering Process Controls course. The resulting text is available online at Each team of students presented their articles in a poster session during class, answered questions from other class members, and acted as personal tutors for the practice problems the group developed. The writing and presenting of articles provides opportunities for students to learn by teaching. Each article was also formally reviewed by other students in the class to provide suggestions and correct errors. The wiki authors then offered specific rebuttals where appropriate to the reviewer comments. Finally the original set of reviewers graded the wiki article in light of the suggested changes and rebuttals. Throughout this process, the instructors acted as advisors, gave the general topic outlines, provided reference material and made connections between the various student topics through short lectures. In addition to the wiki activity, the students were also given two exams, one group project and one individual project as assessment tools for the instructors. We present evidence in the form of standard course evaluations and grade distributions for the students’ response to this approach.


Engineering course structures traditionally rely upon instructor lectures with the students performing various assignments to check understanding. These assignments include redundant homework problems, mid-term exams, comprehensive creative exercises (projects) and a diagnostic final exam. These types of assignments rely heavily upon repetition for learning and they work well for many lower-level engineering courses, but often do not include synthesis of ideas by the students. Typically, higher level courses require the students to do more synthesis and rely less on memorization of material for learning.

Using the traditional approach, the student creates an extensive body of work. While completing homework assignments in the form of problem sets is invaluable for introductory courses,1 the physical pieces of paper produced by doing homework are likely of little use as reference upon completion of the course. Typically, if referral to information covered in a particular course is required for future work, the student will reference the course textbook, relying upon the problem solving strategies developed to solve the new problem.

We present an alternate approach to teaching which facilitates students and instructors working more closely together. Under this alternate approach student teams synthesize information from various sources to explore topics to create an open-source textbook available to the entire class and anyone else wishing to explore that subject. We used this wiki approach to allow students to collaboratively write an updated text for Chemical Process Dynamics and Control.

This alternate approach fosters the students’ own exploration of the material which leads to greater ownership and mastery of what is learned. The students asked more genuine questions of

Hohne, D., & Fu, L., & Barkel, B., & Woolf, P. (2007, June), The Wiki Approach To Teaching: Using Student Collaboration To Create An Up To Date Open Source Textbook Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2629

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