Online revision gets academic approval

The trend in web collaboration may extend to the academic sphere this summer, as the benefits of online group revision become apparent.

The ‘wiki’ model has been mistrusted by academics for some time now, but it could be approaching a renaissance. Professor Murray Turoff at the New Jersey Institute of Technology claims that the time delay inherent in wikis means students think more carefully about issues – if they write a point, and wait for a friend to respond online, they consider it more than if you were conversing face to face. Additionally, on a wiki, notes are in the public domain and as students are “more concerned with the views of the other students on the quality of their work, than those of the professor”, this public collaboration produces better work.

As academics realize these benefits, the sector is beginning to cater for them. Non-profit website has developed a new revision method based on the wiki model. On users can write up their notes in debate format and their friends can add to and edit them. The students learn through re-writing and improve through their peers’ edits. Despite the disparity with traditional solitary library confinement, this may be a taster of the direction in which traditional learning is headed.

As an indicator of the shifting tides, Revisewise has been well received by academics. Professors of institutions ranging from the Faculty of Culture and Pedagogy at the University of London to Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen have all commended the site and this new method of collaborative learning.

Academics initially branded wikis ‘unreliable’ because they sidestep the rigorous checking of the traditional peer review system. However the upsurge in citizen journalism, blogging and Twitter has vastly improved the credibility of crowd sourced information.

The founder of Debatewise, David Crane, believes “claims of unreliability are unfounded. The fact that anyone can improve and edit wikis adds to, not negates, their power. For Revisewise this means a collective of students will be working on the notes and will thus produce better results. There is even the opportunity for professors to get involved. The future of human learning is collaboration and the future of collaboration is the internet.”

In an interview for Imedia, Jimmy Wales (the founder of Wikipedia) agrees the model is becoming more credible: “We're beginning to see a changed understanding about the quality of work that communities are able to do by working together,” he says. What is emerging now is a ‘hybrid’ of edited and unedited sources, which Wales describes as a “thoughtful and responsible” “radical free-speech platform”.

Interviews with Debatewise’s founder and case studies are available is a non-profit organisation which aims to help young people improve their debating skills and critical thinking abilities.We believe that debating brings great benefit to individuals and society and that an engaged population creates a better world.