Thanks for starting this conversation – I have found myself similarly postponing my wiki contributions for a variety of reasons, mostly because I haven’t felt that additional material would add tremendously to the knowledge or understanding of the class (based on my own experience, the limited number of times I visited the site were simply to see what types of things had been posted, not necessarily because I was looking for material to supplement the course). In retrospect, I suspect that non-participation is probably even less helpful than over-participation in terms of bringing net benefit to the class, in the sense that I haven’t even provided material for other wiki users to object to or improve upon. As Brymz mentions, Kudos indeed to those who have been proactive, especially those who have clarified the layout and combined similar documents.
That said, given that I haven’t had time to complete even all the assigned readings, I’ve had trouble getting behind the wiki as a source of additional, relevant knowledge. I very much appreciate the value of the experiment; the main idea – encouraging extra-curricular exploration and conversation, and distilling key points – is definitely laudable and should be continued. I hope that the next generation of the wiki, or any similar collaborative efforts in other classes, will experiment with clearer guidelines and objectives; I also think it would be just as valuable to pursue the same sort of collaborative conversation offline, by setting up real conversations with real people to talk about course concepts outside the context of the classroom, section, or lab.
On a more curmudgeonly note, I’ve been surprised by the extent of the migration to digital media since my undergraduate years, and although I may be the lone opposition voice, I don’t think the shift has necessarily been a good thing. [update: while I understand and agree with Professor Currie’s comment in class that “Web 2.0 is not going away,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to embrace it; as part of our training to be change agents, I would love to see more emphasis on thinking critically about the real utility of the systems in which we are “expected” to participate]. We live in a world of exponentially increasing information volume and decreasing quality, thanks to blogging and Twittering and wikis; the real challenge, and one that I would love to see future course websites address, lies in filtering and reducing the available information to increase its quality and relevance, while providing access to further reading if people want (a single well-organized page of links should be enough, I’d think). Although I don’t agree with all his points, Andrew Keen makes some astute observations in “The Cult of the Amateur” with regard to the downsides of the so-called “democratization of information:” when everyone can post with equal authority, it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish expert knowledge and opinion from inaccurate or untrained speculation [update part 2: I am particularly excited by Professor Currie’s proposal to make future wiki submissions team-based and grade them on their accuracy and relevance – knowing that pages had been subject to expert review would greatly increase my faith in their usefulness].
While I’m complaining about amateur science, I should probably do my bit to add to the confusion: here’s some very inconclusive evidence in loose support of two related arguments, namely that printing course materials is not as unequivocally “anti-environmental” as it is portrayed, and that reading digital documents may in fact be detrimental to overall retention of concepts:
1. The jury’s still out with regard to the relative greenness of paper vs digital http://www.sustainlane.com/reviews/the-better-read-print-vs-online/HAAZHAPKRDMBRNXBF8C8BMVQI3HN; even the Swedes aren’t sure http://www.kth.se/aktuellt/1.13525, but certainly when we consider the energy costs, particularly in coal-burning Michigan, and the non-renewable materials embedded in our constantly-becoming-obsolete digital devices, reading digitized documents certainly isn’t a perfect alternative. Perhaps the key takeaway is that reading in general is bad for the planet.
2. I’ve gradually lost patience with chronic overuse of CTools, because my eyeballs just can’t take another fuzzy scanned PDF; as it turns out it’s also worse for your brain, according to a couple of studies (the Journal of Research in Reading, Volume 31, Issue 4, 2008, pp 404–419 says, among other things, “One main effect of the intangibility of the digital text is that of making us read in a shallower, less focused way.”) (Yes, I read the Journal of RiR all the time. Don’t you?) The main point of the article is that the portion of the cerebral cortex that is dedicated to mouse work – scrolling, highlighting, whatever – seems to occupy more mental bandwidth than its pen-and-paper equivalent, leading to a lower retention rate from digital readings.
I know it’s a bit late to weigh in, and I apologize to the GSIs for adding more relatively meaningless material to your grading load – but for those of us who are interested in the transfer of knowledge, which I suspect includes most of the class, it’s been an interesting experiment and certainly bears further examination. Thanks for an interesting course.