The teaching innovation presented here relates to the use of one particular wiki-format as an aid to student learning, helping students develop key skills. A wiki is an online tool for providing information, which anyone can edit. The initiative is employed in teaching on business and sustainability courses at undergraduate (MN2815) and Master’s (MN5337) levels, in the sections on social accounting. The applied, practical, real-world, useful and public nature of the exercise makes it highly engaging. The main lessons from the initiative are transferable to other subject areas.
This teaching innovation uses the WikiRate platform to promote practice-oriented learning, which has proven extremely powerful in engaging students. Since 2017, I have been collaborating with WikiRate, a not-for-profit organisation providing an eponymous open database and research tool. Their platform allows anyone to collaboratively research and analyse data. The WikiRate team has helped me to create tailor-made workshop activities in which students use and create real-world sustainability information on companies, to understand issues of reporting, measuring, disclosure and analysis. Through hands-on research, students learn about issues of data transparency and comparability, the challenges in social accounting practices, and understand new ways for using structured public information to engage with issues they care about.
The activity is a formative exercise. It is introduced in the first lecture and support material is provided through Moodle for students to prepare in their own time. In a later workshop, students then work individually (2nd year) or in groups (Master’s) to verify and/or add information on specific companies. The choice of companies is quite wide, in terms of both business sector and geographic spread. Students create an account and their names are associated with the work they do, lending accountability to their actions.
I have found the WikiRate initiative to be highly flexible, as well as engaging for students. The exercise helps students’ critical thinking and assists their understanding of what data means in practice. Students can see that they are benefiting from it through problem solving, which can be quite rewarding. The flexibility of the WikiRate activity works for teaching in diverse contexts. For example, overseas students who can at times feel marginalised, can benefit from being able to investigate companies and doing research on firms from their own countries and thus with their native language skills. The flexibility also means that students can choose to work on sectors that interest them. This is good for engagement, too. Moreover, the nature of the exercise means that all students can engage with WikiRate. It lends itself to a range of different learning styles. For example, in terms of Honey & Mumford’s categorisation, the exercise works well for pragmatists, theorists and activists; and since the changes I have made since first using WikiRate, also to reflectors. In Wolf & Kolb’s terms, the exercise works well for convergent, assimilation and accommodative learning styles. These factors enhance the exercise’s inclusivity.
Finally, whilst I have so far used the WikiRate initiative on a formative basis in workshop settings, it has worked so well that it is being expanded. It is being included, on an experimental basis, in the 2018/2019 MSc International Management programme’s final assessment (final project): WikiRate is to form the basis for one of the options that students can choose.
Since 2018, I have worked with colleagues internationally on using WikiRate. In 2018, we surveyed our students (over 1,500). The results reveal four main beneficial effects (with illustrative quotes from students):
1. Learning skills by doing: Students value WikiRate’s practical nature:
- It improved my problem-solving abilities
- Having to do my own research benefited my ability to comprehend the information I was finding, and use it to support my theories
2. Critical thinking. Enhanced analytical thinking, appreciation for complexity, greater scepticism of companies and their actions:
- It enabled me to understand the actual impact the businesses are having … and see beyond the face value of things … I gained a deeper understanding through these activities.
- It taught me more experience and knowledge. It helped evaluate and assess relevant data which effects social environmental performance.
3. Real and public makes it meaningful. The use of real data, plus the fact that respondents’ work was to be publicly available online made the exercise more meaningful:
- Applying real life data to an authentic academic website felt empowering and also reinforced the idea of transparency and accountability … as we were individually responsible for searching, delivering and applying accurate information.
- You have to ensure that all the information is correct and truthful as it is being posted to the public to see.
4. Awareness and intention to act. Heightened awareness of sustainability and sustainable development goals:
- I am definitely more aware of what to look for in a potential future employer.
- It has made me more aware of the large amount of impact that businesses have on the environment. It has allowed me to reflect on my own actions as well and more aware for the future in the areas that I may work.