Reinventing Case Discussions through Wikis
By Salvatore Parise* and Sam Dunn
Case-based discussion is a fundamental piece of many entrepreneurship or management development courses. In our experience, one of the most effective ways to deliver case-based materials is through wikis. For example, we adapted a traditional case involving MITRE Corporation (Parise et al. 2009) to deliver it using a wiki-based platform. With a standard teaching case, the case authors would have simply interviewed stakeholders in the MITRE Corporation and written a paper-based case. Students would read the case and then participate in a face-to-face discussion to explore solutions to the problems presented. Using the wiki software, we have fundamentally shifted how we teach this case.
First, the wiki platform enables us to provide supplemental information from MITRE employees and from industry experts. For example, an expert in the knowledge management field created content that describes the knowledge management software, infrastructure, and marketplace. This content is placed in a Supplements menu option on the home page of the case. The two main protagonists of the case created a Class Prep section, which includes discussion questions and action items from their perspective. Beyond this additional case content, the faculty used the wiki technology to create hyperlinks between the case and related digital materials. We can update these links every year as relevant new articles appear.
For more approaches on how to bring wikis into your classroom, please see this video by our colleague Professor Bala Iyer.
As course participants use the wiki technology to engage in case preparation and discussion, they also learn how to successfully leverage the social technology to make decisions. For example, as a part of the case discussion, each participant bookmarks, tags, and comments on an article (or a video or audio clip) related to the case. Participants then comment on their own and others’ bookmarks based on what they found interesting in the case. A tag cloud appears to the right of the case and is updated in real time so that participants can see popular themes emerging. Participants learn to use social media tools to more effectively communicate and generate enthusiasm for their ideas.
In the action-planning section of the case, participants learn how to engage others in a co-creation process. As in traditional case discussion, students are assigned to small groups to generate action plans. Instead of working face to face, these groups use a wiki to generate an action plan electronically. When the final action plans are posted to the class wiki, two MITRE decision-makers read each plan and respond to the group. These comments included strengths and critiques of each plan as well as follow-on questions. Course participants can respond to the decision-makers’ inquiries and ask additional questions regarding the case or the company. At this point, the course instructors become part of the discussion thread.
In teaching this case recently, the instructors modified the teaching model to enable course participants to present their action plans to the two case decision-makers in a live setting using Elluminate Live!, a Web conferencing program used in higher education. From disparate locations, course participants, instructors, and case decision-makers were able to give PowerPoint presentations and receive feedback and questions from the decision-makers in real time. The MITRE decision-makers followed with a description of current social media and knowledge management practices at MITRE, and instructors ended the session with a debriefing of lessons learned.
The one challenge to the use of a wiki-based case discussion is that there is a learning curve for most students before they can use the technology to its full capabilities. When using a wiki platform, instructors need to build time into the course to teach participants how to use the technology.
Yet here, too, there were hidden advantages of this learning-by-doing experience. Some students talked about the benefits of learning firsthand how to use the wiki platform for joint content creation and online discussions. By learning how to engage in content creation in the context of this program, participants were more confident with engaging social media in the real world to explore and build support for their ideas.
*Author note: this article is excerpted from The New Entrepreneurial Leader: Developing Leaders Who Shape Social and Economic Opportunity, Berrett-Koehler Publishers 2011.
Parise, S., P.J. Guinan, B. Iyer, D. Cuomo, and B. Donaldson. 2009. “Harnessing Unstructured Knowledge: The Business Value of Social Bookmarking at MITRE.” Journal of Information Technology Case and Application Research 11 (2): 51–76.