By John Turman and Grace Patersen
In the summer of 2015, this summer, we were asked by the Philosophy Department to create a website that would allow graduate students like us to easily share information and wisdom related to teaching.
After consulting with faculty and graduate students, we identified several distinct functions we wanted this centralized resource to serve:
• Act as a teaching handbook for students, allowing them to easily access information about teaching at Stanford such as university resources, professional development opportunities, and departmental requirements.
• Act as the main hub for our department’s mandatory Teaching Methods course.
• Allow TAs to share teaching materials, advice, and knowledge related to teaching. This includes answering one another’s questions about difficult situations and exchanging exercises and handouts that have been successfully used to teach particular classes or topics in the past.
We decided to create a wiki because wanted something flexible and collaborative, and a wiki seemed like the best way to do this. Our choice of software platforms was guided by a desire to make accessing and contributing information as easy as possible, and by a desire to make the maintenance of the wiki in the future as easy as possible.
We considered at first using the MediaWiki platform, which is familiar from Wikipedia and was used previously by the Geological Sciences department for a similar project. Unfortunately, Stanford’s support for this platform has been phased out, so we chose instead to use Confluence. Confluence enjoys ongoing university support and has a number of useful features such as the ability to create customized templates for pages, a user-friendly page editor, drag-and-drop file sharing, and a variety of search tools.
We attempted to make accessing content as easy as possible by arranging it in different ways that would accommodate different needs and searching styles. For example, we created pages for specific courses so that TAs seeking information about a particular course could find it easily. Similarly, we created pages of more general information about teaching, and pages of teaching FAQs. We made use of Confluence's page labels to tie these different sources of information together so that, for example, a course page would (indirectly) link to general teaching information pages relevant to that course, and vice versa.
At the same time, we attempted to make it easy to add and edit content on the wiki. To this end, we created customized tools and instructions aimed at helping users add new course pages, as well as flag pages which need attention. Our hope is that the site can grow and change to meet the department’s future needs.
We will be unveiling the new wiki this fall and believe that it will become a useful and lively part of the teaching culture in our department.
This project was funded by a grant from the VPTL. We are very grateful for their support.
Grace Paterson is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Philosophy.
John Turman is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Philosophy.