Last fall, McGill students in a biology study group started a website to share class notes among themselves online. A year later, that effort has grown into Wikinotes.ca – a University-wide note-sharing site. Its concept and software are similar to Wikipedia’s: anyone can generate and edit content. McGill courses have pages that contain information about the class – such as past exams, old homework assignments, tips on whether it’s worthwhile to shell out for the textbook, links to lectures that professors have made available, and links to other resources. Wikinotes is still in its infancy – but it’s already faced a wrist-slap from the admin: an email was sent out to all profs and course lecturers notifying them to be aware of potential copyright issues and keep control of their course materials. Because information won’t be erased from year to year, it has the potential to be more comprehensive than WebCT.
The ideology behind the website is that information should be accessible, and open. This site is part of a growing trend – other universities are openly embracing the idea of accessible information and collaboration. MIT has had an extensive OpenCourseWare site since 2003, with over 200 classes with pages like those on Wikinotes, and encourages both enrolled students and the public to take advantage of its resource. (MIT’s OCW site is not a wiki, but it does feature feedback buttons on course pages, and links to student study groups.) Many other universities have similar sites. McGill should be moving in this more open direction, and Wikinotes presents a step in that process.
Furthermore, Wikinotes encourages healthy collaboration between students, and between students and professors. This can help build a supportive academic community, and may foster the kind of cooperative learning environment that can seem to be lacking in McGill’s competitive atmosphere.
Although they may be a complement to, rather than a replacement for, active participation in the classroom setting, course websites are a good resource both for students and the public. McGill should let – and help – Wikinotes.ca operate. And so can you: visit their website for course notes, and information on how to edit pages. If you’d like to start a page for a course that you don’t see listed, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. The site will only be at strong as we make it.