Wiki use and challenges in undergraduate medical education


  • Alireza Jalali,

  • Margaret Mioduszewski,

  • Martin Gauthier,

  • Lara Varpio

Alireza Jalali, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa, 451 Smyth 2164, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 8M5, Canada. Tel: 00 1 613 562 5800; Fax: 00 1 613 562 5687; E-mail:

Context and setting A ‘wiki’ is a particular type of web page, the contents of which can be edited by anyone. Content ‘evolves’ and grows through repetitive edits, additions and deletions by different users, making wikis interesting for the collection and dissemination of information. Vandalism is not deemed an issue because changes are easily reversible by any user. To promote the critical appraisal of information, team collaborations and conflict mediation in the event of a disagreement, each wiki article has a discussion page appended to it. The archetypal wiki is, a vast online encyclopaedia that is dependent on its audience for content and accuracy.

Technology plays an important role in medical education at the University of Ottawa. Students use tablet computers, web-based presentations, personal digital assistants and online resources, including Wikipedia. In addition, students share files containing well-organised information that they have collected, summarised or produced themselves. Such files have been passed down through the years and have progressively been updated and improved, much in the manner of a wiki.

Why the idea was necessary Medical educators must cover a tremendous volume of information during the first 2 years of medical training. To meet the demands of content coverage, lecturers often prioritise the enumeration of key concepts at the cost of integration, both within specific subjects and between different subjects in the curriculum. To address these gaps, a wiki was created to provide students with a resource that could support intra- and inter-subject integration.

What was done was created by two Year 2 medical students using the framework provided by The wiki was populated with sample articles using students’ class notes, literature reviews and clinical publication RSS feeds. To facilitate de novo contribution, topic-specific templates were created with headings suggesting potential content. The wiki was made available to Year 1 medical students who could view, add, change or delete any content. Daily statistics were collected for page views, visitors, edits, editors and discussion messages. Qualitatively, student perception of the wiki’s usefulness was assessed through focus group discussions.

Evaluation of results and impact MedsWiki was not frequently used by Year 1 students (test population, n = 152). The day the wiki was presented to the class yielded the largest amount of page views (714) and unique visitors (90). These numbers tapered off rapidly as the weeks progressed (weeks 2–6: average daily views = 28, average daily visitors = 6.9). The lone edit was performed during the fourth week of the block. There were no discussion messages left by students.

Analysis of focus group transcripts identified three main factors that impeded use and contribution: (i) participants had difficulty accessing MedsWiki; (ii) current wiki content did not meet participants’ academic needs, and (iii) participants were not sufficiently confident in their knowledge to contribute to the wiki. All of the participants in the focus groups reported that the wiki could be a useful tool for their education with a few modifications, such as integration into pre-existing web tools, increased quantity of content, and content targeted to faculty learning objectives.