Seeing what’s invisible: exploring the further potential of the contributing student approach

Cath Ellis, Sue Folley
University of Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK


Our paper extends Collis and Moonen’s (2001) ‘Contributing Student Approach (hereafter CSA). Research indicates that there has been successful application of the CSA (eg Hamer, 2006) and highlights how the catalyst for this has been technology, particularly wikis. To date, the potential of the CSA has been recognised both in terms of enabling students to construct their own knowledge and understanding, and to assist them in building and participating in communities of practice. We feel that there is further potential for the CSA to enable lifelong learning habits in students and that this has been under-explored in the literature.


Our research addresses this by considering how a CSA can help students not just become aware of what they don’t know but also that they do know. In terms of students’ content acquisition, the CSA while powerful is inevitably limited in that all it can achieve is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg for any area of knowledge. Importantly, the CSA also reveals to the students that the remainder of the iceberg is there to be discovered and gives them the cognitive capacity and motivation to actively look for the many other icebergs out there.


We argue that this approach is particularly useful in disciplines (such as whiteness and postcolonial studies) where dominant and normative discourses deliberately obscure their own processes. For instance, white privilege is often described as ‘invisible’ and learning to ‘see’ it is an important part of the learning process. Our paper will focus on a colonial and postcolonial literature module where a wiki was used to facilitate activities using the CSA. Our research is based upon qualitative evaluation data of student perceptions of their learning, gathered using questionnaires and focus groups.


Our research concludes that the CSA, facilitated through a wiki, is indeed a powerful learning strategy in all subject areas, but for reasons in addition to those already explained in the research. Our argument also demonstrates that it has particular efficacy in areas of study, such as race, gender and sexuality studies, which are interested in dismantling dominant normative discourses that obscure their own processes.