Teaching with Wikipedia
Many instructors in higher education explicitly prohibit the use of Wikipedia as an academic reference in their classes. Incorporating Wikipedia into the curriculum as a collaborative environment or primary source, however, affords students with the opportunity to develop their media literacy, improve their writing skills, and learn appropriate ways to use Wikipedia as an academic resource.
What is Wikipedia?
Wikipedia is a volunteer-driven, web-based encyclopedia. It is a collaborative editing environment that is available to anyone with an internet connection. Similarly, access to Wikipedia articles is free: there are no restrictions on who can read Wikipedia's content. Articles must reflect a summary of secondary sources, or what the Wikipedia community calls "Neutral Point of View." In other words, each article is written in an expository style and is free of arguments and / or editorial comments. There are over 19 million articles on Wikipedia written in over 270 languages, 3.7 million of which are in English. According to Alexa rankings, Wikipedia is the 7th most popular website on the internet.
Why assign a Wikipedia project?
The benefits to a Wikipedia assignment are extensive. Asking students to interact with the largest reference work in the world creates a unique educational experience: namely, a Wikipedia assignment provides a real-life application of the skills and knowledge students develop in the classroom. Asking students to participate in a Wikipedia project challenges them to examine and refine the ways in which they interact with digital resources. Students must develop their media literacy as they assess the reliability of online sources, their online etiquette as they interact with editors around the globe, and their critical thinking skills as they identify articles that need improvement. When students edit articles, they must produce material that is relavant to Wikipedia and consumed by actual readers beyond their classroom. They are confronted with immediate feedback to their work and must learn how to collaborate with writers around the globe. A Wikipedia assignment may also require the use of wiki markup language, which is a valuable skill when competing for today's jobs.
How could you use Wikipedia in your classroom?
- Compare a Wikipedia article to another reference source. How is Wikipedia's treatment of a topic similar to and different from another encyclopedia? A scholarly review? A specialist encyclopedia?
- Compare and contrast a Wikipedia article to a journalistic source. How are they similar and different?
- Chart the evolution of a Wikipedia article over a news cycle. To what extent is Wikipedia a form of journalism?
- Explore how Wikipedia can be used as a tool for social activism. Do specific articles exemplify activism more than others?
- Consider why free access to knowledge is important. How can the way information is presented shape the information itself?
- Use Wikipedia to learn about copyright issues, including fair use, public domain, and the creative commons.
- Analyze the discussion on an article's Talk page. How is knowledge constructed and contested? How is authority established? How are conflicts resolved?
- Evaluate an article. Consider if the sources are reliable and if the topic is adequately and fairly covered. Students should be encouraged to leave critiques and suggestions on the article's Talk page for editors' consideration. This assignment may tie in to Wikipedia's formal quality assessment process.
- Evaluate a collection of articles. Identify any gaps in the subject's coverage on Wikipedia.
- Improve an article's sources, paying attention to what makes some references more reliable than others.
- Participate in the Good Article Review process. While reviewing articles, consider whether the process is reliable when implemented by multiple reviewers, and whether it does indeed identify good articles.
- Analyze Wikipedia's design. Based on personal experience, user testing, and the principles of information architecture, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia? How does Wikipedia's design serve new readers? New editors?
- Copyedit an article. Practice appropriate sentence structure and proper grammar by correcting mistakes made in someone else's writing.
- Translate an article to give students real-world practice with their language of study and an opportunity to interact with native speakers.
- Create charts, graphs, and other images to illustrate concepts presented in Wikipedia articles. Visual aids can be added to the Wikimedia Commons repository.
- Create audio or visual recordings to accompany an article or to contribute to Spoken Wikipedia.
- Contribute material to an existing article, or create a new article. The content produced for these assignments is similar to a literature review.
- Education/For educators: a hub for information about teaching with Wikipedia, including assignment design, training materials, and example courses
- Wikipedia’s Co-Founder on Academic Uses, and Limits, of Popular Open Encyclopedia: an August 2011 episode of The Chronicle of Higher Education's Tech Therapy
- Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool (Bookshelf): A seven-step guide to teaching with Wikipedia
- Wiki-hacking: Opening up the academy with Wikipedia: a teaching essay by Adrianne Wadewitz, Anne Ellen Geller, and Jon Beasley-Murray
- Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia: an e-book by Robert E. Cummings
Who is doing this at IUB?
- During the 2010-2011 school year, IUB professors Barry Rubin, Ken Richards, and Anh Tran used Wikipedia in the following classes: Seminar in Urban Economic Development, Environmental Economics and Policy, International Trade and Strategy, and Approaches to Development
- Wikipedia provides syllabi for the sixty courses in the United States that are using Wikipedia in the fall 2011 semester, including a Communication and Culture class at IUB and an English Literature class at IUPUI
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