E-learning NET

Can Wikipedia improve students’ work?

Posted on: Июнь 2, 2011

Oh, The Humanities!: Academics gather this week in Fredericton for the annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, presenting papers on everything from subjectivity in ultrasounds to performing gastronomy to the crisis in public education. Throughout the week, we showcase some of the most interesting research.

When it comes to class assignments, it’s one of the biggest no-nos: Whatever you do, don’t source Wikipedia.

But what happens when students contribute to the crowd-sourced online encyclopedia themselves, and for course credit, no less?

Turns out the same students who submit essays with little regard for facts and research are sticklers for accuracy in their self-crafted Wikipedia posts, finds a new study from Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C., suggesting that Web resources can give students a newfound respect for proper information gathering.

Last fall, approximately 70 students in Brenna Gray’s first year Canadian literature classes were tasked with creating or improving Wikipedia entries for little-known Canadian authors. They had to fact-check any information already present on the page and add 350 words citing five research sources — from scholarly articles, the author’s website, media interviews and other archival material they could only access by trudging to the library.

Once they realized their work would be in the public domain and not just marked by their English instructor, students were far more focused on getting it right, said Dr. Gray, who presented her findings on Saturday at the 2011 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

“They were way more careful about citations and about information being correct,” she said. “The fact that Wikipedia is a public space where the information that they have researched is going to be read by other people … that made them take the assignment much more seriously.”

While she acknowledges Wikipedia’s flaws — that anyone can post to the site, therefore increasing the chance of factual errors — the experiment reveals that technologies that are often dismissed because of their crowd-sourcing nature can actually be useful in the classroom.

“Within the academy, a knee-jerk reaction is always to say, ‘Don’t use Wikipedia, period,’ ” she said. “But the problem is, they’re using Wikipedia. You can say it until you’re blue in the face. I use Wikipedia dozens of times a day.”

She urged her students to just use encyclopedias — Wikipedia or the Canadian Encyclopedia — as a jumping off point, not as the gospel truth to be cited in their research essays.

More and more educators are warming up to the idea of Wikipedia as an educational resource. In 2008, University of British Columbia professor Jon Beasley-Murray had students from his Latin American Literature class write featured articles, which undergo a peer-review on Wikipedia.

The administrators of Wikipedia are more detail-oriented than one might think, Dr. Gray said. Her students were convinced of this as well, with many of them fearing their posts would be edited by someone working on the site.

“Suddenly, I’m not the only arbiter of correctness. There’s this whole volunteer army of people who will grade their work for them,” she said.

The experiment gave her students a stronger appreciation for the research that goes into scholarly journals and encyclopedia entries and the care many average citizens put into upholding accuracy — a lesson she says others can apply in their classrooms.

“Rather than saying, ‘Don’t use [Wikipedia],’ I think it behooves us to teach them how to use it and how to make use of it and that they can contribute to an intellectual conversation even as fledgling junior scholars — they can contribute to that conversation too.”
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