Wikipedia editing as teaching tool

March 25th, 2007 by Gabriel Bodard

A wonderful suggestion in a comment on Cathy Davidson’s letter (that Tom blogged here a few days ago):

Thanks for your great column. I’ve used the “stubs” feature of Wikipedia to generate a list of 120 topics relating to ancient Roman civilization that need full articles. Then I’m requiring the 120 students in my upcoming Roman Civilization class to each write one article. This will hopefully teach them how to do original research in the library on obscure, narrowly focused topics and then create something of lasting value to others. The students will also be required to each review three of their fellow students’ articles in order to learn about the collaborative editing process. I’m a little nervous about its success, but I’m hoping to be part of the solution to the issues raised by Wikipedia, rather than contributing to the problems.

I’ve heard suggestions of this kind before, but this is one of the coolest implementations of it I’ve come across recently. This makes me wish once again that I was teaching a large class this year so I could do something similar. Kudos to JuliaFelix; please let us know how the experiment works.

3 Responses to “Wikipedia editing as teaching tool”

  1. Simon Mahony Says:

    As above – a cool idea and one that I wish I were able to implement!

  2. Giovanni Milani Says:

    Hi – I’m not your everyday accademic, simply very interested in ancient rome to the point that I’ve collected a great deal of material and published it on someone else’s site (my wife’s). Interestingly the material (including antique prints from books I’ve collected through the years) had been crawled by the search engines and I now have hundreds if not thousands of students lifting material – I have no problem with that of course as the whole objective is putting it there for others to partake, but I just wonder whether a very good proportion of your students might not be extremely tempted to pick up from one side to paste in the other, especially as the objective of their work might be to get something posted on wikipedia rather than the original research per se.

    Perhaps it’s just semantics but it might be better to split the task into two or even three parts: firstly do “old style” research which has to be handed in for grading and then afterwards (part 2 of the project) tell them to make something of their work by publishing it (in Wikipedia) and following it up….. Like becoming parent of something you’ve created. Or even better, do step 1, grade it and then tell them to fix it for step 2, then publish and then after a couple of months review with the Wikipedia responses and comments. They’ll see their baby grow and take pride. Just a thought.

  3. Gabriel Bodard Says:

    A good point you raise there. On the other hand I suppose it could be argued that part of the task of evaluating a Wikipedia page is to make sure that it is appropriate, that is does not incorporate copyrighted material, that it is sufficiently “neutral point of view” etc. Students should be alerted to this both when authoring and when editing others’ pages. (Let them experience the joys of searching the web to check for plagiarism… it may be eye-opening for them to realise how easy it is to catch.)

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