Wikipedia: An Apology

by Robin Parent on October 9, 2014


Wikipedia: An Apology

Wikipedia has been bullied unmercifully in higher education. Throughout the halls of departments everywhere, statements to its character have been tossed and dragged through the mud with admonishments such as: “Do not use Wikipedia as a reference.” “Wikipedia is not a credible source. It can be edited by anyone!” However, things are changing… a bit.

Using Wikipedia in higher education is becoming more accepted as a pedagogical practice, maybe not as the resource in a scholarly report, but rather as a way to understand the co-construction of content and meaning on a particular subject. Faculty are using Wikipedia as a platform to engage with a global audience, to actively learn about “discourse communities,” the “rhetorical situation,” and, as we like to say here at Cal Poly, “Learn by Doing.”

The Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (could be our sister school) at the University of British Columbia has a great resource on Wikipedia and Higher Education that includes seven reasons on why you might consider using Wikipedia in your classes:

  1. Students still get the educational benefits of a traditional research assignment; they still have to write, edit, and research.
  2. With an exponential growing number of users each day, Wikis are “hot” right now. Using Wikis in higher education introduces students to what is being used in the “real world” as a distribution of knowledge.
  3. Using Wikis introduces students to new media literacy skills. For example, it teaches them what it means to collaborate online.
  4. Students get feedback from a variety of new sources, not just from their instructors.
  5. Students gain unique writing skills, as they learn to write from a neutral perspective.
  6. Students get to feel proud about leaving something valuable behind and contributing to the advance of public knowledge.
  7. Students benefit from the Wikipedia Ambassador Program, as both faculty and students will get in-person support for any problems or questions related to using Wikipedia in the classroom.

Even English departments are coming around to the idea of using Wikipedia as a teaching tool. Robert Cummings published an article in Inside Higher Ed titled “Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing?” In the article, he outlines the past rhetoric against Wikipedia and includes evidence about how his students have benefited from a particular assignment he has designed around Wikipedia entries.

It’s only appropriate that Wikipedia also houses a space for its use in education. Wikimedia Outreach is a page dedicated to getting started and using Wikipedia in your courses. There are ten steps, starting before the class begins and ending with ways to provide students with feedback. From a faculty development standpoint, I might include an eleventh step of reflecting on the process. Reflection of both your experience and that of your students can lead to better and deeper learning and provide you with feedback to refine the assignment in the future. Along with the Wikimedia site, there is also a Wikipedia Ambassador page dedicated to providing resources and information about being a Wikipedia Ambassador in education.

Cal Poly, as usual, is also on the cutting edge of Wikipedia use in the classroom. During the upcoming Open Access Week, hosted by the Kennedy Library, there will be a panel of faculty from Cal Poly who are currently using the Wikipedia as a site for student engagement. The panel will showcase faculty who have created assignments to connect the learning in their classrooms through the act of editing specific Wikipedia pages. To find out more on how your colleagues are engaging learning through Wikipedia please join us on Friday, October 24, 12:30-2:00, Room 111H in the Kennedy Library.

In all, it might be time for Higher ED to consider an apology to Wikipedia. And, if not an apology then perhaps an uneasy truce that allows for inclusive spaces of co-constructing knowledge in a global society.

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