Education/Newsletter/December 2013/International Seminar Wikipedia and University: Research and Teaching Experiences

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By Àngela Plaza

The focus for the international Wikipedia and University: Research and Teaching Experiences seminar was the use of the Wikipedia as a source of information in the university-level learning process. The seminar was organized by the University of Catalunya's Wikipedia for Higher Education (Wiki4HE) research program with support from the RecerCaixa research excellence grants program. The meeting saw contributions from different university professors and experts with experience in the educational use of this free and collaboratively edited encyclopedia.

Overcoming prejudices

The seminar was divided into two parts. The first looked at research projects and the second at teaching experiences. A highlight from the first section was the contribution from UOC Arts and Humanities Department associate professor Eduard Aibar. He presented some of the results from the Empirical Study on Faculty Perceptions of and Teaching Practices with the Wikipedia research. Aibar explained that some sectors of university faculty, especially those in the fields of social and human sciences, are less likely to use the Wikipedia in class, despite the fact that in many cases they will use the tool privately. "The perception of the quality of the Wikipedia depends greatly on their peers in the profession. They will use it privately, but not publicly, because they deem the Wikipedia to not form part of scientific culture," said Aibar. In fact, according to this study, only 9.3% of the faculty surveyed use the tool in their teaching.

Improving skills Despite the initial objections regarding the Wikipedia as an unreliable source of information, it has been demonstrated that, in the majority of cases, the results obtained are very satisfactory in terms of acquiring skills such as critical analysis, scholarly writing or teamwork, as shown by German university teaching organization consultant Klaus Wannemacher. In his contribution, entitled Experiences and Perspectives of Wikipedia Use in Higher Education, Wannemacher assured those present that use of the Wikipedia aided student implication in classes. "It aids critical thinking and research skills. Use of the Wikipedia also introduces students to collaborative and communal tasks," said Wannemacher. He also made reference to the Wikipedia Education Program involving 45,000 students from around the world adding more than 6,000 articles, or the equivalent of more than 20,000 printed pages of content.

Practical experience

During the second session, the vast majority of faculty who took part highlighted the need to involve students in the Wikipedia and to take care to ensure that the contributions they make are of sufficient quality, accurate and reliable. The professors also stressed the problems involved, such as copyright on photographs and other editing issues, and highlighted the active nature of the process to incorporate the Wikipedia into study methods and how it was transforming the bases of traditional teaching.

The seminar ended with a round table and debate among attendees where it became clear that use of the Wikipedia in the university sector is a very valuable tool for teaching innovation.