Talk:Common misconceptions about the Wikipedia Education Program

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This page is terrible. It is offensive to any sensible debate of the issues. Many of the so-called "misconceptions" are opinions that are legitimate to hold even if some folk disagree with them. To state them as misconceptions is just arrogant.

I do laugh at the statement "That one class in Canada unleashed 1,500 terrible students on Wikipedia" being labelled as a misconception. It did unleash 1,500 terrible students on Wikipedia and the WMF should continually thank its lucky stars so few of them edited. And the response to this from within the WMF was "I think it is great that this class attempted such a project, and that they are planning to repeat it with improvements" (the improvements were grossly insufficient). The class was repeated in the spring 2012 but no longer under any formal control or public list of students, and it appears exactly the same harmful student edits are still being inflicting on Wikipedia by this class (though there is another postgrad class doing better work). Any editors capable of reviewing edits to psychology articles have now unwatched those pages and regard this part of Wikipedia as a lost cause. Great.

Picking just one other example: "Student editors have more copyvios than editors outside of the program". I'm not sure if that is a common "conception" whether mis- or not. But copyvios and plagiarism is a horrendous problem on these classes and I continually meet student edits where the students clearly don't have the first clue about these issues. The rebuttal to this "misconception" misses two points. First is an OTHERCRAPEXISTS argument that seems to think it is fine that these students are no worse than the random mix of the earnest, the vandals, the well-meaning, the loopy, the academic and the deranged newbie editors Wikipedia sees every day. No, it is not fine. Second, and far more importantly, is that the type of articles and reach of edits made by these students is completely different to those made by newbies. These students are trying to write about complex subjects of which, generally, they know very little. Newbies generally don't do that, or when they do it is patently obvious. Newbies are internally motivated to write about what they think they know to the extent they are comfortable with. Students are externally motivated to write about what they clearly don't know, based on one or two textbooks, which they plagiarise desperately.

I'm not against student editing per se. And I do see some improvements about how classes are organised and the kinds of assignments being set. But it has a long way to go and the kind of nonsense presented here as factual rebuttal is unhelpful. The "Our data shows that students improve Wikipedia articles an average of 64 percent" is the kind of meaningless over-generalised statistic I expect will be bandied about. *sigh* Colin (talk) 15:25, 15 November 2012 (UTC)

Colin, thanks for your input, but I'm going to push back here a bit. The class did not unleash 1,500 students. Period. That is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. There were 318 students who participated. That is significantly less than 1,500. When Professor Joordens approached us about participating, he indicated he had 1,500 students in the course, but he anticipated that less than a quarter of the students would participate in the Wikipedia assignment. We *never* thought 1,500 students in one class could successfully do the project, but we'd had some success (with Professor Obar's class) with 100 students, and we wanted to see if it could be replicated with 300 students. Obviously, the results were that it couldn't, but we don't know that until we try. I am just as disappointed as you that Professor Joordens has continued to do an assignment, unaffiliated with our program, and despite our strong discouragements. But Wikipedia is ultimately the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, and we have no control over behavior of professors unaffiliated with our program. And you will note we have never accepted a class that large into our program since. We may make mistakes, but we learn from them.
I'm also sorry to hear you be so down on newbie editors. Perhaps it's a matter of opinion, but I firmly believe that Wikipedia will not survive without a steady flow of new contributors and updated content. Newbies aren't perfect. Certainly some plagiarize, but I would rather have a large majority of good new content coming in from our program with a handful of cases of plagiarism that are dealt with through Wikipedia's normal processes than to completely ignore the contribution our students can make. If there is any doubt about that, I encourage you to see the results of the article quality research project we did with English Wikipedian Mike Christie of spring 2012 content: w:Wikipedia:Ambassadors/Research/Article_quality/Results. We asked Wikipedia editors to evaluate the quality of a random sample of student articles from Spring 2012 before and after the students' work. I am happy to have any feedback you can offer on the study, as it's something I believe is a strong indication of the importance of our program, and I welcome the opportunity to make the study stronger in future iterations. -- LiAnna Davis (WMF) (talk) 13:31, 16 November 2012 (UTC)
That is interesting though such figures are not present on the course details, which give a class of 1700. Correspondence with the professor shows his intention to have 1500 students editing in several phases each year resulting in an assumed 6000 small incremental improvements to Wikipedia. I assume no barrier was in place to limit student numbers to the first 300, say, to register, therefore it is possible that a far higher number would have edited. If the reward given was more than a couple of points, that might have been the case.
Actually, Wikipedia is not "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit". That's marketing speak. Vandals and disruptive editors are routinely banned. Paid editing is banned (if detected). There is no fundamental reason why unsupervised classwork editing couldn't also be banned. Wikipedia is quite capable of having a word with the prof's bosses and asking him to stop. And they would stop because the negative publicity would be bad. Or Wikipedia could block the college IP group in protest. This is, let's not forget, an encyclopaedia who's purpose is to be read and to inform. Its purpose is not to be an online homework assignment.
I respect Mike but that analysis only looks at certain aspects of article change and think it fails to capture some of the problems we see. Many students are encouraged to pick Stub articles and expand them to something approaching Good Article status. On most of the score points in Mike’s analysis that should result in a huge improvement. But let’s take two examples from my recent experience.
Myoclonic epilepsy. This was a stub that had one sentence, an info box, and links to two child articles. A group of students expanded this during October 2012. The resulting article had some significant problems with wikisyntax and inline citations and very few wikilinks but those can be fixed by wiki gnomes. It would score quite highly for comprehensiveness, sourcing, neutrality, readability. It had no illustrations (but not easy to illustrate such a topic) and terrible formatting. However, the three students had written three separate sections in the article:
  • The first student wrote about the various myoclonic epilepsies. This is appropriate material and the main problem was it was a bit hard going. The sort of text one might find in a professional medical textbook, in fact. Which is hardly surprising, because it was the text from a professional medical textbook. Copy paste. The student thought that providing citations was sufficient.
  • The second student wrote about Lennox-Gastaut syndrome within this article. This was quite well written and made a good attempt to not just copy the source material. But we already have a solid article on Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and this syndrome isn't actually categorised as one of the myoclonic epilepsies. So this was 100% inappropriately located material that 100% duplicated what Wikipedia already had.
  • The third student wrote about the Progressive Myoclonic Epilepsies. This is a sub-group of the myoclonic epilepsies. Much of the text was way too advanced for Wikipedia. But not only that, we already have a solid article on the Progressive Myoclonic Epilepsies. So this again just repeated what Wikipedia already had, in a less accessible form.
As a result of these issues, the whole student changes were reverted and the students tried again. They did a bit better this time but the article still has many flaws and, while not a copy/paste, is too close to the source text. Now contains a lot of detail about myoclonus (the physical action, not the epilepsy). Guess what? We already have a solid article on that subject. The end result is that after many hours of student effort and many hours of my research, we have an article where Wikipedia was better off before the students started.
Cerebral malaria. This was a redirect to Malaria and is now a 2000-word article due to the efforts of one student in late November. If reviewed by a non-medical person, this also might score highly on the article assessment scale. It is fairly comprehensive, has good sources, mostly neutral with a few problems, and quite readable. It has no illustrations but is formatted well other than having over-long paragraphs. But there are problems. It repeatedly states that malaria is caused by a virus when it is caused by a protozoan parasite. This is an absolutely fundamental mistake and would cause any reader to rightly doubt the accuracy of anything else they read in the article, or elsewhere on Wikipedia. It talks of the lack of a vaccine to “cure” (rather than prevent) malaria. It blames the rich and unaffected West for a lack of interest in developing a vaccine (such editorialising is unsourced and untrue: it is just extremely difficult to make a vaccine). And most importantly, the vast majority of the article just repeats what the malaria article says. But less accurately (such as the figure for annual cases being twice as high).
Here we once again see students way out of their depth writing about something they know nothing about. We also once again see the pressure to create a self-contained article (for ease of marking) rather than improve our hyperlinked related articles. There is probably a case for a separate article on cerebral malaria, but it would be quite short and be properly a daughter article of malaria.
This is why I think one should be very careful about waving about that "64 percent" figure. Do the analysis a different way, or pick a different set of subjects, and the figure would be quite different. If you picked psychology subjects, the figure might well be negative. But nobody watchlists psychology articles any more... Colin (talk) 15:49, 20 November 2012 (UTC)