Using Wikipedia as a teaching tool in higher education (Bookshelf)/Week 1

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Give students an overview about the course and the role that Wikipedia plays in it[edit]

Provide students with some basic background information on what Wikipedia is / is not[edit]

Most of your students will be aware that Wikipedia is a free, web-based encyclopedia project and is one of the most popular Web sites for information on a vast variety of topics. It is likely that your students primarily interact only with Wikipedia as readers (or consumers of information) and not contributors.

They may not be aware that Wikipedia has about 15 million articles in approximately 260 languages—with over 3.3 million in English. All of these articles have been written collaboratively by volunteers around the world, and almost all of the articles can be edited by anyone with access to the Wikipedia. Most articles in each language version of Wikipedia are typically written in that language and do not appear in other language versions; most articles are not translated from one version to another.

Your Wikipedia assignments will begin to move your students from readers to contributors. To help your students successfully complete the Wikipedia assignment and engage with the Wikipedia community, it is also important to understand “What Wikipedia is not.”

Keep in mind, Wikipedia is not a dictionary, a publisher of original thought, a soapbox or means of promotion. It is simply the largest encyclopedia ever created. For more details about what Wikipedia is not, you may want to view the following link:

Connect students with Wikipedia Ambassadors[edit]

New contributors can find Wikipedia's learning curve overwhelming. Wikipedia Ambassadors can help. Encourage your students to connect with the Ambassadors early on; individual Ambassadors are available as Wikipedia mentors for students, and can help them set up user accounts and familiarize themselves with some of Wikipedia's key features which will be important in completing their assignment.

Optionally, students can schedule one-on-one interactive training sessions with Ambassadors to learn the basics of editing.

Ask students to create user accounts on Wikipedia and familiarize themselves with some of Wikipedia's key features[edit]

  • Why it is important:
    • Creating accounts gives users the ability to start new pages, create a user page, upload images, communicate with other users, and keep a watchlist of articles of interest. Direct students to the Why create an account? page for more benefits.
    • A critical benefit for using Wikipedia as a teaching tool is that you will be able to track the work that each student individually contributes to the article. For their work to be assessed, it is critical that they make all their edits while logged in to a user account.
  • How to do it:
    • Ask your students to create an individual user account (group user accounts are not allowed on Wikipedia). Do not ask them to use your course name or anything in their username; this is a login they can use for edits in the future, and a large number of usernames that all sound similar can look like they were created for spam purposes and may get blocked.
  • Things to think about:
    • Students who already have a user account on Wikipedia may want to create a new one for the course (if they contributed to topics that they don't want to reveal to you).
    • Make clear that you will be looking at the students' contributions to Wikipedia as a whole for this course, and establish your policy about non-course-related edits they make. You may choose to say you will ignore any non-related edits they make with their accounts, for example.

Ask students to add their names to the course's project page on Wikipedia[edit]

Students should add their usernames to the course page. Later, they will list the articles they are working on and be able see what everyone is working on, giving them a chance to help each other. Doing so on the course page also provides a central location for you to see all of the articles being working on for your course.

Assignment: Choosing articles[edit]

Alternative 1: Ask your students to choose articles for improvement, with a list of proposed improvements for each article[edit]

For the first Wikipedia assignment, ask each of your students to research three potential course-related topic articles on Wikipedia. Then have them submit a bulleted list of proposed changes/additions for each article.

To help guide your student to appropriate topic articles, you will want to provide them with a short "how-to" for selecting the appropriate topic. We suggest keeping the following in mind:

  • Rule of thumb
    • Ask your students to choose a term that is well established in the discipline, but only weakly represented on Wikipedia. If there is a lot of literature available on the topic, but only a small amount of that information exists on Wikipedia, that is the best situation to work from.
  • What to avoid
    • trying to improve articles on very broad topics (e.g. Law) or articles that are already of high quality on Wikipedia ("featured articles")
    • trying to improve articles on topics that are highly controversial, e.g. Global Warming, Abortion, Scientology, etc. (Note: start a sub-article instead)
    • working on topics that are only sparsely covered by literature
    • starting articles with titles that imply an essay-like approach, e.g. The Effects That The Recent Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis has had on the US and Global Economics instead of Subprime mortgage crisis

Alternative 2: Provide students with a list of suitable articles to choose from[edit]

Choosing appropriate articles can be challenging for students, and takes time. An alternative to allowing students to find suitable articles themselves is to provide a list created ahead of time. Wikipedia Ambassadors can assist professors in creating such lists to suit individual courses.