Here at Instructify, we know that about half of you tune out when you see an article about Wikipedia; the site has become a lightning rod for discussion about everything that’s good about Web 2.0 and everything that’s wrong with it. But as Wikipedia pages come up first in more and more Google searches, its inevitability as a source of student information grows. So, when we discovered Wikipedia user Jbmurray’s essay “Was Introducing Wikipedia to the Classroom an Act of Madness Leading Only to Mayhem if not Murder?“, we knew we had to share. The essay details the process through which a professor at the University of British Columbia integrated Wikipedia in his classroom, revealing both its strengths and its warts to his students, by setting the goal of creating featured articles, which meet Wikipedia’s highest standards.
According to Jbmurray:
The premise of the project was that students had been using wikipedia as a source without properly considering its drawbacks. So it should have come as no surprise then that when seeking sources for the articles they were writing, again all too often they should make the same mistakes. They would add information that was unsourced, poorly referenced (and too frequently even plagiarized), or cited from what were often enough merely other webpages and online encyclopedias.
Yet here lay also one of the great benefits of the assignment. Precisely because of wikipedia’s injunction … that every item in their article had to be referenced, students were forced to reveal their sources. These poor sources came to light in a way that they might well not have were they writing a term paper. Moreover, precisely because writing on wikipedia is a process of continual revision, they could be asked to go back and re-evaluate their sources, find better ones, and try again. Even with plagiarism, there was no longer the need to make a song and dance about it, because at no time were they handing in what purported to be a final product.
As a result of the project, Jbmurray has been made an administrator on Wikipedia, and has contributed a second essay entitled “Advice on Using Wikipedia in Colleges and Universities.” While your K-12 classroom might not yet be ready to create featured articles, you may be able to apply some of the lessons learned about research and sources. You may find that asking students to engage in the Wikipedia community actually discourages them from using Wikipedia as a source in the future. Wouldn’t that make reports and research papers more pleasant? -ROSS WHITE