Benefits, from Both Sides of the Assignment

Two pieces caught our attention this week, both focusing on using Wikipedia in the classroom, one from a student’s perspective and one from an instructor’s.

Dariusz Jemielniak’s piece, “Wikipedia, a Professor’s Best Friend,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, notes the American Sociological Association’s Wikipedia Initiative as a sign of “a closer collaboration between academia and Wikipedia.” We have supported this ASA initiative, alongside a similar initiative by the Association of Psychological Sciences and the National Communication Association. We agree that these initiatives are signs of warming support for Wikipedia as a teaching tool, and point to increased participation in Wikipedia for those in higher education.

The results of the ASA initiative have been tremendous, expanding Wikipedia content by almost 1,000 articles and 1.9 million words — roughly 110 hours of silent reading. This means an increase in topic coverage, but also in quality. Throughout academia, students have created excellent sociology-related content, such as HIV/AIDS in Malawi, written by Julika Kaplan for Anne Chao’s Human Development in Global and Local Communities course at Rice University. What started as a stub has now been expanded and recognized as a “Good Article,” and has become a resource for understanding the topic read by more than 6,500 people.

While the benefits for Wikipedia are clear, Jemielniak notes that there are plenty of benefits for students: “Writing a Wikipedia article is actually an excellent academic assignment: It requires synthesizing facts, teaches how to properly use third-party sources, and (as many students have learned the hard way) is resilient to plagiarism.”

This bookends nicely with a piece by undergraduate Dina Lamdany in the Columbia University student newspaper this week, “Sharing Wikipedia.” She makes an excellent point on the value of bringing critical, collaborative engagement with Wikipedia into a classroom: “Those of us who rely on Wikipedia constantly would be encouraged to think beyond what Wikipedia already tells us—to participate in the collective process of summarizing, editing, and synthesizing, rather than just consuming.”

Lamdany points out the benefits of engaging with Wikipedia beyond just reading it, suggesting that there are vast opportunities to learn from the process. From basic coding skills to the experience of sharing work with an audience beyond the instructor, Lamdany suggests Wikipedia can offer students a place to experience “the gratification that comes with leaving the void” and having their work come alive in the public sphere.


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