True stories from Wikipedia classrooms

In an earlier post, we shared some quotes from our spring instructor survey. We also heard some great stories from the classroom that illustrate the challenges and rewards of the Wikipedia assignment. We thought we’d share a few.

One instructor shared the story of a student writing about a species of wild cat. As she worked through the term, she slowly realized that there was a reason the animal’s article was a stub: there just wasn’t enough information about the animal in any reliable sources.

“This was a frustrating experience for her at the time, but she learned so much about the research process,” the instructor wrote, especially about evaluating sources of information the student came across, many of which used a completely different species of the animal as a stand-in for research about her article’s focus. That was a real lesson for the student to evaluate her sources. “Now I feel truly confident that she will think critically about her research process in other projects that she undertakes in her time at my institution, which is a wonderful feeling. Thank you for providing such a great opportunity.”

This story illustrates the importance of finding reliable sources and literature soon after finding an article. While our content experts can help to find good candidates for students, we’ve also seen instructors ask students to generate bibliographies very early in the process of picking an article. This story, however, also illustrates an important aspect of the Wikipedia writing assignment, which was exposing the fallibility of sources, and understanding how to critique and analyze sources of information. That’s an important media and information literacy learning that is hard to replicate in other assignments.

Another instructor shared this story:

“[Students] were in shock at what I was asking them to do. After being reprimanded most of their school careers for using or even looking at Wikipedia, now a professor was asking them to edit it. Even though many of them only managed the smallest of edits, the depth of their learning in terms of information literacy, different types of writing, the nature of plagiarism, and gaining a sense of their own voices in the world was priceless.”

That instructor also shared a novel way for students to present their final work:

“Perhaps most fun and touching was the day that we finally all together made their edits live. I got them round in a semi-circle, brought up the Wikipedia sound site on the projector, and one by one we listened to the sounds and watched the circles of their own edits appear. I videotaped that as best I could. In the end, for all of their trepidation, they were very excited about what they accomplished.”

Another instructor shared a wonderful “A-ha!” moment:

“My students did not understand the gravity of the project in terms of reach and accessibility until they moved their pages out of the sandboxes. One student asked me how to find her page, and I said “Google it!” Just then, a bunch of students Googled their pages and the classroom exploded in hoots and hollers and excitement. […] I love this assignment. It gives my students a voice in a tangible and immediate way.”

You can see some additional stories of challenges, and solutions, from our Fall 2014 survey here.


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