Fulfilling your potential

In the decade since Bob Cummings asked Are We Ready to Use Wikipedia to Teach Writing?, the answer for hundreds of instructors has been a resounding “yes!” It’s easy to make a convincing case for using a Wikipedia assignment in the classroom. Writing a Wikipedia article teaches students valuable skills while offering an authentic experience. But a combination of theory, individual student experiences, and studies that focus on single classes can only go so far to establish the benefits of the assignment. To draw broader conclusions about the benefits of a Wikipedia writing assignment, you need to look across classes, across instructors, and look at what a whole range of students experienced.

In the Fall of 2016, Wiki Education partnered with Zachary McDowell to remedy this deficiency in the study of the benefits of Wikipedia assignments for students. From a pool of 6,000 college students participating in Wiki Education supported classes, a total of 1,627 students and 97 instructors completed surveys and a subset of them were involved in 13 follow–up focus groups. Preliminary results were published in June 2017, and were discussed in a previous blog post. Now Matthew Vetter, Zachary McDowell, and Mahala Stewart have published an article on this study in the journal Computers and CompositionFrom Opportunities to Outcomes: The Wikipedia–Based writing Assignment.

Overall, students and instructors found the experience to be positive; none of them found the Wikipedia assignment to be less valuable at teaching the skills they were surveyed about. Most found the assignment to be more valuable, especially in areas like developing digital literacy, learning about the reliability of online sources and learning to write clearly. There were differences between groups: medical students found the assignment to be better at developing critical thinking skills than did social science students, while both medical students and students in introductory writing classes found the assignment to be more valuable in terms of teaching peer review skills than did students in the arts and humanities. While most of these experiences were common across categories like gender, social class and race, there were some differences. Women were less likely to edit in areas of Wikipedia outside of the assignment, while Asian/Pacific Islander students were more likely than white students to find the assignment helpful for learning how to write a literature review.

Research like this helps to establish the value of a Wikipedia–based writing assignment as a tool for student learning. Theory, models, anecdotes and case studies are all valuable tools for establishing what should work, but in the end, models are only meaningful when the survive confrontation with data. It’s nice to see that ours does.

Interested in teaching with Wikipedia? Visit teach.wikiedu.org for all you need to get started.


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