Wikipedia: A Teachable Moment?


One university professor has decided to take Wikipedia and turn it into a teaching tool for her students in her environmental history course at the University of Washington-Bothell.  After perusing Wikipedia, Dr. Martha Groom noticed that the information was lacking in information related to topics she covers in her course.  Consequently, she decided to do away with the end of the term research paper, and instead, students are now required to write a complete entry on a course topic or to do a major edit on an existing topic related to the course syllabus.

Dr. Groom cites several benefits to this assignment:

  • For her students, the Wikipedia experiment was “transformative,” and students’ writing online proved better than the average undergrad research paper.
  • Knowing their work was headed for the Web, not just one harried professor’s eyes, helped students reach higher — as did the standards set by the volunteer “Wikipedians” who police entries for accuracy and neutral tone.  The exercise also gave students a taste of working in the real world of peer-reviewed research.
  • Most of the articles were well received, but Groom said some students caught heat from Wikipedia editors for doing exactly what college students are trained to do: write an argumentative, critical essay.

Dr. Groom also feels that this assignment presents a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about using quality and authoritative information sources as well as evaluating information.  In addition, she believes her students have a better understanding of how to go the extra mile to do secondary research that goes beyond “surface” level research.  However, Dr. Groom is disappointed that the Wikipedia editors have been sometimes “rude” in their responses to student entries.

You can read more about Dr. Groom’s experiences by checking out these links:

I think that Dr. Groom has had a stroke of instructional genius here!  What do you as teachers think about this assignment?  I have emailed Dr. Groom to see if we can get a copy of her assignment guidelines.  If any of you are interested in collaborating with Ruth or me on this kind of research project for your students, please let us know…this assignment could be incredibly beneficial on many fronts and would definitely cover many of the Georgia Performance Standards that you are required to teach in your courses.

Buffy 🙂