Wikipedia in the Classroom

By | June 13, 2014

This week the library and our teaching centre co-hosted a Wikipedia in the Classroom event. We were pleased to have Jonathan Obar, Wikipedia teaching fellow come and give an overview of the Canadian Education Program. He opened the session with the trippy and beautiful audio experience from Listen to Wikipedia. Jonathan gave a great perspective from his role as a faculty member who was once very skeptical of Wikipedia to now, four years later, an active editor, volunteer and advocate of Wikipedia in academia.

People building wikipedia

We also invited Education faculty member, Nicola Simmons to talk about her SoTL research Wikipedia as a Catalyst for Masters of Education students [Self] Knowledge Construction. Nicola used Wikipedia to help her students “develop their research skills and to prompt a discussion about the use of sources and cross-referencing” in addition to building their academic identities as knowledge producers. Some of my favourite quotes she shared were:

“who determines what is knowledge? And what exactly is ‘knowledge’…what is ‘agreed’ upon and published on the Wikipedia page is knowledge and people socially constructed this.”

“I felt like I was a part of something bigger than just an assignment – I was contributing to knowledge that could be around for many years to come”

“I came to realize that creating knowledge was actually about constructing the self.”

Finally, we had CPCF (Communications, Pop Culture and Film) professor Dale Bradley talk about his spectrum of wiki assignments. Dale started his wiki adventures on our Brock media wiki server (named KUMU for the Hawaiian word for “teacher” and “staring point”) first with a graduate seminar on Robo-culture, affectionately called “Robo-wiki” primarily for “aimless reflection” and a way to get ideas flowing amongst the class. He went on to describe two other more structured ways he’s used kumu wiki for knowledge construction. In every case, he found the act of frequent public writing increased the quality of work.

As part of the eLearn initiative in 2012, I managed to convince Dale to attempt a transition from the Brock wiki to Wikipedia. As part of his fully online New Media course, which dovetailed the theory and practice of web tools, such that students had to create an artifact: podcast, video, journalism storify, wikipedia entry, etc and then also narrate the process of creating the artifact. Students collect themselves into groups of similar themes based on interest (e.g. Environment, sports, tourism, etc) and then they create a sub community who read and respond within this smaller group. Students selected a wikipedia entry that was only at stub level and were encouraged to find and add research to bring the content up to start level or better. This proved to be very challenging as we did not allow enough time for students to learn the markup, choose a topic and carry out the editing.

After this experience we met Jonathan Obar and he was extremely helpful in paring down the assignment to something more manageable given the variety of tools and theories Dale wanted to cover. The second iteration of the course, Dale modified the assignment so that they would find a controversial or popular Wikipedia article and analyze the talk pages. Where possible they would try and find research to support or refute aspects of contention, then they would blog their findings and reflections about the experience.

Overall my library co-conspirator, Monica and I were very pleased with the session. Faculty asked good questions and I know a couple of them are ready to take the dive into Wikipedia this fall. We’re hoping to become ambassadors to help support our faculty and students better on campus.

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