Glenn Dolphin is Tamaratt Teaching Professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Calgary. In this post he talks about assigning students to contribute to Wikipedia in his fall 2016 Introductory Geology course.
My name is Glenn. I was hired by the University of Calgary, in the Department of Geoscience, almost four years ago. My position is Tamaratt Teaching Professor in Geoscience. I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in geology, but my PhD is in Science Education. I research learning in geology classrooms, and especially how to utilize the history of science to teach about science content and the process of science. The classes I teach are large enrollment (300-400 students) introductory classes. In response to the literature claims that lecture-only courses are not very effective at facilitating student learning, I decided to reconfigure my introductory geology course for non-science majors into a more active learning environment. I incorporated a number of strategies to achieve this, viz. breaking the entire class into small groups, using class time for small group writing exercises and discussions, a short Wikipedia project as well as a long-term Wikipedia project.
I completely restructured the traditional “rocks for jocks” course to highlight three storylines: The earth is a historical entity, that history is very, very long, and the earth is a dynamic system. In general, I presented content in a historically contextualized manner. In doing research for the course, it became quite obvious that though there was plenty of contributions by women to geology, the record of those contributions was sorely lacking.
During the course generation phase, I read a post concerning the Wikipedia “Year of Science”. I contacted the Wiki Education group and asked how I might incorporate Wikipedia into my class. I have found that when students are producing something for the “real world” as opposed to just the instructor for a grade, they work much harder to ensure quality. I spoke with Samantha about how to have students produce something that would be bigger than the course. Her confidence and energy convinced me that though the entire course was new, adding this particular project would not be onerous. It wasn’t.
I mapped out two different projects, one mandatory for all small groups in the course to contribute in a small way to the Wikipedia page of a “woman in geology”. The second was a long-term project with the same focus, but would incorporate a more substantial contribution. I was hesitant, at first, to incorporate these new projects, as I had no familiarity editing in Wikipedia, and I really did not want a lot of extra work and worry. This was also the biggest class that Wiki Ed would have had experience with (355 students). They were actually eager to see if they could support such an effort. I (virtually) met with Helaine and Ian who assured me that they would be my resource people in case I ran into difficulties. They did not disappoint.
They helped me build my Wikipedia course structure, which trainings to post, how to manage the timing of the projects and how to evaluate them. When it came time for the projects to run, I just directed the students to the Wikipedia course page and the rest was taken care of. During the running of the projects, Wiki Ed also instituted a mechanism making it possible to view each student’s contributions to the various Wiki pages. This was incredibly useful for evaluating the students’ work for each of the projects.
I received a lot of positive feedback on the assignments, because despite the few constraints, they were left pretty open. The course was mainly for non-science majors, so if they wanted to, students could focus on the science of the woman geologist, or some other aspect of the woman’s biography, related to the science (e.g. social or political forces, gender bias, etc.). One woman in the class, a communications major working in the media, took it upon herself to find one of the women in geology who was still living. She called her and interviewed her for the project. The student said it was a great experience to integrate her media training with a science course (of all things), and to create this new piece of knowledge for a much broader audience than one would normally expect from an introductory science course.
By the end of both projects we had edited over 80 different pages for women in geology and created almost 40 pages that didn’t exist before. Students were very excited about these aspects; first, that they were doing something that anyone in the world could see, and second, that they could actually create something that never existed before that was also available for the whole world to see. As of the writing of this blog post, those 83 articles have had close to 300 thousand views. When our science faculty got wind of the project, and its success, they ran a story about it in the University news.