From the librarian perspective: A relationship with Wikipedia as an education tool

Kelee Pacion is the Instruction Coordinator for the Albert R. Mann Library at Cornell University. In this post, she talks about the impact courses she’s taught with Wikipedia have had on her students.

My interest in Wikipedia really stems from a love/hate relationship I used to have for the platform. I always found the notion of everyone agreeing to the truth to be fraught with issue, and Wikipedia was the embodiment of that idea… at least in my mind. Fast forward to an incident where I found myself struggling to identify if there is any ecological value to the wasp to justify changing an entry on Wikipedia. I was struck with the notion of how much can be learned while verifying information, and wishing I could ask one of the entomology professors on the Cornell campus.

Serendipitously, I found a Cornell professor who is very interested in science communication, online platforms, and teaching with new technologies. The magic began! It felt like magic as serendipity was again with us and we discovered the amazing classroom platform built by Wiki Education and quickly tied our objectives together with the plans developed by the experts at Wiki Education. Our work at Cornell has really expanded with the use of Wikipedia in the classroom. We have taught three seminar classes using Wikipedia, and we have more in the works.

But to get at the heart of Wikipedia, the students. Many of our students that have taken the class were amazed at how much went into creating and developing articles. Our students were awed by the idea that they are creating information that will be shared with the world, they were careful about the resources they used, and they learned to be respectful of the Wikipedia editing community. Further, it was a great way to teach library skills: find, access, and engage with information to synthesize and develop ideas that are suitable to the tone of an online encyclopedia.

Some of our favorite comments from students:

“Wikipedia gets a bad reputation for being a “non-credible” source for information, since anyone can edit it. That being said, after having taken this course, I am starting to realize that if people (such as the students in this seminar) and even others take the time to edit and carefully cite articles on Wikipedia, we can make it into a way more credible source.”

“Before I did not think about how Wikipedia was maintained by a wide range of individuals doing work for free. And with this, I didn’t realize of the existence of pages such as Talk pages and the depth that lays behind Wikipedia. And with this depth, comes community. After creating my user name, I felt a greater sense of attachment. And after overcoming the five pillars, I felt a new range of inspiration and was further drawn into. The class then gave me the opportunity to add to an article and build some Wikipedia credibility (wiki-cred).”

We found that allowing students to choose the article they wish to edit, within certain parameters, they were more engaged in the process and developed a sense of belonging to the community. As the class was a one-credit seminar, we chose stub and start class articles and tasked students to develop minor extension to the articles to give the students practice with the interface, learn the discourse community, and develop the ability to evaluate appropriate information sources to help expand their article. We also found a diverse type of student enrolled in the course, ranging in gender, nationality, and age. Wikipedia was a great platform to share ideas, allow students to engage in discussion within a safe space, and then share those ideas and discussions with the Wikipedia Community.

Some of our favorite pages edited by students are adaptive unconsciousadequate stimulus, and fusiform gyrus. Many of the students went above and beyond what we asked them to add to an article, and put in a lot of work for what was a one credit, pass/fail seminar. Truly amazing work! The success of working with the students, engaging with Wiki Education, and professorial interest has encouraged my co-instructors and I to develop a three-credit, applied science communication course at Cornell, wherein we will highlight the usage and development of Wikipedia articles as a valid means of scientific communication for everyone!

Image: Cornell Mann Library Interior 4, by Bill Price III, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


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