Teaching and learning in the public sphere with Wikipedia

“I’ve done a complete 180,” commented Marie Butcher, who is currently teaching her first Wiki Education-supported courses this fall. “When I was first approached by Amy [to participate in a Wikipedia teaching project], I was a skeptic. But she’s converted me.” Marie is referring to her colleague, Amy Collier, the Middlebury Associate Provost for Digital Learning and leader of Middlebury’s Newspapers on Wikipedia team. “I believe this will be a hugely productive project, especially if we can get into student heads that Wikipedia can be a great first stop for learning, but should be challenged as well.”

Marie and her colleagues at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California and Middlebury College in Vermont, were brought to the idea of teaching with Wikipedia via the Newspapers on Wikipedia project, an initiative working to create and expand articles about newspapers that have no information or very little information on a Wikipedia entry. But not all instructors in the Middlebury network are focused on work related to newspapers, so in September, I had the opportunity to visit the Monterey group in person and host a discussion, also attended by remote staff from Vermont, about the value of using Wikipedia in education. Many attended because they were curious to learn more about Wikipedia broadly, while others noted an interest in expanding their use of technology in their teaching.

Together, we discussed some of the benefits of students working on Wikipedia, especially around digital fluency, and giving students an authentic place to practice fact checking. We also discussed some of the challenges, especially around students not knowing how to use Wikipedia as a research resource. In fact, Middlebury College has a history of pushing back against Wikipedia, even making it in the news in 2007 when “a history department banned citing Wikipedia as a research resource.” With the help of Wiki Education’s online tools and resources, however, we can support students through the fact checking and research process, guiding them to an understanding of Wikipedia’s policies, and supporting them as they work with their instructors and librarians to select topics for their research that have significant coverage by secondary sources.

Marie joins fellow instructor Gabriel Guillen in teaching their first courses with us this fall. We are excited to continue growing our support of courses in the Middlebury network over the next few years. A special thank you to Bob Cole, Director of Exploratory Initiatives and Partnerships, who helped set up our workshop. If you’d like to get involved in these initiatives, please join us by assigning your students to contribute to Wikipedia as part of a course research project in your next term! To find out more visit teach.wikiedu.org or email us at contact@wikiedu.org. You can also join Middlebury faculty and students in their NOW edit-a-thon October 26th from 12-4 Pacific (3-7 Eastern).


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