The Wikipedia assignment: praxis as pedagogy

By on March 6, 2019

The Wikipedia assignment: praxis as pedagogy

By on March 6, 2019

The Wikipedia assignment: praxis as pedagogy

In their newly published research analysis of the Wikipedia assignment, Dr. Ariella Rotramel, Rebecca Parmer, and Rose Oliveira of Connecticut College define success based on diverse pedagogical goals. Is the assignment an effective way to increase student engagement with library resources and collections? Do students gain skills related to the course topic area (feminist theory), metaliteracy, and critical reading? Are students able to present their collaborative research to a public audience, and what is the effect?

Ultimately, the Wikipedia assignment presents positive results for student learning and for extending pedagogical practices outside of the classroom. Dr. Rotramel, Parmer, and Oliveira also find that the assignment fosters effective collaboration among the faculty involved. “For faculty and archival staff, this project deepened an already positive working relationship and inspired further exploration of digital humanities work in other classes,” they write. The faculty also show that students self-report their own important learnings, demonstrating the overall positive experience that the assignment fosters for all involved.

How a Wikipedia assignment works well with feminist curricula

As Dr. Rotramel has written on our blog before, when students write for Wikipedia, they become knowledge creators instead of mere consumers. They become familiar with gaps in knowledge and the systemic biases that have created those gaps. They work from within the system to correct it, gaining confidence and skills in asserting changes they believe to be right.

The act of improving Wikipedia in Dr. Rotramel’s feminist theory courses thus becomes feminist praxis. Students make their education their own. They understand how they can make a tangible difference for knowledge equality, both in terms of providing public access to paywalled knowledge and in making already public content more equitable. And they take pride in their contributions to a worldwide knowledge resource.

“The Wikipedia project was difficult but it was one of the most important projects I have ever done for a class,” says one Connecticut College student. The sentiment echoes throughout many student reflections from Dr. Rotramel’s courses. Students find the work of collecting, analyzing, and creating multiple representations of their findings difficult, keeping in accordance to Wikipedia’s policies for neutral and comprehensive representation of any given topic. But, by the end of the semester, they recognize the value in learning how to create and share information with an audience beyond the walls of their institution. They also become more familiar with their institution’s resources and offerings, and gain research and writing skills in the act of distilling that knowledge into a publicly accessible platform.

“The use of Wikipedia to develop an online presence for underrepresented archival collections offered a meaningful opportunity to generate greater access and exposure to these collections, as well as to create a valuable public-facing resource,” the faculty members write.

“Students not only gained skills related to feminist theory, metaliteracy, and critical reading, but recognized the long-term value of their work for their future careers.”

How a Wikipedia assignment prepares students for careers

As we’ve written about before, a 2018 Strada and Gallup study finds that the more relevant coursework is to a student’s life or career, the more they will agree that their education has been worth the cost. The real-world tangibility of a Wikipedia assignment is what draws so many instructors and students to it.

A Wikipedia assignment fosters key skills that are attractive to employers, including leadership, accountability, teamwork, writing, and problem solving. Students come to understand larger structures of information and misinformation, and participate in correcting those structures. As Eryk Salvaggio wrote back in 2016, writing a Wikipedia article for a class is a critical thinking exercise. This finding remains true. Articles are often lacking information, or presented with bias. But identifying and articulating what the problems are, and then taking steps to correct those flaws, is a critical problem solving task that requires a student’s real knowledge and creativity.

“Collaborating with Wiki Education gave me confidence,” another student reflects in the article. “It also built upon my skills… being able to see the results of our work on such a public and well-known domain shows that our work as students is valued and relevant to scholarship; we don’t have to wait to enter the professional realm to have our work recognized.”

Takeaways

Praxis can be a part of pedagogy. The positive results for student learning are clear as they have a direct hand in improving the public’s access to knowledge.

“Through multiple sections of the class, twenty-six entries were created on the work of women whose contributions ranged from environmental and labor activism to civic and institutional leadership,” the research reads.

“The ongoing pedagogical value of this project is clear to Connecticut College’s Gender, Sexuality, and Intersectionality Studies (GSIS) department. Now in its fourth iteration, under the direction of a new GSIS faculty member, the project has become a core component of the department’s approach to teaching feminist theory.”

Read the study, Engaging Women’s History through Collaborative Archival Wikipedia Projects, in the January 2019 issue of the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy here. Also check out more of Dr. Rotramel’s thoughts about teaching with Wikipedia on our blog and a feature of one of her classes here.


Ariella Rotramel is an Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Intersectionality Studies at Connecticut College. Rebecca Parmer is Head of Archives and Special Collections at the University of Connecticut, and Rose Oliveira is Special Collections Librarian at Connecticut College.


Interested in teaching with Wikipedia? Visit teach.wikiedu.org for all you need to know to get started.

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