5 tips to improve student experience with Wiki Education

Haris Mujovic is a Senior in pharmaceutical sciences with an emphasis in health sciences; Melanie VanDyke, PhD teaches psychology and co-chairs the Teaching and Learning Committee; Danielle Giffort, PhD teaches sociology; Tristan Frampton, PhD teaches music; Kendra Onoh is a PharmD candidate; and Elizabeth Rattine-Flaherty, PhD teaches healthcare communication and is the Chair of the Liberal Arts Department.  All collaborators are at the University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy in St. Louis.

During the fall semester of 2020, our research team assessed the use of a Wikipedia assignment in four social science electives, including Music and the Brain, Social Science Research Methods, Developmental Psychology through the Lifespan, and Chronic Illness, Dying and Death. The common thread amongst these courses? A desire for students to learn how to interpret, analyze, and communicate social science research findings.

For our version of the Wikipedia assignment, students expanded an existing, course-related article that lacked credible information or contained knowledge gaps. We believed that this assignment would help students develop their ability to critically evaluate and objectively communicate social science knowledge. Also, the online format of this Wiki-based assignment was particularly appealing since the project took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning. To determine the impact of this Wiki Education project, we used a multi-method approach with pre- and post-assignment surveys, as well as qualitative data from reflective essays. Analyzing our data, we found that a majority of students improved their ability to think critically and communicate effectively to a non-expert audience by editing a Wikipedia article. Based on our experience, we identified several recommendations for instructors who are considering using a Wiki Education project in their own courses.

Our quantitative data provided important information about student experiences. We focused our attention on online preparation and classroom climate. According to the Student Suitability for Online Courses Questionnaire (Salimi & Kornelus, 2018), our students were prepared for an online environment, scoring in the uppermost tier. Examining class atmosphere, we expected our students to feel more isolated while participating in a remote environment. However, we found that our students actually felt a stronger sense of belonging within their class (using a classroom-specific analogue of the General Campus Climate scale; Reid & Radhakrishnan, 2003), compared to students in a pre-pandemic, in-person Personality Psychology classes. This sense of connection is particularly noteworthy, given the mostly online format of our Wiki Education courses.  We credit the shared Wikipedia experience (and being part of a meaningful project) as promoting this feeling of belonging.

We also gathered data from reflective essays, where students answered open-ended questions about their Wikipedia contributions and experiences. One of the biggest findings was that 65% of students (N = 40) believed that their ability to identify and evaluate information—what is often called “information literacy”—improved as a result of doing the assignment. This suggests that integrating Wikipedia into the classroom can help students gain confidence in their ability to work with information from different sources.

We also found that a significant number of participating students (38%) felt that the assignment improved their ability to communicate information to a lay audience, with multiple students reporting that the assignment encouraged them to be mindful about their audience and adjust their writing to present information in a clear and unbiased way. Given the importance of Wikipedia in the democratization of knowledge, we were not surprised to find that almost half (48%) of students mentioned gaining a new appreciation for the accessibility of knowledge and being part of the knowledge-sharing process.

Many students also recognized that their contributions to Wikipedia could have a meaningful impact beyond the classroom—in fact, over half (54%) mentioned feeling motivated to complete the assignment because they knew that their work would be seen by a larger audience. Of course, writing something that will be read by more than just their professor is understandably intimidating for some students—indeed, 20% of students shared that participating in this assignment brought up feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy—that nagging “impostor syndrome”—because their contributions would be subject to judgement by others. Working with other students helped to quell their anxieties, as 60% of students mentioned positive aspects of collaboration, supporting confidence in their work.

Ultimately, if you are considering using Wikipedia assignments in your classroom, we would like to offer the following five pieces of advice:

1. Consider having students work in groups to hone their team-working skills and reduce the risk of anxiety and impostor syndrome.

2. Rather than simply assigning articles, consider offering a list of pre-approved articles or working with your students to collectively select articles that will keep them invested and motivated throughout the process.

3. Tailor the Wikipedia curriculum to align with your course objectives and select meaningful topics that relate to key course concepts.

4. Provide the necessary structure for your students: give detailed instructions for their assignments and allow time to practice using the (likely unfamiliar) online editing tools to improve student confidence in Wikipedia editing.

5. Become a Wikipedia editor yourself. There is no better way to understand the nuances of Wiki Education and student learning than first-hand experience!

Image credit: University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy image courtesy Melanie VanDyke, all rights reserved.


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