Last year, 1 out of 7 cars bought around the world was an electric vehicle. That’s a huge uptick from just 6 years ago where only 1 in 70 were EVs. As consumers seek to understand more about this fast-growing market, it’s likely they’ll turn to Wikipedia for clear explanations of complex topics.
Take lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides, for example. This is an important material in the lithium-ion batteries made for electric vehicles and our phones. Why is that? How do they work? Well, you can ask Enoch Rassachack who wrote the Wikipedia article about it as part of an assignment. He’s completing an honours degree in chemistry at the University of British Columbia and entering his final year of undergraduate study. He drew upon his studies and research experience to update this public resource.
“I have some co-op experience working with batteries which helped me find this article,” Enoch shared. “I also hope to work as a researcher in materials chemistry after (hopefully) going to grad school, and this project helped me practice communicating some of the knowledge I acquired. I see climate change as the key issue defining this century as well, so I hoped to work on an article that would educate people on something related to it, whether it be atmospheric and environmental chemistry, or technology that’s helping counteract the climate crisis. Considering all this, the page on lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxides fit me perfectly.”
Most of Enoch’s improvements to the article focus on adding new sections about the material’s structure and synthesis. The original version of the article touched upon these points a bit, but Enoch knew he could build upon it with the academic sources he had on hand. He also found the introductory lede section to be difficult to follow without already being knowledgeable on battery materials. This is the beauty of students engaging in this science communication work. They remember what it was like learning about these topics for the first time. But they also have developed some subject matter expertise in their studies. Enoch simplified the opening paragraphs for Wikipedia’s general audience.
“While a majority of my edits involved technical writing, my main goal was to help folks who hand’t heard of NMC materials get a basic understanding of what they are. To this end, the relatively short lead section was the most important part of the article to get right, in my opinion. Of course, my work on the body sections were also valuable, as the summarized technical knowledge would be useful for more savvy chemists/material scientists. But for most readers on Wikipedia, these sections would not be nearly as helpful as the lead.”
For Enoch, this practice in distilling a complex topic into digestible and concise explanations was good practice. He knows he’ll draw upon these skills in his future classes and career.
“There is a lot of focus on more complicated details in an undergraduate chemistry program and even in the technical writing course I did this Wikipedia assignment in, so trying to write for a more general audience was a nice change,” he shared. “Being able to generalize my research later on as a scientist will likely be a useful skill, too. I know that public sentiment can potentially be a factor in getting research funding so spreading knowledge about my own work to people without my chemistry training could help with getting grants. Practicing more concise writing will also help me be clearer in my writing in all aspects of any future career.
“I think Wikipedia can be a great reference tool as well as a good starting point for curious individuals to begin looking into certain topics. Being an online encyclopedia makes it really unique because it’s very convenient for finding generally credible information, but can still be scrutinized since anyone can modify articles. Summarizing topics is Wikipedia’s biggest strength so it is most useful for finding general knowledge in a field without going too much into detail.”
All in all, Enoch found the experience to be valuable in many ways. Considering most students say they’ve been told never to use Wikipedia, diving into its inner-workings and learning to interact with the resource critically and actively is a great experience.
“This was one of the most unique assignments I’ve ever done and gave me a good glimpse behind one of the best Internet resources available. It really showed me a more balanced side to Wikipedia; I knew how the site operated before doing the assignment, but actually taking part in edits gave me much more appreciation for the anonymous users that edit or write huge parts of articles. It’s a lot more work than it seems! My expectations for information from Wikipedia were tempered down closer to reality, too, after seeing how many pages still needed significant work in project pages. It’s still a super useful resource, but its limitations as an ever-expanding collection of knowledge are much clearer, which will ultimately help me use Wikipedia more effectively.”
Interested in incorporating a Wikipedia assignment into your course? Visit teach.wikiedu.org to learn more about the free assignment templates and resources that Wiki Education offers to instructors in the United States and Canada.