21 November, 2007

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

An interesting article came to my attention today. Oh, wikipedia, you fickle resource...

Wikipedia: time-saver for students, bane of professors everywhere.

Or is it?

If there’s one place where scholars should be able to question assumptions about the use of technology in the classroom (and outside of it), it’s the annual Educause conference, which wrapped up on Friday in Seattle. At a morning session featuring a professor and a specialist in learning technology from the University of Washington at Bothell, presenters showed how Wikipedia — often viewed warily by educators who worry that students too readily accept unverifiable information they find online — can be marshaled as a central component of a course’s syllabus rather than viewed as a resource to be banned or reluctantly tolerated.

That’s what Martha Groom, a professor at the university’s Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences program, tried to do for the first time last fall by requiring term papers to be submitted to the popular, user-edited online encyclopedia. The project comes at a time when instructors and administrators continue to debate the boundaries of certain technologies within the classroom and how to adapt to students’ existing online habits.

At first glance, a college term paper and a Wikipedia entry appear to have little in common. Term papers are intended for an “extremely limited audience, namely, me,” as Groom pointed out, they have little impact outside of the classroom and are constrained to a specific “time” and “place” in the world of ink-on-paper documents. “That is not a very good model of scholarship, to say that anything you produce [belongs] in this tiny space,” she said.

On the other hand, shared, public online documents have characteristics in common with parts of the academic review process. “The shift to thinking about placing the term paper as a Wikipedia encyclopedia entry allows for another level of peer review,” Groom said. Such entries have references and citations; allow for a process of repeated, continual editing; and encourage collaborations between authors.

Article continues at Inside Higher Ed

I like this idea quite a lot. It makes use of wikipedia in a constructive way, and might be especially useful in first-year classes where students are still stuck in the Five Paragraph Essay mindset. It more closely mimics the academic process, and it gives students the feeling that their work is actually worth something beyond a grade. Speaking as one who despises busy-work, I love the idea that students get the gratification of seeing their work "go somewhere." This could also work well in, for example, a Latin composition class. Vicipaedia needs more articles!

I will have to keep this in mind for when I finally get a classroom of my own.

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