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Education The Internet

Students Assigned to Write Wikipedia Articles 276

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the term-papers-that-live-on dept.
openfrog writes "An inspired professor at University of Washington-Bothell, Martha Groom, made an interesting pedagogical experiment. Instead of vilifying Wikipedia as some academics are prone to do, she assigned the students enrolled in her environmental history course to contribute articles. The result has proven "transformative" to her students. They were no longer spending their time writing for one reader, says Groom, but were doing work of consequence in a "peer reviewed" environment, which enhanced the quality of their output."
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Students Assigned to Write Wikipedia Articles

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  • Doublt benefit.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JustShootMe (122551) * <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @09:56PM (#21206197) Homepage Journal
    And when the wikipedia admins come through and start wholesale editing or deleting articles, and then banning them when they try to defend their changes, they will also get a lesson in what happens when online communities start losing track of their core mission and are taken over by people with exaggerated egos and an axe to grind.

    Oh, wait. This is slashdot. No one here has any idea what I'm talking about. Nevermind. :)
    • Linda Mack! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:00PM (#21206221)
      Obviously they weren't writing about Lockerbie Scotland (see Admin Slimvirgin aka the intelligence agent Linda Mack), or Circumcision (see admin Jayg). Or wrote something either of these admins felt was not notable, and deleted wholesale.

      I'm tripping over myself to donate more money to WalesCultBomisOPedia!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:01PM (#21206237)
      Heh. And might I point out that whomever moderated that last post "flamebait" just proved my point? :)

      Oh, the irony.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Even better, you get modded up when posting anonymous, and down when logged in.
    • by MMaestro (585010)
      I'm more curious as to how the professor will "grade" the editing and/or deletion of whatever their students submit. It would really suck of a student failed the assignment because he attracted the attention of a delete-friently admin.
      • by JoshJ (1009085)
        I have a feeling a teacher who's on the ball enough to assign Wikipedia article writing to his students will understand the environment surrounding the wiki and will take such things into account. What will suck is when the copycats who don't actually understand Wikipedia will give the same assignment without the understanding of how wiki works behind the scenes.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by JustShootMe (122551) *
          Yeah. There are some good teachers, and there are some really bad ones. What the really bad ones could do with wikipedia really scares me.

          Mix wikipedia editing and zero tolerance policies and things could get really dicey really fast.
          • by virgil_disgr4ce (909068) on Friday November 02, 2007 @11:38AM (#21212595) Homepage
            What the good ones can do with Wikipedia is incredibly inspiring. A good friend of mine teaches High School in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn -- pretty much "the hood." He's a tall white anarchist with big hair. Try to imagine this classroom; it involves a lot of true stereotypes. But what does NOT fit the stereotype is that he started a class wiki, and has all his students contribute to it. Instead of a total mess, instead of abuse, graffiti and sludge, it's raised the level of ALL the students. It's a peer environment: once it becomes cool to do it right, to BE right, abuse and problems dry up almost completely.

            This is an incredibly exciting new paradigm of teaching, because it puts the power of education directly into the students' hands. Education no longer needs to be a fount that springs forth from some "authority," it can be something that brings authority to the student. And the best part is the huge "fuck you" to the older generation of jaded "educators" (read: administrators), who would NEVER have tried such a thing, expecting only the worst. Instead it has completely revolutionized his classroom. Sure, there are kids with serious problems that aren't getting solved by a class wiki, and no one expects it to. But for the students at large, this is a BIG deal. And they LOVE it! Think of how many potential writers, poets, researchers, who knows, can be encouraged by just having a chance to write on a little webpage, developing the bravery to put it out there among their friends and enemies.

            It's truly inspiring.

            --Ted
      • by magarity (164372)
        how the professor will "grade" the editing and/or deletion of whatever their students submit

        Methinks it will be heavily tilted towards her opinion if you want a good grade; when I saw this in TFA:

        "You don't get to say that last little bit on, 'This is why this is the truth and the way,'" she said.

        I thought WTF: truth and the way?? It's supposed to be a history class, not a seminary class. From this comment I'll bet this prof not only has an agenda (like everyone) but also
    • by Doppler00 (534739) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:22PM (#21206383) Homepage Journal
      Yeah, I've noticed wikipedia is becoming more like that lately. Like, someone thinks it's their duty to go through every article and say "trivia sections are discouraged" or other nonsense little warnings that don't contribute anything to the article. All because it's some inside knowledge that they think they are so great they know all these "rules" about wikipedia and try to make you follow them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JustShootMe (122551) *
        Excellent sarcasm, but that's not what I'm referring to. I don't care about the little warnings and stuff, and I don't like vandalism any more than anyone else. In fact, there was one page that someone kept vandalizing that I tried very hard to get unvandalized. It worked, and hasn't been touched for a while now.

        I'm referring to the notability wars, and admins skirting around the whole peer review thing and making wholesale changes to articles, after when they ban if someone reverts them. That's a probl
      • by Nazlfrag (1035012) on Friday November 02, 2007 @06:20AM (#21209345) Journal
        [Citation Needed]
    • by Silverlancer (786390) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:22PM (#21206387)
      Just because you could not express your disagreement with others in a manner that others view as respectful (and as a result likely got yourself banned from Wikipedia) doesn't mean that these students will too. When people act like trolls, push their POVs over everyone else, and refuse to even debate the issue with others without engaging in massive revert-wars, they generally get banned, and then they go post their whines here on Slashdot.

      Even though there are cases in which other users and admins go too far, one has to learn that the most important skill of being a Wikipedian is to know when to stop arguing and calm the fuck down. Almost everyone who I see get banned for edit-warring is because they refuse to do this.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by JustShootMe (122551) *
        Dude, I've never been banned from wikipedia. That's probably because I've tried very hard to stay under the radar and only edit occasionally.

        I have, however, seen plenty of examples of people who were. It's bad enough that Wikinews is investigating it [wikinews.org].

        Wikipedia is a very good idea that has grown too big for itself.
        • The articles were deleted in complete accordance with policies.

          Of course, what this means is that if you disagree with the deletions, you think the policies need revision (which they probably do).
      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:37PM (#21206517)
        FR.TED: What does it do?
        DOUGAL: Squeeze it there. It's a joke telephone.
        FR.TED: Dougal. This is a dog toy.
        DOUGAL: What? No it's not Ted, it's a joke telephone.
        FR.TED: Dougal this is a toy for dogs. This is something people give dogs on their birthday.
        DOUGAL: Now seriously Ted, it's a joke telephone. You just give it to someone and tell them it's a phone and they'll try to make a call on it.
        FR.TED: Dougal, who would think this was a telephone? Even a dog knows this isn't a phone.
        DOUGAL: Eh..Ted... We'll agree to differ alright.
        FR.TED: No we won't agree to differ, because you're very very wrong. Look, does the picture on the on the packet not give you a clue. Why do you think the dog is so happy? He's happy because someone has given him a yellow rubber telephone that makes a noise.
        DOUGAL: No! No! He's laughing because some one's trying to make a call on the phone - and now look, I am banning you so I guess I win.. Its a joke telephone and thats all that will be said on the matter.
    • by interiot (50685) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:29PM (#21206447) Homepage

      Depends. Was the assignment more flexible, asking students to add, say, 500 words to one or more existing articles? If so, did the teacher point out that there are many many articles [wikipedia.org] that need to be expanded, and admins are likely to leave you alone on those. (the decision to add or delete individual paragraphs is a non-admin one, unless the editors aren't able to work together and start an edit war [wikipedia.org]... in which case, admins should still be largely uninvolved other than protecting the page for a number of days to give the participants time to discuss the issue)

      Even if the assignment was to create a completely new article, the teacher could have pointed them to the most wanted articles [wikipedia.org] list... any article created that has a ton of backlinks is less likely to be deleted just based on the number of backlinks, and is also more likely to be more obviously notable.

      • by QuantumG (50515)
        I'm pretty sure the articles selected for the students to create would have related to whatever the class was about.

        It's not Wiki Editing 101 we're talking about.
  • Makes sense (Score:3, Informative)

    by Z0mb1eman (629653) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @09:58PM (#21206213) Homepage
    I remember reading an article about one of the top contributors on Wikipedia - he started out by writing entries as a study aid. Makes sense to me.
    • Re:Makes sense (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JonathanR (852748) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:21PM (#21206381)
      That's not surprising. A good way of consolidating any learning (or at least confirming what you've learned), is to attempt to explain/pass-it-on to another individual. If they don't/can't understand what you're communicating, (or in the case of Wikipedia - if it get's edited to shreds), then chances are, you didn't know what you were talking about...
  • Deleted! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2007 @09:59PM (#21206215)
    And of course, because their articles were new and not notable, they were promptly put up for a deletion vote.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Loke the Dog (1054294)
      I don't think they're being assigned to articles about comic book characters.
  • Hmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xzaph (1157805) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @09:59PM (#21206217)
    Articles that actually contribute to common knowledge, and might be read more than once by someone besides the author, rather than the typical "show you know how to assemble ideas in a paper that I will then proceed to return to you so you can deposit it in the recycling bin? Thumbs up.
  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:01PM (#21206233) Homepage Journal
    Wikipedia should be output, not input, for students past a certain age. It gets them used to writing for real people as opposed to just for getting graded, it gives them the experience of having their writing edited by people of varying abilities, and it gives them motivation for doing research. Another, easier, option would be to assign students to correct Wikipedia articles.
    • by JonathanR (852748) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:25PM (#21206415)
      Of course, another activity could be for students to take a snapshot of an article, and proceed with research (web or otherwise) to review and validate all the claims/statements. It would be a good exercise in citing sources and tuning their bullshit/propaganda detectors.
  • Damn... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Derek Loev (1050412) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:02PM (#21206243)
    My school blocks Wikipedia entirely. When asked why the answer is "anybody can edit it". I don't think they understand the fact that nobody is going to cite Wikipedia as a reference for a paper, but Wikipedia does offer great sources that can be used to further explore a subject.
    I would suggest teaching students how to find legitimate sources instead of using the brute-force method of blocking everything they don't understand.
    • Re:Damn... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by SirLurksAlot (1169039) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:09PM (#21206295)

      I don't think they understand the fact that nobody is going to cite Wikipedia as a reference for a paper, but Wikipedia does offer great sources that can be used to further explore a subject.

      The thing about that is that there are students who actually do try to cite Wikipedia articles as references, I've seen it plenty of times. It usually results in the instructor having to crack down on the practice. I do think though that blocking Wikipedia entirely is overkill, it should just be understood that it does not count as an official source. Wikipedia is a good place to start researching a topic, and I usually end up using one of the external references on a page as a "legitimate source."

    • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:37PM (#21206513) Journal
      My school blocks Wikipedia entirely. When asked why the answer is "anybody can edit it".

      As opposed to the rest of the internet which is chock-full of nothing but the highest quality, peer-reviewed content, written universally by the finest experts, hand selected from across the world?

      I can only guess you're not reading this from a school computer, since anyone can post comments... and frankly anyone frequently does so.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Belial6 (794905)
      As opposed to books? Last I checked, anybody can write a book, and the only thing required to get it bound and distributed is money. Either a publishers, or your own. It doesn't say much for the school when they either don't understand how books are published, or are encouraging the idea that "money makes right".
      • As opposed to books? Last I checked, anybody can write a book

        True, anybody can write a book, but books found in libraries tend to be vetted by librarians (although not experts in any particular subject, it is better than the randomness of the Internet). And Academic journals tend to be peer reviewed (again, not perfect, especially since "peers" often don't check all the references, much less try to duplicate any experiments, etc in a scientific journal, for example). Caveat emptor.

        • by Belial6 (794905)
          I think the situation is worse than you think. Just walk through any library, and you will find that there is plenty of junk in the non-fiction section of your local library. I believe there is a lot less 'vetting' by librarians than you think. I am no expert on that subject, and can only use what I have found on the shelves as evidence.

          You should also keep in mind that it is a small subset of papers written that cite Academic journals. The vast majority of papers written use non-peered reviewed sour
  • My old English professor did a technical writing course almost completely wiki-based: http://www.cites.uiuc.edu/edtech/teaching_showcase/brown_bag/archive/spring06/grohens_scagnoli.html [uiuc.edu]
  • by xPsi (851544) * on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:23PM (#21206393)
    I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of slackers suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. If university students are WRITING Wikipedia articles as PART of their assignments, where the hell will they cut and paste from in order to finish by the deadline? And what online resource, pray tell, will the professor go to now to determine if a student has been cutting and pasting? Its like a frickin' hall of mirrors!
  • Sheez, hasn't this been going on for a while? When I was teaching in Japan almost two years ago, one of the other teachers in my district said he was having the students write up their towns in Wikipedia for a group project. You can still see some of their edits if you go to Oyabe, Toyama [wikipedia.org] and other pages. This isn't really news.
    • by MistaE (776169)
      I agree. I took a Digital Journalism course under the Communication Department at Stanford two years ago with a Professor named Howard Rheingold. He assigned us a ton of these "pedagogical experiments" including both creating a Wiki article and making a legit contribution to an already existing page. It was some interesting fun, especially when we had to monitor afterwards whether or not our pages/edits actually survived the hordes of Wiki moderators.
  • not the first (Score:3, Interesting)

    by enbody (472304) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:39PM (#21206533) Homepage
    I have given an assignment to work on a Wikipedia article, and I would be amazed if there weren't many more. Students thoroughly enjoyed the assignments.

    What this instructor did was great. I'm not sure it is newsworthy.
  • by femto (459605) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @10:42PM (#21206567) Homepage
    It will be interesting to monitor these articles if the students don't maintain them once the course has finished. Do they maintain their improved quality over time, or do they eventually get eroded by an army of badly informed editors? I wonder if anyone has ever tried to measure the "half life" of knowledge within Wikipedia? In the absence of a concerted maintenance effort by a dedicated individual does the quality of a typical article increase of does it decay to noise? Sadly my experience with some articles which I was once passionate about, but am less so now, suggests the latter.
    • by QuantumG (50515)
      Kinda sounds like you define "knowledge" as "what I think" and obviously anyone editing your article is just decaying it.

      In short: stop smelling your own farts.

    • by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:26PM (#21206839) Homepage Journal
      I've found this varies greatly.

      I've seen 3 main pathways.

      1. Pop culture trash: this doesn't refer to all articles regarding popular culture, but rather just a great many. It usually starts out as(or is quickly whipped into shape by an experienced editor as) a small blurb summarizing the cultural relevance and origins of some item. Over time rampant speculation, positive description, and dubious links filter into it. These get these way because the people who care about and watch the article are not people interested in the academic information involved, but rather people who just like to see more of it. I've fixed up articles like this only to have them return to idiocy in a matter of 3-4 months when I checked up later. Examples ALMOST any article fitting description: "list of characters from {video game/tv show}"
      2. Seriously contentious items: These tend to be the best articles on wikipedia because every addition is scrutinized from 30 different perspectives, questionable items are well referenced because someone disagreeing will remove it otherwise, and things tend to be well scrutinized. Good examples: "evolution" and "god".
      3. relatively obscure item of actual academic interest: article usually started by someone with a casual interest. Rare(sometimes as rarely as every few months), but consistent, non-vandalized additions adding a sentence or two about the subject and the occasional restructuring of the whole article in accordance with what had been added. Usually one or two guardian users who care deeply about the subject and watch the article for extreme alterations. These kinds of articles improve slowly and never reach the point of incredible quality.

      That's just my observation and theorizing on the subject. I could see all sorts of reasons people would disagree with my assessment.
  • Everyone is doing it (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    "University of New South Wales Associate Professor Andrew Collins has just completed a 10-week project with his advanced immunology class, requiring students to correct errors and fill the gaps in Wikipedia articles related to immunology."

    http://www.smh.com.au/news/web/wikipedia-project-is-a-class-act/2007/10/31/1193618940842.html [smh.com.au]

    Complete with kooky picture of said Professor.
  • The professor of my literary criticism class let us write a wikipedia page (or substantially add to an existing one) on a topic that interested us related to the course in lieu of taking a final. That "in lieu of" catch made him make us all swear not to tell anyone in the administration about the deed, so I guess it was more of a silent thing.

    I did mine on one of the essays in the Norton anthology on the reading list, Realism in the Balance [wikipedia.org]. I find it really cool that other people have edited the page, like
  • by FridayBob (619244) on Friday November 02, 2007 @12:02AM (#21207217) Homepage
    Personally, I too found writing for Wikipedia a very educational experience. The most important thing I learned was how to properly research and reference everything I wrote; I would make sure that I was never making any assumptions in what I wrote and that everything was as completely accurate, or at least true to my source material. If you start with a number of good books and scientific articles for reference material, you can produce really good articles. Never having studied in university, it's probably the closest I've ever come to doing scientific research. I found it to be a very satisfying experience and the lessons I learned will last me a lifetime.

    The downside is when other people, who don't put nearly the same amount of effort into their research, come along and start adding information to the same article; almost always without any references. As opposed to simple vandalism that can easily be spotted by anyone, bad information degrades the overall quality of the article and is often difficult for other contributers to spot unless they are well versed in the subject matter. To maintain the quality of the articles you put so much work into, the only solution is to check on them constantly, often getting into protracted debates with determined individuals who really know very little. I find this quite depressing, but I see no immediate solutions. Citizendium, Veropedia? Maybe, but for now they're pretty obscure and it will be a long time before either have anywhere near the range of articles that Wikipedia does.
  • Hardly new (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cairnarvon (901868) on Friday November 02, 2007 @12:09AM (#21207269) Homepage
    When I took Japanese History two years ago, we were given the assignment to pick a random topic related to Japanese history, research it, and write a Wikipedia article on the subject.
    This worked well for Japanese History because the English language Wikipedia didn't have too many articles at the time, and even the articles it did have were fragmentary and for the most part abandoned. I'm not sure how easy it'd be to do with more "mainstream" articles. You'd get more feedback from other Wikipedia users, sure, but you'd also be providing far less of the content.
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday November 02, 2007 @01:03AM (#21207635) Homepage

    Here's the original Associated Press article [google.com] without the annoying Physorg ads. (Google finally cut out the middlemen and started hosting Associated Press content themselves.)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I suspect that at least more than a couple of academics that are doing this. One instance that I know of is postings of an Intro to Neuroscience class taught by Steve Potter (a researcher in neuron controlled robots) at Georgia Tech's Biomedical Department. Each student in the class was instructed to pick one uncovered neuroscience topic and write an article on it. I don't know how far his assignments stretches back, but it has been done at least since last year.
  • by britneys 9th husband (741556) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:14AM (#21208357) Homepage Journal
    Professor had everyone create an account ending in "mas214" (the course number). Everyone procrastinated and then did such a bad job the accounts got blocked for vandalism and an investigation was launched into whether they were sock puppets [wikipedia.org]. Here's one user's talk page [wikipedia.org]. It ended up on the administrator noticeboard [wikipedia.org]. So professors, if you're going to assign Wikipedia, take the time to understand what Wikipedia is about first.
    • ...and the main compliant was that they were writing essays not articles (writing style was arguing a point of view, rather than stating the facts) and that they did not cite sources (or did not cite properly) i.e. they acted as new editors have always acted in Wikipedia. It was only noticed because they did it on mass from similarly named accounts and so were suspected as being one person... The Professor was contacted and apologised, and said he would prepare the students better next time by including g
  • by utkarshraj (931412) on Friday November 02, 2007 @03:49AM (#21208527) Homepage Journal

    This is not the first assignment of its type. There have been more than 40 such projects [wikipedia.org]; there are at least 10 more in progress. The students and the professors need to be aware of the "No original research [wikipedia.org]" policy. Many university-level assignments involve original research, and Wikipedia is not the right place for publishing original research.

    Here are some of the articles created as a part of the assignments we're talking about:

  • by 2TecTom (311314) on Friday November 02, 2007 @08:28AM (#21210069) Homepage Journal
    .. now that would be a lot research! Why do we just waste all that effort? Why not publish all papers on the web, even at the high school level?

    We produce a work just to pass a course or test, and then we never use that report, or term paper again. Odd how we can recycle tin cans but waste the labors of mind.

"It ain't so much the things we don't know that get us in trouble. It's the things we know that ain't so." -- Artemus Ward aka Charles Farrar Brown

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