As Wikipedia Turns 10, It Focuses on Ways to Improve Student Learning

As Wikipedia hits its 10th year of operation, it is making efforts to involve academics more closely in its process. The latest is a new plan to build an “open educational resource platform” that will gather tools about teaching with Wikipedia in the classroom.

Rodney Dunican, education programs manager for Wikimedia, Wikipedia’s parent company, is part of the team working to build the platform, which he said will highlight the ways in which Wikipedia can be used to improve student learning.

“We don’t want them to cite Wikipedia,” he said of students. “What we really want them to do is understand how to use and critically evaluate the articles on Wikipedia and then learn how to contribute to make those articles better.”

Mr. Dunican recently visited Louisiana State University, whose “communication across the curriculum” effort seeks to generate teaching tools and content, and then take those to professors in various disciplines who might be interested in using them.

“One of the things we are doing at LSU is looking at how we can institutionalize the curriculum around Wikipedia,” Mr. Dunican said.

For the 2010-11 academic year, Wikimedia also launched the national Public Policy Initiative to recruit professors who would like their students to add content to the anyone-can-edit encyclopedia as part of the curriculum.

The project focused on improving and increasing the content in the area of public policy and developing a model for using Wikipedia as a teaching tool.

“We have some very good results this last semester,” Mr. Dunican said. “We have shown that it is possible to include Wikipedia in the classroom to engage students in the learning process.”

Jeffrey Tang, an associate professor in the department of integrated science and technology at James Madison University, was one of the 12 professors from eight universities who worked with the initiative during the fall semester.

Mr. Tang was approached by Alex Stinson, a student at James Madison and a Wikipedia campus ambassador, to be part of the program. Mr. Tang and Mr. Stinson worked to identify Wikipedia entries with little information or new topics that could be addressed in class.

“It was exactly what I expected on some level,” Mr. Tang said about the results of the project. Some of the entries generated by his class were great, and others were not so great, he said, but all improved on the content that already existed.

“In general they liked the idea,” Mr. Tang said about his students. “Most of them thought it was neat that their work would actually be seen.”

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