Making Wikipedia Work For You

WikipediaWikipedia is the fifth most popular website and the most popular general reference. If you have an Internet connection, you’ve probably used Wikipedia, and students use it as their first stop for research. But what if, instead of just consuming Wikipedia content, students produced it? What would they gain from this experience, on top of performing the public service of improving a reference we all use?

As a Wikipedian in Residence, I can speak to the rewards of using Wikipedia as a teaching tool. During my own undergraduate years, I benefited greatly from Wikipedia assignments in the classroom and at my internship (even co-authoring a paper on it). By assigning Wikipedia editing in lieu of a major paper or research project, instructors in any discipline can maximize the benefits of the course with minimal effort.

Wikipedia editing projects support DePaul’s learning outcomes utilizing a platform that may engage students more than a traditional research paper. Students must identify and analyze tertiary sources independent of the subject on which they are writing, and make links to other subjects on Wikipedia in order to meet Wikipedia’s verifiability and notability standards. This requires mastery of content and intellectual skills, as students have to communicate clearly, in an encyclopedic style, and synthesize from multiple sources. Students have an imperative to provide accurate, unbiased information for others to use, building personal and social responsibility. Often, editing is a collaborative process, so students have to cooperate with other editors from around the country or around the world. Ultimately, by editing Wikipedia as a class assignment, students produce scholarship that is public, free, and accessible. By treating Wikipedia as an academic asset, we make it a better resource for everyone. And by assigning students to edit Wikipedia, they build skills that make them more prepared for success after DePaul.

Part of my responsibilities as Wikipedian in Residence is helping instructors use Wikipedia in the classroom. I have taught in-class workshops on editing Wikipedia and evaluating sources, resulting in better preparation for new editors and smoother starts to assignments. I can help instructors design their assignments and help construct rubrics and evaluation schedules. Although the initial stages of a Wikipedia assignment can seem daunting, I am both on-site and available virtually to help make this process simple and manageable.

Peace activist Liz McAlister’s biography was my first Wikipedia article using SPCA collections.
Peace activist Liz McAlister’s biography was my first Wikipedia article using SPCA collections.

The primary service I provide instructors is acquainting them with Wikimedia Outreach’s Education Program resources. Using Wikipedia editing as an instructional tool in higher education is a well-beaten (if little known) path. Wikimedia employees and volunteers have organized materials created from the processes and outcomes of ten years of Wikipedia assignments and projects. Besides intuitive brochures for instructors and students alike, there are training modules, technical tools, case studies, and more, all free of charge and expressly for classroom and educational purposes. To get acquainted with these resources, start with Wikimedia’s overview.

It is my main goal to help members of the DePaul community use Wikipedia to enrich their own learning in an intentional and conscientious way. From my base in Special Collections and Archives, I edit Wikipedia articles to increase the visibility of SPCA collections while supporting Wikipedia’s goal to compile the sum of human knowledge. I create new pages to reflect the diverse and interesting collections of Special Collections and Archives. The links and references I add lead to more web traffic to pages published by the DePaul community. I focus on adding content in underrepresented areas, including notable women, racial history, and social movements. On January 27, 2017, I helped lead One Librarian, One Reference (#1Lib1Ref), a Wikipedia editing event for library staff. In addition to my own impact as an editor and library staff member, I look forward to working closely with instructors and students. I know that the greatest impact I can have is by helping students, staff, and faculty share their scholarship with the world, via Wikipedia, the world’s most popular encyclopedia.

Richardson Library staff gathered on January 27, 2017, and made over 35 edits that afternoon.

To sum it up:

  • Wikipedia is a powerful teaching tool, waiting for you to use it.
  • While editing Wikipedia, students develop and use skills necessary for success as scholars.
  • Wikipedia assignments are customizable, in scope and size, and are appropriate for any discipline.
  • I am a resource ready to help in any way I can.

As you begin to write syllabi for spring and fall courses, consider the benefits of a Wikipedia assignment instead of standard papers and presentations.

Please contact me, Cassandra DellaCorte, and we can discuss how best to make Wikipedia work for you and your students

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *