Wikipedia: A Teachable Moment?

One university professor has decided to take Wikipedia and turn it into a teaching tool for her students in her environmental history course at the University of Washington-Bothell.  After perusing Wikipedia, Dr. Martha Groom noticed that the information was lacking in information related to topics she covers in her course.  Consequently, she decided to do away with the end of the term research paper, and instead, students are now required to write a complete entry on a course topic or to do a major edit on an existing topic related to the course syllabus.

Dr. Groom cites several benefits to this assignment:

  • For her students, the Wikipedia experiment was “transformative,” and students’ writing online proved better than the average undergrad research paper.
  • Knowing their work was headed for the Web, not just one harried professor’s eyes, helped students reach higher — as did the standards set by the volunteer “Wikipedians” who police entries for accuracy and neutral tone.  The exercise also gave students a taste of working in the real world of peer-reviewed research.
  • Most of the articles were well received, but Groom said some students caught heat from Wikipedia editors for doing exactly what college students are trained to do: write an argumentative, critical essay.

Dr. Groom also feels that this assignment presents a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about using quality and authoritative information sources as well as evaluating information.  In addition, she believes her students have a better understanding of how to go the extra mile to do secondary research that goes beyond “surface” level research.  However, Dr. Groom is disappointed that the Wikipedia editors have been sometimes “rude” in their responses to student entries.

You can read more about Dr. Groom’s experiences by checking out these links:

I think that Dr. Groom has had a stroke of instructional genius here!  What do you as teacher-librarians  think about this assignment?  Dr. Groom has agreed to send me a copy of the assignment guidelines; as soon as I receive them, I will add the document(s) to this post as a PDF document.

Buffy Hamilton


About Buffy J. Hamilton

I am a writing and Language Arts teacher who loves learning, literacy, stories, learning, dogs, poetry, fabulous shoes, and good lip gloss. I began my career as a high school English teacher in 1992 and then became a high school librarian and 2011 Library Journal Mover and Shaker before returning to the classroom in August 2016.

Posted on November 11, 2007, in Activities and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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