Written by on October 27, 2014

Using Wikipedia in education

Do you use Wikipedia? And if so, do you cite it?

Cal Poly Professor Jane Lehr (Women and Gender Studies/Ethnic Studies) asked this question at “Open Access Week 2014 – Teaching and Learning with Wikipedia” on October 24. Most people raised their hand to the first question. However, almost no hands were raised for the second question.

Professor Lehr, along with Cal Poly professors Laura Freberg (Psychology and Child Development) and Sandra Clement (Biological Sciences) presented about their experiences using Wikipedia in their classes. Then Robin Parent from the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology led a discussion after the presentations.

The Wikipedia debate

Most of us use Wikipedia on regular basis. It’s great for getting information about popular subjects in a quick, easy way. However, most of us will not cite or admit to using Wikipedia, because of the negative image Wikipedia has with some people, especially teachers and professors. This results in what some call the “Wikipedia Closet”.

Some say that Wikipedia is a great resource to utilize and share information, others say that it is unreliable because anyone can post or change an article.

Using Wikipedia in the classroom

Professors Lehr and Clement co-teach a women and gender studies class where students utilize Wikipedia for many aspects of the class. As examples, students explore the under-representation of women in the STEM field and the few number of women who are Wikipedia contributors.

One of the assignments in the class is to compare two Wikipedia articles. Students find one article about a famous male figure in the STEM fields and another about a female in the STEM fields. Their students compare the articles to see if male and female scientists are portrayed differently on Wikipedia. Students in the class also get to contribute to existing Wikipedia articles.

Professor Freberg also teaches a class where students are able to engage with Wikipedia by submitting corrections to existing articles and even creating their own articles about a particular subject.

“There’s an epiphany from students where they think, ‘I can change this,'” Laura said. This epiphany helps them to appreciate both sides of the Wikipedia debate.

At the beginning of the class, students tended to believe everything they read on Wikipedia. After this experience, they became more skeptical, Laura said.

The discussion

This discussion, led by Robin Parent, brought up a few points to consider when looking at how Wikipedia can be used in education. For example, are we missing an opportunity by not embracing Wikipedia more in academia? There is a lot of information on Wikipedia, and, unlike some other sources, there is no pay-wall for Wikipedia so the information is free.

What are your thoughts? If you’re a student, would you consider citing Wikipedia in a class? Or if you are a professor/teacher, would you let your students cite Wikipedia in their research papers?

Read more on jane lehr, kennedy library, laura freberg, open access week 2014, robin parent, sandra clement, Wikipedia, and wikipedia debate.