Ever since Wikipedia’s inception in 2001, high school and college students have turned to it for information-gathering and research when completing their assignments or writing papers.
Professors and teachers scoffed at Wikipedia from the beginning, forbidding students to cite information from the website, and telling students that the open source web-based online encyclopedia was not a reliable source for factual information.
Ten years later, it seems professors may need to sing a different tune, or at least approach assignments in a different way. Teachers may need to make Wikipedia an integral part of their students’ assignments.
Brenna Gray, an instructor at Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C. assigned her first-year students in an English class to write short biographies of Canadian writers that she told them would later be posted on Wikipedia.
“What she found was that the moment the students realized their work was going public in a forum over which they had no control, they took the work a lot more seriously. They became concerned, for example, with the accuracy of facts,” according to a press release on Gray’s findings.
Gray purported that it's not only the fact that the students were going to be held accountable for their work that stimulated them to perform better, but also “it was the realization that in producing the Wikipedia entries they were acquiring skills that were transferable to other parts of their lives,” according to the release.
Gray’s students took their assignment more seriously and worked harder at it, she said, because the Wikipedia skills are perceived as transferable to their daily lives. The Wikipedia skills they were developing and honing during the course of their assignment will ultimately help them outside the classroom. And that, after all, is what students focus most on – acquiring practical skills they use outside of school.
Gray presented the results of the study at the 2011 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.