Term Paper 2.0: Reinventing The College Essay Via Wikipidia

October 26, 2007

I just got out of a great session at Educause that I thought would add another wrinkle to earlier discussions of the value of Wikipedia. The two speakers Andreas Brockhaus and Martha Groom, had students in a environmental biology class write or significaltly edit Wikipedia articles in lue of a traditional essay assignment. (The full power point from their presentation is online.) The assignment is remarkibly similar to what CHNM’s Jeremy Boggs does with students in his History 100 seminar, what can I say, great minds think alike!

The power point does a decent job and is relativly self explanitory, if you have a few minutes it might be worth your attention. But here were her findings.

The Good:

“Students gained perspective on the value of credible sources, and complete citations
Peer review became a more purposeful effort; good critiques more highly valued
Students invested more in their work, felt greater ownership, and experienced greater returns for their efforts
Products were generally better written than typical term papers”

The Less than good:

“Too much choice led to some poor postings (which were deleted)
Timing — Publishing once at the end of course
May be better to publish in stages
Posting deadline with at least one week left to course
Students needed extra guidance to create high quality articles in encyclopedia style
More instructor time required to shepherd students through entire process”

The Verdict:

I think its an amazing idea. Take for example one of the products, an article on deforestation during the Roman period. It’s a very solid piece of work, and the best benefit of all, class work has an impact: Google Deforestation Roman and its the number one hit. Just think of the possibilities!

Why fix something that isn’t broken? Wikipedia vs. Citizendium

October 1, 2007

xkcd's take on WikipediaI understand that the Wikipedia has its problems, but I consistently find it to be one of the most thorough and quickest way to get information, further I love how transparent that information. You can read the arguments about the content on the given page and evaluate its credibility.

For the sake of argument, last week was the first time I had heard about the Jena 6 case. I heard a discussion of the incident on NPR on the way home from work. Once I got home I wanted to know more about the incident, but I found most of the news coverage to be thin, and it often repeated the same few details. Lucky for me the Wikipedia was right at hand. Take a look at how great this article is on the topic, spend some time considering how through the page is, and how many news pieces it links to. One of the most interesting points in the discussion for me is when various Wikipedians begin discussing the credibility of statements from NPR. All reporting, and all encyclopedia pieces represent a point of view, it is impossible for us offer a completely objective account (it is quite telling that the Wikipedia page on objectivity is in need of a expert on the subject), so isn’t it ideal to have a conversation about the decisions in a article upfront and avaliable to any readers. If you have a problem with a Wikipedia article, bring it to the discussion page. Furthermore, consider the value of this history page for historians of the future trying to unpack the meaning of such and incident. (If you have time to read through the entire discussion page on the jena 6 it is well worth it.)

So we return to my title. The Wikipedia has been unbelievably successful. It already has systems in place to limit vandalism, so why is the Citizendium trying to fix something that just does not seem to be broken?