Wikipedia in College: A Bad Idea?

I have had recurring discussions with my colleagues regarding our students’ use of Wikipedia in their writing projects. Some of my colleagues, whose opinions I respect a great deal, categorically forbid their students from using Wikipedia in research-based writing projects. Others will allow some use of Wikipedia references provided those are not the majority of references cited by the students. Still other professors take the position that Wikipedia articles are more likely to be accurate than other encyclopedias because of the open and ongoing nature of the way content in Wikipedia is edited, so, to the extent that encyclopedias are ok, Wikipedia is probably the best choice.

With these thoughts in mind, I was particularly interested to read an interesting report by John Orlando, Ph.D. titled “Wikipedia in the Classroom: Tips for Effective Use”. Dr. Orlando begins his article by stating: “Most academics consider Wikipedia the enemy and so forbid their students from using Wikipedia for research. But here’s a secret that they don’t want you to know—we all use Wikipedia, including those academics.” I think he’s probably right that most of us in academia do use Wikipedia – at least occasionally. And why not? After all, Wikipedia is constantly being scrutinized by knowledgeable people, many in academia, who are eager to ferret out any inaccuracies.

In a widely publicized report,the well respected journal Nature compared Wikipedia to the Encyclopedia Britannica online and found that “In the end,the journal [Nature] found just eight serious errors, such as general misunderstandings of vital concepts, in the articles. Of those, four came from each site. They did, however, discover a series of factual errors, omissions or misleading statements. All told, Wikipedia had 162 such problems, while Britannica had 123.” Not surprisingly, Encyclopedia Britannica objected to the results and Nature responded by saying they stood by their results and would not print a retraction.

The part of Orlando’s article that was of most interest to me was his report of how Professor Beasley-Murray used Wikipedia with his class. Professor Beasley-Murray challenged his students to create articles that would be accepted by Wikipedia and – this was a key part of the challenge – students whose articles earned a Wikipedia rating of “Good Article” would receive an A in the course and any student whose article received a Wikipedia rating of “Featured Article” would receive an A+. This was a pretty high bar as, according to Wikipedia, 1 in 359 articles reach “Good Article” status, as judged by impartial reviewers and only 1 in 1150 is given the “Featured Article” designation. The students in Beasley-Murray’s class were clearly engaged by the project as, Orlando reports, “The students, who worked in groups of two or three, produced three Featured Articles and eight Good Articles, an exceptional result given how few articles achieve these levels.”

Also, with respect to building student interest and engagement by employing Wikipedia, Orlando describes other Wikipedia projects: “One interesting site is Wikiversity, which provides a space for hosting courses or other content. An instructor can build a course page with syllabi, lesson plans, and other material for the students to access whenever they need it. That page can also be linked to other educational material such as videos.

Best yet, students can be given editing access to the page to add their own material. Groups can be assigned to add material to the course, such as resources for further exploration of the topics. Another option is to have the students build self-tests on the material using free web-based quiz functions for future students. This will enlist the students in an ongoing project of developing knowledge that outlives their particular class and is passed on to future generations of students.”

Wikipedia in the classroom – maybe not for everybody, but maybe an idea worth considering. What do you think?

Wikipedia in the Classroom: Tips for Effective Use
Researching With Wikipedia
Nature responds to Britannica’s claim of bias

Assessing Your Online Class

Spring semester 2010 has just concluded and it’s way too early to begin planning for summer school! Or, maybe it’s not too early. In this blog post I want to share an interesting list of tips for doing an online class the right way. This list of tips or suggestions was developed at Humboldt State University and is titled
A Checklist for Facilitating Online Courses.”

The checklist identifies four important roles for an online instructor: managerial, pedagogical, social, and technical. For each of those roles the checklist lists specific tasks. In addition, the checklist groups the specific tasks by the time in the semester in which they should be done. For example, in the Before The Class Begins time period, a list of managerial, pedagogical, social, and technical tasks that should be considered before the class starts are presented. Other tasks in each category are associated with During The First Week, Throughout The Course,and During The Final Week.

A major value of this “best practices” guideline is that it helps us to think through the process of delivering a robust,well thought-out online class. If you take the time to go through the document you will undoubtedly get some good ideas about things to include in your online class. And even if you decide not to use many of the ideas in this guideline, just reading through them will almost certainly stimulate you to think of other things to do in your online class.

What are some of your “best practices” tips – one or two things you’ve found to be very successful in your online class?

Twitter in Academia?

My teaching with technology comment this time was stimulated by a conversation I had with another instructor who knew I teach online classes. His daughter was going to take a class at Palomar and he asked my opinion about online versus on-campus classes. After listing the pros and cons of taking an online class, I concluded by saying “If someone can take a class online or on-campus, I almost always recommend that he/she take an on-campus class.” The reason is that the social dynamic in an on-campus class cannot easily be replicated in an online class.

Shortly after having that conversation I read an article published in the Journal of Information Systems about using Twitter in higher education. We’ve all heard or read about people using Twitter to comment about immediate, ongoing events such as during natural disasters and political events but is there a place for Twitter in education? After all, the 140 character limit that Twitter imposes encourages short, ungrammatically constructed posts and discourages deeper, reflective discussions. Or so I thought.

After reading some articles about how professors are using Twitter in higher education though, I am starting to change my mind. I’ll mention two articles that influenced me to reconsider my bias against using Twitter in higher education.

Dunlap and Lowenthal in Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to Enhance Social Presence, argue that Twitter can be a valuable tool to increase “social presence” in an online class and point out the positive correlations that exist between (a) social presence and student engagement in the class and (b) with student satisfaction in the class. The authors cite 10 constructive ways they have used Twitter in their online class. One example: A student, puzzled by something she read in the textbook or with a class assignment, tweets (posts) her question to the class from her mobile phone. within 10 minutes she receives two clarifying responses. The ability to tweet and receive tweets from anywhere is very powerful.

Dave Parry, blogging at AcademHack,was initially very skeptical about using Twitter in education,and now argues for its educational value. Parry uses Twitter with his on-campus class and provides a number of examples of how he believes Twitter has enhanced the students’ experience of the class. One of the first observations Parry made was that communications among students increased – both inside and outside the classroom as a result of Twitter. Parry found that Twitter enabled students to develop “more productive classroom conversations” and become more engaged with each other, both inside and outside of the classroom.

Bottom line for me: While not yet ready to drink the Twitter cool-aid, I now see how others have used it to promote their educational goals and I am ready to experiment with it myself. What are your views: To tweet or not to tweet?

Audio of Blog:

First Day of Class

When I first started teaching a Palomar College I asked one of the senior professors in my departmentwhat he did the first day of class. He said “Oh, you just hand out the syllabus and tell them to go buy their books.” Many years later and now a senior professor myself, I recognize this as very poor advice.

So, with the first day of the new semester right around the corner, I would like to offer some different words of advice to consider. First as many have observed, we only have one chance to make a first impression. With that in mind consider the following points gleaned from surveys of successful instructors who were asked what they would advise instructors to do the first day of class.

  • visit the classroom a week before class to make sure it is set up the way you want and has the equipment (i.e. data projector and internet) you’ll need
  • arrive early the first day and write your name and course name on the board
  • begin by introducing yourself and telling the students a little bit about yourself
  • be well organized and prepared: explain the course organization, requirements, assignments, and policies – it is a mistake to simply direct students to “read the syllabus”
  • on the first day use some of the teaching methods you will use throughout the semester such as giving a short lecture, showing a video clip and asking for responses, arrange small group discussions if you do this during your classes, use the “clickers” to get students actively involved right from the beginning – give students a good idea of what your class will be like
  • make sure you use the full amount of class time as this communicates that class time is valuable and something important will be accomplished each class period

What about with large lecture classes? See the videos linked below to observe how one award-winning professor handles large classes (the link will open in a new window).

Welcoming Students on the First Day