Using Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool: Tips & Best Practices from a Wiki Expert

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Wikipedia is probably the most popular and commonly used online encyclopedia in the world. People from a wide range of countries have created and edited Wikipedia pages.

Other than being an incredible source of information, have you ever wondered if and how Wikipedia can be used as a teaching tool in education settings?

I had the honor to conduct an hour-long Facebook live interview with a Wikipedia expert, Dr. Becky Carmichael. Becky has been using Wikipedia since 2011 and is actively involved with Wikipedia Education Foundation. In this article, I want to highlight a few useful step-by-step processes and resources that Becky shared with us during the live interview. All the ideas suggested below are Becky’s original ideas. I am here to narrate and paraphrase her teaching. And you can also watch the video below.

Who’s Dr. Becky Carmichael?

Becky serves as the Science Coordinator at the Communication Across the Curriculum College of Science, at Louisiana State University. She works with faculty to incorporate communication technologies into classes as assignments and teaching tools. Some of the tools that she has used include Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Wikipedia, podcasts, and science specific software.

Becky’s specialty is in using Wikipedia as a teaching tool and has been using it since since 2011.

Becky’s Wikipedia Journey

Becky attended a Wikipedia training in 2011, where she learned how to incorporate Wikipedia-based assignments into classes that meet course goals. Through these Wikipedia assignments, students are learning both the course content, and practicing how to write for multiple audiences. Becky shared that on Wikipedia, people can get up to 15 billion views within a month. Wow. That’s quite impressive.

When people search on Wikipedia, they are looking for information and answers to their questions. It is amazing to think that students can help facilitate that information-seeking and -gathering journey. Students or the general public sometimes perceive higher education as impractical or too detached from real-life scenarios. I can see how incorporating Wikipedia and encouraging students to contribute to people’s information-seeking and -gathering can help them feel that their work is tangible and has real-life impact.

A Three-Step Process to Become A Wikipedian

1️⃣ Create an account: By creating an account, you establish yourself as a Wikipedia user who is motivated to expand and share knowledge. After you have an account, you become a Wikipedian and can start to interact with other Wikipedians. Your account will also help you create a user page where you can share more information about yourself and start to edit articles.

This was somewhat an eye-opener for me. Although I have always prided myself on being a lifelong learner, it has never crossed my mind to become a registered Wikipedia user and to contribute to the public discourse and to help expand and share knowledge. So, Becky definitely inspired me to create my own account on Wikipedia. See the image below. It is super easy to do.

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Once you create an account, you can start to edit articles immediately. See the image below. On this page, it tells you the problems of the article and what needs to be fixed, as highlighted in the red rectangle.

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2️⃣ Once you have an account, you can add more about your personal interest and start to search what you are passionate about and then see how you can help make further contributions to the existing page.

I did a quick search on Social Media Pedagogy (using social media as a teaching tool), as this is my passion. It seems that no such page has ever been created. Yay, good for me. See the image blow.

I clicked on the red words “social media pedagogy” on the above page, and got directed to another page (see image below), which allows me to create the page for Social Media Pedagogy. This is pretty cool thinking that I might the founder of this page.

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3️⃣ Edit article: The only button you need to click to start editing is the “edit” button on the page. See the image below. After that, you are ready to go.

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Here are some things you can think about as Becky suggested. Can you add a citation or double check on the accuracy of existing citations? Can you explain a sentence better? Once you finish your editing, click on save. Then, you are done.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Incorporate Wikipedia into Your Class as A Teaching Tool

1️⃣ Identify your course goal: “What are the goals of your course? What content do you want to teach your students? What specific skill sets you want your students to develop from completing your course? Then, look at your course content and identify the parts that will help your students develop these skills.”

2️⃣ Train students to use Wikipedia: Show students the technical side of using Wikipedia, which can be as simple as showing the buttons to be clicked. Also, teach students how to interact within Wikipedia’s collaborative community.

3️⃣ Ask students to search for topics related to the class. In Becky’s case, as she is a science teacher, she has students search “hurricane and category,” “wildfire”.

4️⃣ Review the articles based on the search results. “Evaluate the content that is already existing. Identify if there are certain parts that need to be cited. In other words, identify what is already there and see how students can add citations. Also, see if certain parts are a direct copy-and-paste from another sources (here, you can work with students on paraphrasing.)”

From steps 1–4, you are helping students become “comfortable with the Wikipedia platform and the course materials.” The following steps further expand their skills.

5️⃣ Ask students to choose Wikipedia articles of interest to them and which are related to the course content. Then, require students to add more, such as a few sentences or a paragraph, to the article with supporting references.

6️⃣ Peer review. “Students give each other peer review within their sandbox, which is where students develop their actual content. Students give feedback to each other’s sandbox top page. Students can learn to engage in dialogue while they give each other peer review.” Becky mentioned that she also joins these conversations among the students.

7️⃣ Eventually, as students become more comfortable with the platform and course content, they will be required to add a significant amount of contribution to the article, such as major revisions, or adding images and several paragraphs.

Resources

✅ Wiki Education Foundation: It is to serve universities in the US and Canada. They have a wide range of resources. For example, they have different editing guides, in which Wiki Edu experts give the reader a step-by-step process of how to use Wikipedia as a student and a teacher.

✅ Tools and Resources for Teachers: Click here to get a comprehensive list of tools and resources for instructors from the Wiki Education Foundation.

✅ Becky’s sample Wikipedia Assignment: Click here to take a look. I also love how Becky takes her class assignments to the next level. For example, Becky’s students are going to collaborate with students from the University of Hong Kong to work on a Wikipedia project. What a great way to bring a global perspective to class assignments without the cost of studying abroad.

Conclusion

What a fascinating interview from Becky. I hope you learned as much as I did from reading this blog or watching the video. Becky is indeed a true Wikipedia expert and a great professor. I love how she walks her talk. I cannot wait to apply Wikipedia into my own classes.

I highly recommend you follow Becky on social media because of her wide range of expertise and experience in social media pedagogy, especially Wikipedia. You can connect with her on TwitterFacebook, Instagram (@beakerbjc), and LinkedIn.