Rediscovering Wikipedia for Education (Week 7: Wikis and learning)

wikipedia1I must say I was not aware of the power of Wikipedia until this week. I was very familiar with Wikipedia before, but not so familiar with it’s use for education. I found myself on a digital journey of rediscovering Wikipedia through Schweder and Wissick’s “The Power of Wikis” from the Journal of Special Education and the DMLcentral article on Wadewitz. Schweder and Wissick’s article was a nice, light read. It was a good transition into Losh’s article about Adrianne Wadewitz, How to Use Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool: Adrianne Wadewitz.

Schweder and Wissick break down educational wikis into four categories and provided some great examples of each (which I also listed a few that they mentioned):

  1. collaboration
  2. sharing
  3. organization
  4. instruction

I liked this article because it was short, sweet, and to the point. It gave a brief description of each category, showcasing specific wikis, which provided to be great resources that I listed a few of them above. The category that caught my eye was organization and their shout-out to “techies”. Schweder and Wissick say that “as ‘techies,’ we are constantly bookmarking Web sites that we think might be useful to us now and in the future” and that “we also like to share information with others that we find.” It’s as if they were describing me. I am always bookmarking and saving websites – I even started a links page in this blog that I just renamed “My edtech Toolbox“. I just might have to create my own wiki to collect and share web sites and links!

What really got me going was the article about Adrianne Wadewitz. I was saddened to discover from her Wikipedian page that she passed away a few months ago. As tragic as this is, Wadewitz will always be remembered by her advocacy for adopting Wikipedia in education, fighting for feminism in Wikipedia, and from what I can gather, her amazing passion for education and life and her love of rock climbing. According to Losh, “[Wadewitz] helped write a helpful brochure from the Wikimedia Foundation on ‘How to Use Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool‘.” I also stumbled upon a video on my journey to rediscovering Wikipedia about “The Impact of Wikipedia” that features Wadewitz. I discovered a whole new world of Wikipedia. I never knew about Wiki awards, which very much resemble badging, and badging is a strong interest of mine. There are also userboxes that you can add to your Wikipedian page, that are used to give a sense of personality to a person. Check out Adrianne Wadewitz’s collection of userboxes on her page. I find all of this very interesting. Everything combined together could almost resemble a professional portfolio of accomplishments.

Back to Losh’s article on DMLcentral, I especially liked, and found most useful, Wadewitz’s examples of common mistakes that instructors make.

  • When asked to identify the most common mistakes instructors make when assigning students to contribute to Wikipedia, Wadewitz argued that “the biggest one is not understanding that the encyclopedia is made up of editors.”  While an “old-fashioned” reference work like Britannica can be approached naively as “just entries that you go to and read” without serious consequences, “the essence of Wikipedia is the community,” which means respecting “its efforts” and understanding how “a global group of editors” might “work collaboratively” and “to think about it ahead of time.”
  • When asked to identify common mistakes made on the side of instructors, she pointed out that “not taking enough time to design an assignment” could be a fatal error committed by novices, particularly those who are excited by the potential for participatory learning.  Diving right in and learning by trial and error “works for a lot of technology,” but “with Wikipedia you are engaging with a lot of people on the other end,” so you need to articulate feasible learning goals that respect existing community practices.

These are great takeaways from Wadewitz. I think these common mistakes illustrate just how knowledge building occurs in wikis — through collaboration over a network of global editors. And once an educator understands just how this happens, they will be able to create more well-rounded and engaging lessons for the students.

My only concern when it comes to group projects involving wikis is that only one person can edit a page at once. If that’s the case, how does the group communicate? Do they make a comment on the page and wait for a reply, which could come a few hours or days later? Do they use another Web 2.0 tool for communication purposes? I am not aware of any messaging service within wiki sites. What if more than one person wanted to make edits during the same time? I feel as if this would not be possible and therefore wikis would prove to be inefficient when real-time editing and group work is needed, and this is where Google Docs fills in the gap. Although Docs does not create a full-encompassing, web-hosted website, I guess tradeoffs come with everything. It even appears that the Google wiki does not allow simultaneous editing either.

As my blog post title hints, I have rediscovered Wikipedia. I was always aware of Wikipedia and used it on a regular basis for a quick reference or to look up information about a movie or an actor. But I have never considered its use for education. I must say what I have found is promising and I can’t wait to explore wikis and Wikipedia even further.


5 thoughts on “Rediscovering Wikipedia for Education (Week 7: Wikis and learning)

  1. Zach, great takeaways on Wikipedia.

    I too feel compelled to create my own wiki to store all of my favorite bookmarks, and great start with your edtech Toolbox!

    Before reading the article on Wikipedia, the full spectrum of application in education eluded me, and I really enjoy how you dove into the Wikipedian page, and the accompanying userboxes. I did not realize that these structures existed, but they help to establish identity and accountability to contributors, and the changes that they make to the site.

    Valid concern on using Wikipedia within the context of a group. Even with the ability to communicate, I wonder if it would be a step backward? Granted, content could be created and refined in real time, but I could also see organized groups wreaking havoc on the system. I like the focus on the individual contributions, and the way it helps show the progression of thoughts through tracking edits and allowing each voice to be heard.


  2. Zach,

    Great recap and commentary on both pieces. Many people are now embracing Wikipedia’s potential in education and elsewhere. My respect has increased, too, especially after reading Wikipedia’s documentation on their own mission and what they are and are not. It would probably be beneficial for learners to take a look at the page so that they can have a better understanding of how to best use Wikipedia.

    As for the simultaneous editing, I’ve noticed that, at least in terms of visuals, learners aren’t as engaged on wikis for this kind of communication because it looks somewhat dry. The visual design is of course intentional, since it is a reference work, but people might prefer communicating with a different Web 2.0, then doing line edits in the wiki.


  3. @Phil, thanks for pointing that out. I was having trouble with the “talk” function though. Is that the same as the discussion posts at the bottom of the page? I found that my comments were not posting, or at least not showing up. So on the one page I clicked post a few times, and still nothing. I noticed other people having problems too, so I figured I would clear my cache and cookies and voila! All six of my comments showed up on the same page and now every wiki page loads a lot faster than before. I’m not sure why this is but something was all funky with my wiki until I cleared my cache and cookies. I’m interested to see if this happens again.

    @Sam, ah yes, reading about Adrianne was tragic. It just shows how precious life is and how important it is to do everything we can now to make an impact and leave something behind. Adrianne was able to do that. I’m also glad you found my questions and comments about group work on wiki interesting. I’m also anxious to see how the dynamics of our wiki group assignment plays out. I can’t say I’m sold yet, but I’m keeping an open mind going into it!


  4. Zach,
    I also included an outline of Schweder and Wissick’s four categories in my reflection so it was interesting to see how we provided insight to these categories in different ways. I think the links you provided were most helpful because they demonstrate real world implications.
    I was surprised to read that Adrianne Wadewitz passed away a few months ago  but I’m also thankful that you shared this.
    I really found the part of your post where you talk about wikis and group work interesting because I haven’t had this experience working in a wikki before. The questions you ask got me thinking and will be a good to have in mind going into the group wiki assignment.


  5. Regarding your question on how different Wikipedia editors collaborate … Each entry has a Talk page where they can explain the rationale for their changes, debate, etc


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