Photo: Flickr user lifeontheedge

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Wikipedia as a teaching tool

Andy Carvin has a good idea about using Wikipedia as a teaching tool. There are really only two snips I'd say differently:

Take a group of fifth grade students and break them into groups, with each group picking a topic that interests them. Any topic. Dolphins, horses, hockey, you name it.

Not any topic -- dolphins and horses are giant articles: 15 and 40 kilobytes, respectively. Hockey is smaller, at 3.3 KB, but it might be better to concentrate on a fringe issue that everyone knows about: a local issue, in other words. Only 20 or so Michigan high schools have articles so far -- what about all the others? (Ah, Community High. I still wish my name had been pulled from the hat.)

Update: I've changed my mind. Pages about schools are often never looked at by non-students, and so there may be no moderating influence on ... er, juvenile behavior, even if only a minority of students use the page as a platform for jokes, etc. Instead, have the students edit pages about books, movies, tv shows, or celebrities.

Once the Wikipedia entry has been fact-checked, the teacher creates a Wikipedia login for the class.

Bad idea -- it undercuts the dual collaborate-but-be-responsible-for-your-work Wikipedia ethos: all the articles are jointly written, but by specific, individual authors. Give each student their own login, instead.


Andy Carvin said...

Hi Ben,

I'd prefer if the students posted their own ideas on Wikipedia individually as well, since that's more Wikipedia-friendly, but the fact of the matter is that many schools ban this kind of individualized online communication. Because of various concerns about cyber stalkers, cyber bullying and liability in general, students often don't have their own logins or emails. To make this idea palatable to a lot of educators would mean buidling in certain compromises that don't violate a school's Internet Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), which parents generally sign at the start of each school year.

So, all communication must often be mediated by the teacher. A good system for learning? Hardly. But a reality of the modern classroom? Unfortunately.

Ben Yates said...

Hm, alright. Too bad. On the other hand, I suppose there's nothing stopping interested students from edititing wikipedia articles at home. (I don't know how many Pokemon articles I've had to add commas to.)

Tom Hoffman said...

Ah yes, this sort of thing is what I had in mind. Nice work.

Tom Hoffman said...

Oh, also, Tim Lauer has reported to me that Wikipedia editors in the past have removed entries on individual schools (which doesn't seem entirely irrational to me, because that would ultimately add an immense number of entries that would likely be rather dull). But perhaps that has changed.

Ben Yates said...

It depends on the school, of course. But I think as wikipedia grows, fills in with important info where it's needed, and becomes less attached to emulating its printed ancestors, the constraints against articles of only minor or local relevence will lessen. After all, there aren't any real limits on space, and it's unlikely that pages like "saddle creek high school" will clog up the navigation elsewhere -- they'll be linked where people who are interested will see them, like at the "saddle creek" article.

I can also see more integration with Wikicities happening as that community develops (though I'm not positive that model will work as well), which could open things up a lot.

Mohamed Taher said...

Good work. Keep it up.
I have cited you in my blog.
Best, Mohamed