Wiki-gating Update

I’ve been using the wikigation assignment in two different classes…American West, which is an upper division history class, and World Civ, which is a lower division general education class. I have observed some interesting things.

Thing 1: Students do read the assigned wikipedia pages in preparation for in-class discussions. One student wrote in his learning log:

I really am enjoying the way this class is set up. It’s a really fun and interesting way to learn. These wiki hunts really make you think and you have to pick and choose what you believe is most important within the information then share that information with your group and once you hear what everyone else got out of the hunt you have learned the topic without a 60 minute lecture.

Thing 2: The critical thinking questions designed to help guide student reading toward critical thinking might get in the way of content acquisition. For instance a student wrote in her learning log:

This week, i think i got a hang of the WIKI hunts better and really found those helpful. i focused more on what the articles were saying and what i got from them. rather than on answering those questions we were given to help us. i think some of those questions confused me, therefore it made it harder for me to understand and focus on what i was reading.

This is something to grapple with in light of the intended outcomes for the assignment.  What do I really want the assignment to do…provide an opportunity for students to think critically think or to gather information with which they will later have an opportunity to process (as in during the class discussion).  I’m inclined at this point to think that it should be the latter.  I think this was a case of not clearly thinking through the process necessary to achieve the outcome.

Thing 3: Some students are able to see that Wikipedia is a very uneven source that suffers from credibility issues:

The one thing that I would say that is bad or not effective is the second wikipedia hunt for this week.  The Israel and Judah project is a little too much information and had too much contraversy to be discussed without a professor present to give some feedback.  I would also think that wikipedia is not the source to go to to learn about it either.

Another wrote

Finally, a few more comments about Wikipedia. I still really do not care for it. I never feel prepared after having read the article, even after looking at the history and some of the links. For the Homestead Act which we will talk about on Monday, I went to other sources as well, and I feel like a have a much better grasp. The thing about most Wikipedia articles is that there is often little background information. The article is not contextualized. However, that is what the links are supposed to be for. But those links have no background either, and it’s just a vicious cycle. I mean, I can get the basic information, but I can’t really find out what I deem to be the really important stuff.

This was one of my upper division students.  I encouraged her previously to get in and edit the entry if she found a problem…to be part of the solution rather than just railing against the machine.  She then related:

I did start editing Wikipedia this last week though. I must say it become rather addictive. Once you decide to correct one grammar mistake, it is amazing how many more one can find. I actually ending up completely re-wording most of one article. There was a nice sense of satisfaction, but I wonder how the personal who wrote it originally felt.

She continued this a week later…

Finally, I have to say that making my first major edit to Wikipedia this week has been very rewarding. The article about the Lincoln County War truly was awful when I read it. It made absolutely no sense and, after I looked up information from some more reliable sources, I realized that the article provided no sense at all of the actual story. I’m pretty sure I’ve read freshman fine arts papers that were better than this article. (And that’s really saying something, because those papers are excruciating.) Anyway, the article is still not great. It doesn’t have any flow, because I haven’t yet made any changes to the end of the article. I couldn’t find the information I needed to do some fact checking. Several people on the discussion page had pointed it out. I’m debating if I should bother correcting the grammar there, or just wait until I get a certain book in on inter-library loan to check the facts. And the opening section about the beginning of the Lincoln County War is much too long, but I haven’t yet figured out how to create a new section within the article. There are a lot of buttons and controls that one can press and I haven’t quite figured them all out yet. But I just couldn’t help feeling a perhaps inordinate amount of satisfaction when my fellow class members starting talking about our topic for the in day in the terms that I had chosen to describe it. I had taken something that was confusing and made it understandable… then of course the evil part of my nature rather wondered if I shouldn’t have left it like it was and made those lazy boys figure it out for themselves. But overall it was a nice experience to not just complain about “whoever wrote the article” and then move on.

Something tells me this assignment has real potential.  Here we see the power of wikipedia’s weaknesses to inspire and thus, like the Dao, reveal its strength.