Wikipedia as a training ground in science communication

by Stephanie Chasteen on January 11, 2011

I had this idea a while back — wouldn’t it be cool to use Wikipedia as an outlet for some of my urge to write about particular topics that I was learning about?  For example, I saw that the entry for physics education research is pretty paltry. Well, it looks like the chemists are away ahead of me.  (Or, if not ahead, at least they acted on their impulses, whereas here I sit, with too much on my plate.)  A recent article in the Journal of Chemistry Education describes a class project that required graduate students to edit entries in Wikipedia.  They took topics in Wikipedia that weren’t well-covered, and together crafted a more detailed entry, including references and figures, aimed at the general public.  Seems like it worked well; students felt they learned about the topics they wrote about, and it appears that they paid attention to real-world applications and clear explanations, leading to engaging entries.

I think this is really cool stuff — so simple, and yet why aren’t we all doing it?  What an authentic way to engage students in whatever topic you’re teaching.  I’m curious if it would work well below the graduate level, however; students need a high level of content knowledge and maturity in order to do this assignment well.  Once they’ve reached that level, however, what a great avenue to professional development.  Graduate students don’t get enough training in writing and teaching.

Tip of the hat to Dristen Mueller and Jake Yeston of Science Magazine, who featured this article a little while ago.

Full reference:

Improving Science Education and Understanding through Editing Wikipedia, Cheryl L. Moy, Jonas R. Locke, Brian P. Coppola, and Anne J. McNeil, J. Chem. Educ., 2010, 87 (11), pp 1159–1162

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Rundquist January 11, 2011 at 9:01 pm

I’ve thought about this often, the first time after reading about an english teacher assigning a wikipedia article as HW. My biggest concern is the same as yours, the level required to do a good job. Of course, you could always have them do a page on a particular experiment they’ve done.

Dianoguy January 12, 2011 at 1:18 am

Genius!!! I may do this, just for fun/practice…

Tracy January 16, 2011 at 2:33 am

This is a really good idea!!

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