Monday, April 02, 2012

Wiki Editing for University Classes

This came over the intertubes from H-Asia:

April 2, 2012

Wiki Writing?
From: Richard Jensen

The folks at Wikipedia are promoting the idea of university classes incorporating Wikipedia projects. That is the students would made additions to Wikipedia articles, for class credit. The professor would monitor the quality, and the folks at Wikipedia would provide all sorts of technical help.

I'm one of those helpers--and I've been editing a lot of Wikipedia articles, including some on India and Japan. Looking at hundreds of history articles, my take is that the average Wiki contributor is a male undergraduate who is mostly interested in military or political history, and is generally not familiar with social or cultural history, nor with historiography, nor with the scholarly literature. The articles need help. Since they are the #1 source used by students any upgrading would be a public service. But it also may teach the students to write and cite--and get instant feedback, with their work actually published for the world to see.

The program is in startup mode and is operating mostly in the USA right now. The project covers all academic disciplines, and has been endorsed by the Sociology and Psychology associations, which have
activities underway.

There will be an online training program for teachers this summer, plus a help desk and maybe even on-campus help. I edit a private discussion list you can join. Anyone interested in giving it a try
for next year should contact me at

Richard Jensen

There is some information on the Wikipedia program at

on the sociologists see
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Anonymous said...

That is the students would made additions to Wikipedia articles, for class credit.

Wikipedia - the toilet wall is more reliable.

Any teacher that lets students use
wiki for research should be fired.

Readin said...

Wikipedia is reliable enough for most purposes. Like every source of information, you have to balance convenience against reliability and you have to watch out for certain kinds of biases and mistakes.

While I wouldn't trust Wikipedia for information that I want to put in a newspaper article, I would trust if for basic information about a country (population, language, capital city) for use in a political discussion over lunch. I would consider such information more reliable than, for example, what a friend tells me based on his memory of high school geography.

For a middle school or high school class, I would tell the kids that Wikipedia is decent place to start, but that all the information they put in their paper needs to be backed up by a source other than Wikipedia (and if the Wikipedia article is up to Wikipedia standards then it should point to those sources).

It irritates me when people blast Wikipedia for not being perfect. Few useful things in life are perfect - but we use them anyway. The trick is knowing which tool is appropriate for which tasks.

For 3rd and 4th year college students writing in their field of study, I think Wikipedia should be avoided. Rather than going to Wikipedia (or even Encyclopedia Brittanica) as a source of information, those students should be learning to write the papers Wikipedia and Brittanica will use as a source.

Readin said...

The idea of a college class getting credit for a Wikipedia article disturbs me. What happens when a 300 student college class at the Beijing University of Manufactured History and Correct Thoughts takes over the Taiwan article, overwhelming other voiced with their numbers?

Bias is already a problem with Wikipedia. It can only get worse if large classes led by a biased teacher begin working together on articles.

yankdownunder said...

Wikipedia is reliable enough for most purposes.

I would trust if for basic information about a country

You don't trust the CIA?

Wiki is trash. There may be some flecks of gold mixed in but not
enough to keep it from the trash

Readin said...

The three links you provide to people complaining all have something in common - the complaints are all for articles about relatively unknown people. At least one of them, John Derbyshire, the one I know the most about, is a controversial who has taken positions that seriously offend a large segment of the population. Yet in his case the article was pretty accurate - his large complaint was that he put a lot of working into dressing it up and his work was rejected (it was rejected because one of Wikipedia's rules is that the subject of an article doesn't get to write about himself).

You found 3 problems - it isn't that hard to find problems in everyday news reporting but I bet you still read news articles.

You read Michael Turton's blogs even though much of his information comes from those same news articles (which we know are in accurate because he so often points out the inaccuracies :) ).

Some rules for reading Wikipedia:
1. Highly notable topics will have more eyeballs scrutinizing and are more likely to be accurate. E.g. you'll get better information about George Washington than about John Derbyshire.

2. Highly controversial topics will have more people trying to inject their beliefs and politics so you have to have your bias detector set on sensitive. E.g. watch for bias on topics like Taiwan, evolution, Islam, communism, capitalism.

3. Sometimes people just like to cause trouble. Watch for extraordinary claims.

4. If a fact hits you funny and you have reason to doubt it, check the recent history of the article to see if it was recently vandalized.

5. If you have questions about either bias or facts, you should check the Discussion of the article to see what has been discussed and what is still being discussed. Even just looking at the length of the discussion page will give you some idea of how controversial the topic is and how much trouble the authors are having agreeing on the text.

Again, it's not that much different from reading the news where when you see an extra-ordinary claiming being made, especially if it makes conservatives look bad, you should double-check the accuracy.

Readin said...

"You don't trust the CIA?"

Is that a joke?

Anyway, while I used to use that factbook in Wikipedia articles, I now wonder whether it is a reliable enough source. I've seen things in the factbook that looked like the product of a high schooler doing shallow research.