Wikipedia improves students' work

May 31, 2011, Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

A student writing an essay for their teacher may be tempted to plagiarize or leave facts unchecked. A new study shows that if you ask that same student to write something that will be posted on Wikipedia, he or she suddenly becomes determined to make the work as accurate as possible, and may actually do better research.

Brenna Gray, an instructor at Douglas College in New Westminster, B.C., was presenting the results of the study at the 2011 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

She became interested in why students seem to adopt some technological innovations (Wikipedia, for example) and reject things their schools would like them to use, such as the student-teacher interface Blackboard. Gray says it's easy to criticize Wikipedia because of the unstructured way it is set up.

She says despite its faults, it does promote solid values for its writers, including precise citations, accurate research, editing and revision.

"Those ideals are the ones we espouse as English instructors," she said.

She decided to get first-year students in an English class to write short biographies of Canadian writers that would then be posted on Wikipedia.

What she found was that the moment the students realized their work was going public in a forum over which they had no control, they took the work a lot more seriously. They became concerned, for example, with the of facts.

Gray says it's not only the fact that their work was going public that stimulated the students, it was the realization that in producing the Wikipedia entries they were acquiring skills that were transferable to other parts of their lives.

Gray says students, like most of the rest of us, are more time-crunched than ever. They have to prioritize, and are therefore reluctant to spend time learning skills that aren't useful outside school. That includes online tools like Blackboard, which they perceive as having no relevance to other parts of their life.

Because the Wikipedia skills are perceived as transferable, became interested in acquiring them. And they were willing to work to Wikipedia's standards.

Gray says teachers need to talk about and how it can be used.

"The purpose of my paper is to start a discussion about it," she said.

Explore further: English Wikipedia hosts three millionth article

Related Stories

UC Berkeley students help improve Wikipedia's credibility

November 8, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Ten public universities, including UC Berkeley, are collaborating in a 17-month pilot program, the WikiProject Public Policy Initiative, aimed at improving the quality of Wikipedia pages about public policy ...

Study suggests doctors could add to Wikipedia

April 30, 2009

(AP) -- Researchers are suggesting that doctors could be spending more time writing and editing Wikipedia pages on medical topics, despite questions that have been raised about the collaborative online encyclopedia's credibility.

Study finds major U.S. newspapers are warming up to Wikipedia

April 12, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Major newspapers in the United States are referencing Wikipedia more often and framing the online encyclopedia more positively in stories, according to a study by a pair of faculty researchers in the Virginia ...

Recommended for you

Study reveals patterns in STEM grades of girls versus boys

September 25, 2018

A new study, led by UNSW Sydney Ph.D. student Rose O'Dea, has explored patterns in academic grades of 1.6 million students, showing that girls and boys perform very similarly in STEM—including at the top of the class.

Chinese Cretaceous fossil highlights avian evolution

September 24, 2018

A newly identified extinct bird species from a 127 million-year-old fossil deposit in northeastern China provides new information about avian development during the early evolution of flight.

Ancient mice discovered by climate cavers

September 24, 2018

The fossils of two extinct mice species have been discovered in caves in tropical Queensland by University of Queensland scientists tracking environment changes.

The first predators and their self-repairing teeth

September 24, 2018

The earliest predators appeared on Earth 480 million years ago—and they even had teeth capable of repairing themselves. A team of palaeontologists led by Bryan Shirley and Madleen Grohganz from the Chair for Palaeoenviromental ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.