Leveraging Wikipedia to Develop Students’ Writing Skills

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In most courses with some sort of research writing assignment, there’s a strongly worded prohibition against using Wikipedia. IT’S NOT A RELIABLE SOURCE! And measured by academic standards, it’s not. But faculty members Frances Di Lauro and Rebecca Johinke at the University of Sydney see these prohibitions as a wasted learning opportunity.

“In bringing Wikipedia into the classroom, discussing its strengths and weaknesses, and subsequently what constitutes research and peer review, we engage students in a dialogue about academic writing as a process and a product, while at the same time involving them in collaborative and participatory writing groups.” (p. 478)

Their well-referenced article describes various Wikipedia assignments used in an undergraduate writing course and a graduate course in magazines studies. It also contains a variety of information documenting that the Wikipedia of today is “a far more accurate storehouse of information than it was in its formative years. It now meets, if not surpasses, the accuracy of traditional specialist-built counterparts like Encyclopedia Britannica.” (p. 481) And that assertion is documented with research cited from Nature and other credible academic sources.

Wikipedia is a truly unique source. It’s gargantuan. By 2013, if assembled as a set of physical books, it would have totaled 15,930 volumes. According to Wikipedia Report Card, during the month of June 2015, 374,819,00 discrete visitors consulted articles in Wikipedia and that didn’t include articles accessed by via mobile apps. “The ‘epitome of crowdsourcing,’ Wikipedia is a unique encyclopedia that is peer-produced by a variety of users including ‘frequent and occasional contributors. . .specialists and generalists’ and a range of interdisciplinary scholars.”