back to article Canadian prof: Wikipedia makes kids study harder

A Canadian English prof says that the use of Wikipedia, in defiance of accepted wisdom, makes students produce better work. This is achieved, however, not by the kids finding stuff out on the notoriously unreliable site, but rather by getting them to write material for it. Fear of criticism by the obsessive Wiki-fiddler …

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Hmmm

Very demotivating for the students who will watch their hard work turn to the usual semi-literate wikibollocks in a matter of weeks but full marks for creative lesson-planning.

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Where's the study?

Two days ago, I asked Dr. Gray to share the methodology and results of her study. I would like to see whether or not she employed any sort of blind test/control methodology, or whether she biased the project by anticipating an outcome then looking for confirmation through her observations and her observations alone. There was no evidence on the conference website that she presented anything to the conference. She has not replied to me. An administrative assistant at the conference also said that she would look into getting me the study report, and I'm still waiting. Invariably, these breathless Wikipedia-related studies seem to be conducted by "true believers", with little attention to whether their mode and methodology will align with reality.

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Headmaster

@Gregory Kohs: experiments in teaching and assessment

So long as the experiment was conducted in an ethical manner with the consent and involvement of her students no doubt critical evaluation of Dr Gray's work by others will follow. I imagine she'll have her colleagues and external examiners to persuade at the exam board or equivalent process at her University for starters, ( likely to be strongly influenced by assessment appeals if any of her students considered the process to be unfair). But why on earth shouldn't this kind of experiment precede critical evaluation and confirmation by others whether the results are repeatable given that experiment first and review later is how much if not most new knowledge is developed in practice ?

I shouldn't need to point out to you the academic value associated with the development of critical thinking in students. But how to expose students to this in practice ? It's a thought constantly on my mind as I assess too much undergraduate work sorely lacking in this area.

Isn't it possible that Dr Gray's motivation was driven more by a desire to develop critical faculties in her students than to appear to be ticking all the methodological rectitude boxes required within the perception of research-fund monopolising conference paper-mill habituees ? But what seems most absurd concerning your outburst is that given you expect Dr Gray to pass muster in respect of critical review, why on earth should she be expected to jump through arbitrary hoops of your construction in this regard simply because her initial findings suggest her student's work benefits from critical review also ?

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Mushroom

Two days ago! Holy smokes!

As a researcher, I deal with important e-mails first. If somebody I don't recognize, e-mailing from a non-edu or ac (or other interested parties) e-mail, asks for a lot of information, I would probably ignore him as well.

Also, two days, give her a chance. Jesus. People with jobs sometimes have important things to do, especially as she presumably is still at the conference...

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@copsewood

Sorry that I have reservations about the process of "outsourcing" to Wikipedia the traditional educator oversight of student's quality of research and writing. But, you miss the point of my "outburst". You mention "her initial findings". Where are these findings? They were not posted on the Congress 2011's website, she has not responded to an e-mail request for the findings, and the Congress 2011's administrative assistant said that she would try to help expedite delivery of the findings, but that hasn't seemed to pan out, either. To me, this sounds like a press release that overstates the actual "evaluation" that took place. Hmm... freshly-minted PhD discovers new way that will reduce her time interacting with students' research papers, resulting in fewer professional hours spent grading assignments, more time issuing press releases and attending conferences. There's no chance that this study's just a wee bit biased, "copsewood"?

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@Gregory Kohs: you're searching in the wrong conference

Google (search terms: Congress 2011 Gregory Kohs ) suggests you're searching for her paper in 'the website for the 2011 Congress of the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social ...' (the rest of the link was broken for me).

Brenna Gray's paper was advertised for presentation at ACCUTE 2011 on May 28th, with an abstract present on http://www.accute.ca/2011abstracts.html .

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Flame

"true naysayers" too?

(Did anyone think to check why Gregory Kohs might be a familiar name to some? Hint: Comes up second where one might check first, comes up first where one might look second, depending on one's biases)

Strange that you did not 'share' your stance on anything Wikipedia. Having been caught shady, now you suspect everyone else of deviousness, eh?

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@ Mr Kohs

Umm ...

1) "two days ago" .. so that would be 29th? Whilst the conference was still in progress? and you are disappointed that she didn't reply to you? Surely you are not that important?

2) "No evidence that she presented the paper". Umm .. http://www.accute.ca/2011abstracts.html. Google is a useful tool.

3) "An administrative assistant at the conference also said that she would look into getting me the study report, and I'm still waiting.". see item 1. It is very possible the admin assistant was dealing with issues arising from a conference which only finished yesterday.

For sure her data needs reviewing but to post sour grapes because she hasn't IMMEDIATELY replied back to you seems weird. Perhaps you could wait a week and then repost?

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Meh

What an abstract!

Ah, I see in her abstract:

"..a detailed case study where student were (sic) required to produce research for Wikipedia..."

I can't wait for the whole enchilada. Sounds like a rigorous study, indeed.

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Work harder for strangers?

So this professor is saying that the students are more motivated into being careful once they know that a bunch of complete strangers will read their work, than they are when they know their teacher will read it.

Tells you a lot about the amount of respect they have for their teachers.

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Well...

Shows you how much respect they have for themselves, that they need some external motivation to get started to ensure they do a good job on work that will secure their futures. What happened to producing work to the best of your ability and making sure that everything you do is of the highest standard you can manage?

Rewards are given after the fact and shouldn't be expected. This lot only seemed to have "pulled their fingers out" when they knew the work would be scrutinised, as you say firstly by the teacher for whom they should have respect, and there after for the world as a whole.

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Headmaster

@Fuzzy: Tactical and enthusiastic learning

"Shows you how much respect they have for themselves, that they need some external motivation..."

Quite often students enrol on a course where only half the modules really enthuse them. The others are required either as prerequisite knowledge for modules in later years, or in order for the course to be considered to qualify the student in respect of its title. I see many students study what I teach enthusiastically, where they have a determination to acquire knowledge for its own sake. My problem with them is making sure they don't do this at the cost of neglecting other parts of their course.

In other cases the student isn't motivated by the content but by the need to pass or obtain the degree classification they would like to achieve. In this situation assessment becomes crucial as the motivator to get the students to do the work. So assessment strategy has to be core to teaching strategy. The fact that the second motivation plays a large part shouldn't take away any of the respect students studying for either reason should feel for what they are doing.

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@The Fuzzy Wotnot

>>What happened to producing work to the best of your ability and making sure that everything you do is of the highest standard you can manage?

The same thing that happened to those summers in our youth that were hot, dry and lasted for months. They didn't happen. We just think they did, because we only remember the bits that were good.

I think a lot of commentards are missing the point - this was an English language course, and so the work of the students should be assessed on how good their use of the language is - this is (almost) completely independent of the content. Imagine that one student writes "Each peoples unstand how the world round is", while another writes "It is a universally understood, and virtually uncontended fact, that the world is flat." Which one will you give the highest marks to?

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Fear Itself

This isn't about using Wikipedia as a communal grading system, it's about using Wikipedia as a stick to produce better output. "Not only am I going to grade this, but I'm posting it on Wikipedia and we'll let them tear it apart with your name attached, too."

Hey, if it makes people produce better material in schools, maybe they'll retain more of it. Of course, how useful is in depth knowledge of the biographies of obscure authors, really? Maybe for a very specialized journalist or a book editor, but beyond that, I can't see much practical value for it.

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Fear not

"I'm posting it on Wikipedia and we'll let them tear it apart with your name attached"

Posting to wikipedia with someone else's name attached? How's that done then?

Come to think of it, last time I looked you couldn't even post to wikipedia with your own name attached. The articles themselves don't have author credits.

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re Fear Itself

@Veni, Vidi, Velcro - well spotted. I reckoned that was what was going on too: "Not only am I going to grade this, but I'm posting it on Wikipedia and we'll let them tear it apart with your name attached, too."

But to answer "how useful is in depth knowledge of the biographies of obscure authors, really?" I think the lasting value would have been teaching more rigorous habits of thought, research and attribution - not so muct the detail of any one assignment (though there is some value in nearly any knowledge -- and there is a degree of value in English Lit graduates having a knowledge of English Lit).

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Anonymous Coward

Check the page history

and the "wikifiddlers" contributions are revealed

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Anonymous Coward

Interesting idea

Of course, ensuring their articles are well researched should ensure WP:Notability so their carefully crafted work isn't littered with [citation needed] or (even worse) consigned to "Speedy Delete."

IMHO, Wikipedia could be used when writing academic stuff... only don't cite Wiki itself, cite any online source they've referenced that back up your PoV (it's probably worthwhile making a note of the offline sources, in case you can find them in your university's library). As long as you don't quote wholesale from the Wiki article itself (and have checked the history to ensure there have been no dramatic changes in content recently, so you don't get caught out by WP:Vandal), you could be (relatively) lazy in your research, but give across the impression you've been researching 24/7 :)

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Headmaster

Motivation

Perhaps the motivation is that their results will be of actual use, rather than pointless make-work that nobody but their teacher will ever see?

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Stop

5 minutes of fame?

I don't buy the big stick idea. What would you invest more effort in. A paper that'll disappear in the Great Big Inbox of your prof., or in something that'll at least have a chance of being read by a wider public? Maybe the students didn't so much care about the wikipodic review but were rather motivated by a chance for 5 minutes of fame.

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Go

Motivation

I am not surprised in the least that the students are less than motivated when their work is just to be read by their professor before joining the big pile of paper in the sky. I remember very well the feeling of futility that accompanied each and every one of my essays. the goal very quickly becoming to fill the required number of pages with wide margins and large handwriting.

I dare say I put more effort in this single post than in many assignments. Just because you people are reading it.

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Is there any reason for surprise

Is there any reason for surprise that humans perform better when given a real (as perceived by the subjects) task instead of of pointless busywork.

My interpretation is that there was no "Study" performed, just a casual experiment.

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Anonymous Coward

If public review is good for the soul. . .

then how the heck do we get scientific journals to post peer-review comments publicly? 'Twould go a long way to reducing a lot of spurious nonsense (including, but not limited to, global warming fear mongering).

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This is superb

A very imaginative idea. Despite my best efforts, my students still see producing the result (2,000 words on the page, or whatever) as more important than the process (research and critical thought). Although probably more suited to more descriptive assignments, this is a great idea to get the students to consider very carefully what they're writing, and to worry about issues like support, plagiarism, objectivity and misrepresentation. Good stuff. I might, ahem, "borrow" the idea!

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Gee, ya' think?

I think some of the reason for the improvement may be lost in the article. Generally one one turns in a project for a class at that level, the only person who will ever see it is the instructor. To the student, it is often little more then busy-work to prevent idle hands. From the student's perspective it is not even to educate them, but for an instructor to justify their job (which may or may not be a valid criticism, probably depending on the instructor).

Now they know they are contributing something which others will use. Why would that not be more motivational? It has nothing to do with the scathing review of wackypedians, this is GENUINE taking pride in ones work, which is much easier to do when you're doing it for a reason rather then to be thrown away.

Really I'm reminded of some movie (which I can't recall) where a jailer was having inmates move rocks from one side of a field to the other side. then when they were all moved he says "you know what? I think I liked them better over there." This is alot of what classwork is to the students. I think it's lost on instructors sometimes that kids aren't little essay-producing robots, but actually people.

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Differences which have been overlooked

Beyond the possible value in a wider or "genuine" audience there are two other important differences between the WikiPublic and a lecturer as audiences for an essay:

- The lecturer has very limited time to devote to each submission. This leads (possibly unfairly) to an assumption about how thorough the review will be.

- WikiFiddlers are permitted to be far harsher critcis than lecturers.

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one of the best ways to teach a lesson

one of the best ways to teach a lesson is to give examples of what happens when the lesson isn't followed. Wikipedia is a perfect bad example for teachable moments

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It's nothing new

This isn't new - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schools_and_universities_project documents some other examples and a framework to work within and http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/10/29/wikipedia discusses a similar project presented at Educause 2007.

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