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Natural Sciences Education Abstract - Graduate Education

Collaborative Wikipedia Projects in the Virtual Classroom


This article in NSE

  1. Vol. 42 No. 1, p. 85-90
    Received: Apr 9, 2012
    Published: June 3, 2013

    * Corresponding author(s): ajk.kenny@gmail.com
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  1. A. J. Kenny *a,
  2. J. D. Wolta and
  3. H. S. Hurdb
  1. a Dep. of Agronomy, Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA, 50011
    b Dep. of Veterinary Diagnostics and Production Animal Medicine, Iowa State Univ., Ames, IA, 50011


Wikipedia is a web-based, free-content encyclopedia that is openly editable and, thus, provides a unique platform for collaborations. Wikipedia projects are increasingly being integrated into upper-level courses across the country to explore advanced concepts, communicate science, and provide high-quality information to the public. Here we outline a project intended to reinforce and communicate concepts of risk assessment as it was implemented in a multidisciplinary graduate course and, based on observations from the instructors and results from a post-project reflection survey and exit-interview, we evaluated how to better enable student learning in future Wikipedia projects. A networked Wikipedia project was introduced to a graduate-level course in human and environmental safety as an alternative to traditional team projects. Students independently authored Wikipedia entries and then collaborated in editing the result prior to publication to the World Wide Web. Project outcomes indicated general success by the students in developing high quality content, but there is a need to improve the background and supporting materials provided to students to better enable their use of Wikipedia writing and editing tools. There was also opportunity to improve quality of the students’ work product by emphasizing the major course concepts that should be applied in the project and by more clearly addressing common questions that relate to the Wikipedia “process.” Student learning curves and computer literacy dictated the pace at which the project moved forward; so for the less computer literate students, effort tended to skew toward learning the tool rather than applying course concepts.

Impact Statement Wikipedia is the sixth most visited website in the world and offers a unique platform for experts and educators to collaborate online, communicate science, and provide factual information that is free to the public. As education moves toward a hybrid model of delivery the results and feedback provided here should support virtual classrooms that wish to implement a networked, collaborative project. After the project ended we had many students exclaim how excited they were to contribute to such a visible source of information and that they will continue improving Wikipedia articles. Those passionate about education, the sciences, and public service should consider donating their expertise to the free encyclopedia.

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Copyright © 2013. Copyright © 2013 by the American Society of Agronomy