How are college students using Wikipedia?

A recent study took a look at how and why students use Wikipedia. Here’s what they concluded:

Overall, college students use Wikipedia. But, they do so knowing its limitation. They use Wikipedia just as most of us do — because it is a quick way to get started and it has some, but not deep, credibility.

This research suggests that college students are not using Wikipedia as a way out of an assignment but more likely as a way into an assignment.

Why do students use Wikipedia for course–related research?
Why do students use Wikipedia for course–related research?

I would like to see a similar study done at the high school level.

Britannica Online: thin, boring and not free

Recently, I attended a presentation for Britannica Online.

Britannica Online School Edition
Britannica Online School Edition

To test the resource, I searched for my favorite physicist- Richard Feynman.

While Britannica gave me a brief summary of Feynman’s physics career, I was disappointed by the questions that Britannica could not answer.

They also neglected to include Feynman’s involvement with the Challenger explosion and the popular books that he wrote.

Some teacher’s give Wikipedia a hard time for it’s openness but it does a much better job at showing us the more interesting and human elements of historical figures.

Two more things that annoy me…

  1. We pay for Britannica while a simple search at Google or Wikipedia is free and provides richer results.
  2. Britannica provides MLA and APA citations at the bottom of each article. Since when is it a good idea to cite an encyclopedia? I wish they would provide references (like Wikipedia does) so students can cite the primary sources that are related to the subject and more authoritative.

The one-stop-shop argument…

Others defend resources like Britannica because they are an easy-to-use place for students to find things without having to search all over the web for what they need.

But isn’t the skill of effectively searching all over the web what our students need?

If your students are elementary level…

Then I take it all back. Britannica does a nice job getting little kids started with material that is written at their level. They also have some quasi-educational games at the Britannica Learning Zone that are worth a look.

Use a Wiki to create a collaborative study guide

Final exams are next week so that means many of my students are anxious about reviewing the semester. In the past, I’ve given students a packet that outlined the learning objectives for the past semester. From the students’ perspective, this is quite the passive experience.

This year I’m trying something different. I created a rough outline that students can add to, update and modify online. It is essentially a Wikipedia’ for my semester review.

Review via Wiki

I’m using the wiki that our school’s SharePoint service provides; it allows me to track what changes are being made and who’s making them. It also let’s me see which students are actually looking at the study guide.

However, you don’t need SharePoint to do this. Here are two other places you can get started with your own wiki.