What’s Wrong With Wikipedia in Education?

Wikimedia UK education organiser Dr Toni Sant delivering his keynote presentation at the 6th International Integrity and Plagiarism Conference at the Sage, Gateshead on 17 June 2014.

This post was written by Hannah Jones, Wikimedia UK education volunteer

Some readers of this blog may remember me from EduWiki 2013 in Cardiff or the more recent Future of Education Workshop ahead of Wikimania, but most others will probably not know me as a volunteer on other Wikimedia UK activities. I have worked mostly with Dr Toni Sant and Darren Stephens on Wikipedia classroom assignments at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus. I am also a postgraduate student in education at York College.

From the 16th to the 18th of June 2014 I attended the 6th International Conference on Integrity and Plagiarism at the Sage Gateshead, just across the Tyne River from Newcastle. It was an excellent opportunity to meet other educators and discuss Wikipedia in the context of this conference. It was also an excellent opportunity to catch Dr Sant’s keynote address on the second day of this event.

He took the stage in Hall 2’s impressive theatre in the round, in front of an audience of about 200 delegates. After an introduction by Turnitin’s Senior Vice President Will Murray, Toni started off by introducing the efforts of the Wikimedia movement to support the use of Wikipedia and sister projects in education.

Taking a leaf out of a recent report by Turnitin entitled What’s Wrong With Wikipedia?, Toni proceeded to outline the perceived problems with Wikipedia in higher education. On the one hand, students in Higher Education are largely consumers/readers, are unaware of what Wikipedia really is, and use it freely as a source for their (research) papers. On the other hand, academics continue to discourage the use of encyclopedias in general, and while fully aware that students use Wikipedia widely, they are mostly against the use of Wikipedia at University.

Paraphrasing a CC-by-SA slide from Jake Orlowitz, who gave a similar presentation earlier this year, Toni pointed out that Wikimedia and academia are natural allies. Wikipedia is often the starting point for research, but it can lead students back to sources, so they can critically think about subjects, understanding knowledge production, contributing to Wikipedia, and in the process deepening their learning.

I believe that Wikimedia UK’s presence at such conferences, especially when represented by professional experts from within its staff and volunteer members is just the right approach to ensure that Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects find a comfortable home in higher education settings. Our chapter has some very valuable resources to offer the UK higher education sector, and getting the word out to educators who are seeking solutions to the perceived problems in Education that involve Wikipedia is essential. I was simply amazed by the number of people who approached me during the conference saying that they never saw Wikipedia in a positive light as an academic resource before listening to Toni’s keynote presentation.

You can visit the conference website here.

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