Pedagogy, Social Media, teaching

Historical Research via Wikipedia

Last spring when I came across Jeremy Boggs‘ assignment about using Wikipedia in the US History survey course, I was immediately impressed and inspired.

I had often thought about how great it would be to get students to engage with Wikipedia in a more meaningful way than perhaps they’d been exposed to previously. For the most part, students came to me as sophomores having a firm understanding that they were NOT to use Wikipedia because anyone could edit it, and therefore the site (undoubtedly edited by nefarious internet goblins) might lie to them. Of course, year after year the first site students would gravitate toward in the course of their research projects was Wikipedia. I guess fifteen and sixteen year-olds are inexorably drawn to the thrill of the taboo–even in their research.

My previous approach to discussing Wikipedia with students emphasized that its lack of utility and applicability to research came from the fact that it was a tertiary source, and just like any other encyclopedia, it couldn’t help one much in developing a clear argument. While I still make this point, Boggs’ assignment design I think will be much more helpful in getting students to learn about Wikipedia’s style, how to research for an objective article, and how to write differently for this assignment than for their more usual argumentative essays.

I have to admit that I borrowed very liberally from Boggs, as I think his assignment makes a lot of sense, and this is the first time I’ll be rolling it out with students. No doubt I’ll find challenges with this present arrangement and make amendments in future years. In general my structure very much follows that of Boggs’; however, I’ve scaled down some of the source requirements and also asked students to write a process-focused reflection post both at the beginning and at the end of the assignment.

If any other teachers (especially high school teachers) have tried this type of assignment with their students and have any feedback about the process or any other thoughts, please feel free to share them.


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