Innovative Practices Spotlight

CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight


Dr. Tracey Weis, Associate Professor, History & Professor Greg Szczyrbak, Assistant Professor, Library 

The Center for Academic Excellence is recognizing a faculty member every month in the CAE Innovative Practices Spotlight to highlight his or her innovative classroom practices and outstanding contribution to Millersville University.

Dr. Tracey Weis & Prof. Greg Szczyrbak are being recognized in April for their exceptional use of Wikipedia in History courses!

Please continue reading to learn more about their exciting experience and to learn ways to incorporate innovative practices into your classroom…

1. What innovative practice did you incorporate into your classroom?

On February 2, 2011 the New York Times reported that surveys suggested that less than fifteen percent of Wikipedia’s contributors were women. Wikipedia has also been criticized for having a systemic racial bias in its coverage. Under-representation of women and people of color within the ranks of Wikipedia contributors is, not surprisingly, linked to limited coverage of topics related to gender and race. Beginning in 2010, college and university professors have worked with the Wikipedia Education Program to engage college students in filling content gaps in this online encyclopedia. The Wikipedia Education Program, with its emphasis on 21st century skills like media literacy, writing and research development, and critical thinking, seemed like an excellent match for my history courses that involve intensive research and writing.

2. When did you implement the new practice into your classroom? 

Starting in Fall 2012, I have worked with Greg Szczyrbak, MU’s Wikipedia Campus Ambassador, to devise Wikipedia assignments for students in my African American History courses, HIST 272 and HIST 273. I have included Wikipedia assignments in almost every section of HIST 272 and HIST 273 I have taught in the past five years.

3. Did the students willingly accept the use of the new practice? What were the reactions of the students?  

Although many students use Wikipedia almost daily, they report that most of their professors forbid them to use Wikipedia for college-level research and writing projects. Initially skeptical about participating in this national project, most students embrace the Wikipedia editing assignment by the end of the semester.

4. How has the use of the new practice positively affected the classroom-learning environment?

I ask students to locate relevant Wikipedia entries related to course topics and resources and to include hyperlinks to these articles as part of their daily written reflections that are posted in the D2L Discussion Forums. Juxtaposing the Wikipedia entries to the textbook chapters, scholarly journal articles, primary documents and visual images allows students to compare and contrast content, form, and tone. This consistently conducted comparison and contrast of various sources encourages students to interrogate whether the Wikipedia entries reiterate, add, or contradict the information presented in the other sources. Contradictions, of course, present additional learning opportunities as students as challenged to resolve the inconsistencies through further research.  Moreover, the bar is raised as students are expected by their peers to identify and bring to class useful resources for discussion.

5. How has the use of the new practice affected student engagement in the classroom and the level of participation?

Engaging students as critical readers of Wikipedia entries that are related to the course content we are studying helps students to broaden and deepen their understanding of how the historical experiences of African Americans in the United States are represented—or not—in various public and scholarly sources. This intensive reading across sources prepares them to undertake the conventional history research paper with a heightened sense of purpose and with a more sophisticated appreciation for how knowledge is collaboratively constructed. Watching the collaborative construction of knowledge in action on the Wikipedia platform—seeing how individual contributions are reviewed, revised, deleted, expanded upon, students see the importance of revision and in-class peer review in a new, and more urgent, light.

The individual research project, based on scholarly journal articles, serves as a bridge between student-as-reader researcher and student-as Wikipedia editor. Knowing in advance that the research paper will be the basis for the end-of-semester Wikipedia editing assignment motivates students to be more diligent in their research habits.  As many faculty have discovered in other contexts, when student authorship becomes public, the stakes are higher. The main page of Wikipedia receives hundreds of million of hits each month. As users of Wikipedia, students recognize how much readers across the world rely on this resource. As contributors to Wikipedia, they feel enormous pressure to “get it right.” They report tremendous gratification at contributing to this widely used global resource.

6. What challenges did you encounter when you were implementing the new practice?

One of the major challenges that Greg and I continue to grapple with is achieving the appropriate balance between the time and energy devoted to the Wikipedia editing assignment and the time and energy required to design and implement the other content and skills objectives of the course. We continue to strive to move beyond including the Wikipedia assignment to incorporating the assignment is a way that in integral to the course.

7. How did attending Camp IDEA or a CAE Professional Development session contribute to your learning and use of the innovative practice?

Greg and I presented about this experience at a CAE session. We enjoy discussing the experience because someone will always ask a question from an angle we haven’t considered previously.