Wikipedia for Chemistry – Jeff Byers

Categories: Chemistry, Feedback, Formative Assessment, Research Paper
What: Authoring and editing Wikipedia entries as an assignment in a senior elective course

Who: Jeff Byers, Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry

Class: CHEM0442, Advanced Organic Chemistry.  This is a special topics course taken mostly by seniors, with some juniors, most of whom are chemistry or biochemistry majors.

Number of students: 9

Reason for using the technology: Most Senior Elective courses in the sciences culminate with some sort of final paper or project.  This project typically involves each student writing a detailed review paper on an interesting and advanced topic of their choice.  This is a worthwhile exercise, as each student learns an astonishing amount of detail on one specific topic.  These papers do not, in any way, reflect the important collaborative nature of science.  Jeff also believes that a senior elective course should also generate content of use to the entire chemistry community, unlike research papers which, after grading, rarely surface again.

Description : Each student was required to generate a new entry for Wikipedia, or substantially enhance an existing entry on any topic related to organic chemistry.  The class as a whole brainstormed possible entries, which were then shared and expanded upon in class discussions before final choices of topic were made.

Students were allowed to work solo, or in teams of two, with the understanding that collaborative efforts would be held to a higher standards.  Jeff contacted LIS, who supplied an hour of basic instruction to the class on making these entries, and he also contacted a member of the Chemistry Wikipedia Project to make sure that his students’ work conformed to community standards.  He personally went over each of the students’ work with them to make sure that their work was up to at least minimum standards before putting their pages live.

Learning objective: In addition to the benefits of “writing a paper”:  Many of the publishing tools used to generate Wikipedia entries are the same as those used in paper-writing.  The only major difference was that with Wikipedia, a substandard entry would be quickly eliminated, rather then grudgingly accepted with a poor grade.  The students also learned elements of how the anonymous peer review system works.

Applicability to other courses: The students created entries which caught the attention of other editors in a positive way.  One page was rated “A level” and of high importance, another was rated “C-level” and of modest low importance to the Chemistry Wikipedia project.  The other pages were rated at the “start” level, except for one page which remains unrated.  Since none of the students’ work has been wiped out, they have now made a real contribution to the chemistry literature as part of this course.  The students loved the project, and still check their entries regularly for edits and comments.

Note: Jeff plans to develop a detailed rubric for assessment when he implements this exercise in Spring 2011.

Wikipedia encourages the use of Wikipedia in the classroom. See Wikipedia: School and University Projects for advice and resources.

Technologies

How Do I … ? » Web Publishing » Share documents/presentations for collaborative editing

Tools » MediaWiki

About Carrie Macfarlane

Director of Research & Instruction.

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