January 29, 2007

Wikipedia in the classroom or not

Category: Academic,Politics,Tech — Biella @ 5:29 pm

Thankfully I don’t have to directly deal with the Wikipedia question till next fall when I am teaching a bunch of students but the debate is totally fascinating and the comments in this Inside Higher Ed article are quite provocative and thought-provoking (if not sometimes downright hialrious).


  1. It seems pretty easy to me- like any other source, students have to be required to evaluate the source critically, and use it appropriately. Now, many modern American students may have problems doing that- but problems with Wikipedia are just a symptom of that much larger and more important problem, and should be discussed as such, not as a Wikipedia-specific problem.

    [Relatedly, it isn't just students who are citing Wikipedia- it is judges too. Most of the same questions, though judging from the article in most cases it seems like judges are slightly better equipped to assess Wikipedia and use it appropriately.]

    Comment by Luis Villa — January 29, 2007 @ 8:00 pm

  2. Oh yea, I just had read that article right before you linked to it. I agree the W-pedia is so here to stay. It’s power is magnetic; in part because it is just so… there. And yes, indeed, the key intervention is to have students approach the w-pedia critically… But indeed, some may just use it as a shortcut, not even citing wikipedia but reformulating what is there and perhaps citing one of the many citations that are included (and this little fact makes it very different than its ancestors, because there were not citations!) even if they never consulted them. So I guess the prof’s need to be a little more discerning too as to how the student is marshalling sources and it may be as easy to check whether the only sources and critical comments bear a striking resemblance to the wikipedia entry.


    Comment by Biella — January 30, 2007 @ 8:48 pm

  3. Or worse, adding something to the wikipedia, and then citing it as if it was authoritative ;-)

    Comment by Jonah — February 1, 2007 @ 10:56 am

  4. it may be as easy to check whether the only sources and critical comments bear a striking resemblance to the wikipedia entry.

    I’ve heard many profs say that as a matter of course they now google phrases which seem to not match the tone of the rest of a given paper, and often as not the phrase is lifted. At least for the time being, the technology seems to be tipping in favor of the professors for once.

    By the way, Biella, I’d be curious what you think about laptops in class, particularly if your campus has wireless. One of my profs wrote about that here, and I responded here.

    Comment by Luis Villa — February 1, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

  5. thanks Luis, I have some thoughts though I am not sure if there are as well-formed as yours.. :-) Will try to get something on “paper” soon.


    Comment by Biella — February 3, 2007 @ 8:19 am

  6. Thanks for points these out to me Luis. I had read them a while back actually and I remember had a few things to say (though not much, as you 2 covered a lot of ground) so here they are.

    First, I do think the wireless plug should be “pulled” but I am skeptical that the honor system is the way to go do it in all cases. The allure is too strong and especially with large lecture classes, it would be near to impossible to police this (with a smaller seminar class, all you would have to do is take a few “laps” around the students and that would solve it). Perhaps law students hold more “phear” of their professors being that the relationship is perhaps somewhat more professional and important than some nameless, almost faceless teacher if you are in a huge 300+ lecture class. So if you don’t have a way to pull the plug in a large lecture class, I think it is reasnoable to ban it. Or else you might as well cancel class, send them the notes, and be done with it.

    Second both article seem to assume that classroom = law classroom and here is another problem. I took 2 law classes in Boalt way back when I was preparing for my fielwork and I was amazed at HOW important notes were and people had all these ways of taking and organizin them. Given this, and given that I think it is ridiculous to change people’s fundamental habits of writing, then I think law schools need to make room for students taking notes on the computer and either have to mandate tablet PCs or jerry rig a system so that wireless can be turned of for the class.

    When it comes to smaller seminars, which are more common for upper level undergraduate courses and graduate courses, I think that computer can really get in the way, even if there is no wireless. Folks are sitting around a table and eveyone should be able to see each other as tone and gesture are key to a lively conversation. Again tablet PCs may be the answer because clearly you can see how folks use them just to take notes and really they are nothing more than a really thick, high-tech notenook.
    And given that the course is based more around discussion, and less around constant note-taking, I think student’s can survive jotting down notes with old fashioned pen and paper (or tablet pc).

    But these are pretty loose thoughts and ideas. I think when I start teaching more, I will have something more grounded to say about it!

    Comment by Biella — February 4, 2007 @ 7:42 am

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