No More Taboos: Wikipedia Shifts From Secondary Source To Teaching Tool In Classroom Of South Georgia History Teacher | Writing
Georgia Southern University history professor Kathleen Comerford, Ph.D. turned to an unlikely source for her students’ research projects after access to primary sources was limited during the pandemic of COVID-19. Students were tasked with writing articles on Wikipedia as part of their projects, which changed the way students and Comerford viewed the usefulness of Wikipedia in higher education.
General encyclopedias like Wikipedia are generally not used in higher education due to the synthesized nature and the overall narrative of the articles, Comerford explained. However, she felt that using Wikipedia would be a great way for students to communicate the story they learned throughout their projects.
Comerford first used Wikipedia in his HIST 2500 course, which doesn’t require a major research paper and is comprised of majors other than history, many of whom are interested in teaching in a K-12 setting. She then decided to use similar methods in her 4000 level class, which has a major research requirement.
“It seemed to me that it was fitting to get them involved in a project that brought history to the people,” Comerford said. “Wikipedia is a resource for many people who want to learn more about a topic, so writing the articles is a way of teaching. I made the students of HIST 2500 work on heels – those very brief pages that covered topics interesting enough to merit an article, but didn’t yet have one.
The classes were part of the Wikipedia Student Curriculum, a Wikipedia-led training and collaboration program that allows students to communicate aspects of the course topics to audiences with some interest but little background knowledge about the topic. Wikipedia’s student program staff communicate with faculty throughout the semester to turn the topic into articles written by students in the class. Students also learned to critique existing Wikipedia articles.
“I have a new appreciation for the editors of Wikipedia and Wikipedia itself,” said Katherine Shaffer, who has taken the two courses featuring Wikipedia’s projects. “It takes a lot of work to write these articles and it is quite astonishing that such a wealth of information is freely available to the public. However, after learning how to properly review Wikipedia articles, I have seen a lot of them that have unreliable sources or unsupported information, so make sure to check the information now.
Sadie Ingram, who graduated in May, said the skills she learned in the Comerford class would come in handy in her career.
“I took Dr Comerford’s HIST 2500 course on an optional basis and didn’t expect to learn as much as I did,” she said. “I think asking students to research a Wikipedia article of their choice teaches and reinforces basic research and citation skills, and how to write for an audience. My field is public history, so these kinds of skills are my daily bread. I would certainly apply this to a summer camp or a school program related to a historical site or event.
Although the idea of featuring Wikipedia in her classes came as a pivot during the pandemic, Comerford said she would likely continue to use Wikipedia, especially in her HIST 2500 classes.
“There were times during each semester when I thought I must be crazy doing something new when I was already doing so many new things,” Comerford said. “I hope the students, who were also overwhelmed by the changes, learned that writing a good story doesn’t just mean getting good information; it is also good to write, and for a large audience. Based on the feedback they gave me on the assignment, I think they did learn that. “
For more information on the Georgia Southern Department of History, visit cah.georgiasouthern.edu/history/.