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Wikipedia Editing as Assessment Tool in the Indian Higher Education Classroom

Posted by Dr. Tejaswini Niranjana, Ashwin Kumar A.P. and T. Vishnu Vardhan at Jan 30, 2014 06:10 AM |
Getting students to create and edit Wikipedia entries in English and Indian languages can be a comprehensive assessment tool at the Bachelor’s and Master’s levels. Both levels of higher education require the demonstration of the ability to present knowledge in encyclopaedic form, which can be done by a good review of relevant literature and the showcasing of key arguments in the field.

Using the Dublin competency level descriptors,[*] we can put down what sorts of higher education skills Wikipedia editing can help evaluate. The most commonly accepted descriptors internationally are:

  1. Demonstration of Knowledge and understanding
  2. Applying knowledge and understanding
  3. Making judgements
  4. Communication abilities
  5. Learning skills relevant to higher education

Wikipedia allows for assessing the ‘depth’ of an article which is the measure of the quality of an entry. The depth is a function of several parameters like the number of edits an article has seen, the length of discussion in the talk pages, the number of footnotes, references, hyperlinks and editors active on that page. In addition to this, providing Wiki-interlinks to key concepts within an article and categorization of articles exposes the students to a "semantic web" of interconnections between various fields of knowledge. Although, it may not be a complete substitute for the more formal modes of assessment, it provides a more rounded form of evaluation for student assessment. The ‘depth’ indicator also shows the relative significance of an article for the larger community of users, thereby providing a better model for student assessment in the long run.

Bachelor's Level

By getting students to edit on Wikipedia at the Bachelor’s Level, you can test the following, and appropriate weightage can be given to each aspect of the work:

  • Comprehension of the theory, concepts and processes pertaining to a field or fields of learning
  • Demonstration of knowledge, supported by the use of advanced textbooks and other reading materials, of one or more specialised areas
  • Ability to apply this knowledge and comprehension in a manner that indicates a thorough and informed approach to the work, and have competences typically demonstrated through devising and sustaining arguments
  • Ability to gather and interpret relevant data to inform independent judgements which include reflection on relevant social, scientific or ethical issues
  • Ability to communicate information, ideas, problems and solutions to both specialist and non-specialist audiences [in the case of Wikipedia, the audience would usually be a non-specialist one]

Master's Level

By getting students to edit on Wikipedia at the Master’s Level, you can test the following, and appropriate weightage can be given to each aspect of the work:

  • Demonstration of knowledge and comprehension that is founded upon, extends and enhances that associated with the Bachelor’s level and is at the forefront of a field of learning
  • Critical awareness of current problems and new insights, new tools and new processes within their field of learning (ability to do a good literature review, which can be seen through the citations provided for a Wikipedia entry)
  • Ability to apply their knowledge, comprehension, and critical awareness in broader or multidisciplinary areas related to their fields of study
  • Ability to integrate knowledge and handle complexity, to formulate judgements with incomplete or limited information, with an awareness of the social and ethical responsibilities linked to the application of their knowledge and judgements
  • Ability to communicate their conclusions, and knowledge, rationale and processes underpinning these, to specialist and non-specialist audiences clearly and unambiguously
  • Ability to reflect on one’s own writing by engaging with feedback received from a collaborative network.
  • Ability to form peer knowledge networks through collaboration and interaction with other contributors

Risks and Mitigation

It is helpful to be aware of the typical risks a faculty may face in using Wikipedia entries as an assessment tool.

  • New article creation: Wikipedias, especially the English Wikipedia, are closely monitored by thousands of volunteers from across the world. Often, articles created by new users come under a lot of scrutiny. It is advisable to first encourage the students to edit and improve the existing articles before creating a new article all by themselves. Also taking the help of an experienced Wikipedian will go a long way in mentoring the students on the nuances of the Wikipedia platform and the volunteer community that strives in good faith to preserve the quality of entries.
  • Copyright violation: Ctrl+c and Ctrl+v (i.e., plagiarism) is a major challenge for the higher education sector across the world. Often the students find that copy-pasting the content from various sources is an easy way of doing an assignment. On Wikipedia, plagiarism is taken very seriously and a student editor can get banned from further contribution to Wikipedia, which may de-motivate the entire class. It’s useful for the faculty to give a detailed orientation on this aspect before encouraging the students to take up writing a Wikipedia entry as an assignment. There are numerous resources (text and videos) made available by Wikimedians across the world explaining the problem of plagiarism. These could be used by the faculty.
  • If you are encouraging students to write an entry in an Indian language Wikipedia, special attention and support needs to be planned to train the students in typing in that particular Indian language script. Wikipedias have a useful tool called Universal Language Selector (ULS) which makes it very easy for the student to start typing in any script using the transliteration method. There is increasing support for Indian language scripts, however. You could check whether your University computer lab has Unicode compliant computers/systems. This will help the students to work offline on their assignment, if required.
  • One of the biggest challenges for a teacher is to get the student to see the value of taking up a Wikipedia entry as an assignment. Some of the students may see this as an additional task or extra-curricular activity and may not put in a committed effort, which could affect the goals you have set for your course. Faculties are encouraged to find various means of integrating/dovetailing the Wikipedia assignment into the curriculum or course.
  • Faculty may also feel this as an additional burden on them, especially in terms of evaluation of the assignment. There are various tools available to measure most of the assessment parameters set out above, which will not take much time. It is in fact possible to save faculty time if the evaluation is planned meticulously.
  • A pragmatic challenge for the faculty would be to deal with a scenario where the entire class submits the assignments on Wikipedia on the last day. This will not only increase burden on the faculty but can also result in a lot of plagiarism. An effective way to address this challenge is to make the Wikipedia entry assignment part of a formative assessment, whereby the student develops the entry over a period of time (e.g. one month or during the course). There are various tools through which you can track the students’ contribution continuously and share feedback with them periodically.

[*].Available at http://www.tcd.ie/teaching-learning/academic-development/assets/pdf/dublin_descriptors.pdf

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