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Using Wikipedia as a Platform for Disseminating Research Knowledge, CTL Mini-grant Fall 2016

Instructor: Nellie Tran, Counseling and School Psychology

Summary: Professor Nellie Tran developed a teaching innovation using Wikipedia to address course learning outcomes for research methods and writing, as well as her own teaching and philosophical goals for students to engage in anti-oppressive education and research. Creating or adding to entries on Wikipedia required students to learn the important skill of reading expert knowledge and translating for a lay audience, while seeing their work as contributing to their professional reputation, image, and voice. Contributing to Wikipedia also gave students the opportunity to use research strategies to be social change agents. Tran’s Wikipedia Project succeeded in facilitating students’ growth and identification with research through increased engagement to become critical consumers of knowledge.

Final report

What I Did

I developed a teaching innovation using Wikipedia as a platform for disseminating research knowledge for a social justice oriented, practitioner-based final project in a Master’s level counselor education curriculum. It includes components of a traditional research methods course while emphasizing the critical consumer and dissemination component of the research process. In this way, research acts as both a mechanism for social change and innovation as well as a means of giving away research knowledge that has largely been kept for college students and faculty at university institutions.

I created the Wikipedia project as a means of integrating my passion for research methods and my philosophical goals of doing anti-oppressive education and research. As professors, many of us regularly tell our students not to rely on Wikipedia because of its open-source format.  However, the reality is that many people (including many professors) regularly use Wikipedia as a quick reference source.  This mismatch in the message regarding the importance and relevance of Wikipedia as an information medium is confusing at best, and unethical at worse.  For those of us seeking to serve the most impoverished and oppressed students and communities, we know that access to information is one of the most important factors separating our communities (Ladson-Billings, 1995).  Therefore, cutting our students off from a regularly used resource could be irresponsible.

My teaching innovation teaches students to be critical consumers of information on Wikipedia in much the same way that we traditionally teach this with empirical journal articles.  Given that empirical journal articles are often written for an audience of field experts, students learn the important skill of reading expert knowledge and translating for a lay audience via Wikipedia.  Additionally, this activity provides students with an inherently external form of motivation.  Instead of needing to merely please the professor to achieve an “A”, students are also learning to see their work as contributing to their professional reputation, image, and voice.

The goal of the innovation is to create a research method final project that (1) specifically targets traditionally marginalized students’ learning (i.e., students of color), (2) re-design the methods final project to be beneficial for practice-oriented students, and (3) give students an opportunity to use research strategies to be social change agents. This aligns with my primary teaching goal to facilitate students’ development of greater critical awareness of social injustice, inequity, and privilege.  In this way, they will be critical consumers of research and information and push themselves to understand beyond what is presented in front of them.  This critical awareness of themselves and the world they live and work in pushes them to be more critical and multi-culturally competent consumers and practitioners of research.

How It Went

Based on the evaluation strategy outlined in the original proposal, the Wikipedia Project succeeded in facilitating students’ growth and identification with research.  Students wrote qualitative reflections of their “relationship to research” and responded electronically to a questionnaire asking about the extent to which they identified with research.

Goal (1) was to specifically target traditionally marginalized students’ learning (i.e., students of color).  Results show an increase in identification with research over the duration of the course. This was achieved in student reflections.  At the start of the semester, students tended to report not feeling a connection to research and even that research further marginalized them and their communities. By the middle and end of the semester, students tended to report feeling a desire to use research methods to study and give back to their own communities.  In other words, they saw how research has indeed marginalized and even exploited their communities, however they eventually saw this as an opportunity for each of them to engage with research to involve their communities.

Goal (2) was to re-design the research method course final project to be beneficial for practice-oriented students.  This project allowed students to find research interests in their current lives as counseling students. They reported believing they had built confidence in their ability to read and understand research. Most importantly, student self-reflections revealed an increase in their ability to be critical of the research they read and will use in their clinical practice.

Goal (3) was to give students an opportunity to use research strategies to be social change agents.  The Wikipedia project allowed students to actively engage in being social change agents.  Students reported feeling anxious, but excited, about the opportunity to contribute to Wikipedia. Students ultimately shared research on such topics as transgenerational trauma transmission, substance abuse among veterans, social media and eating disorders, machismo and mental health, and security on the Mexico-U.S. border and its impact on mental health.  Many students discovered that no page existed for their topic, and thus created the now public pages. These include pages on Ethiopian mental health and boys of color.

What I Learned

I am very happy with the results of the Wikipedia Project.  Students really got engaged in the process of selecting, writing, and publishing their work on Wikipedia.com.  Students learned to engage with research and had very similar challenges as those I witnessed when this course is taught in a more traditional format that culminated in a traditional APA-style research paper.  However, the biggest difference is that the resulting project typically lived and died in my office. This semester, students gave away their work and engaged with an outside community of scholars and professionals.  Many of these students have received live feedback and continued to contribute to other pages on Wikipedia.

The length and format of each student’s Wikipedia contribution tended to vary by project.  Flexibility with the format and length appeared to cause students to feel stress over not having the structure they are used to in other courses.  As I continue to work with developing and fine tuning this project, I will develop more clear structures to guide students in this area. I will also take these evaluation strategies, especially the use of self-reflections, with me to my other courses.

This implementation gave me an opportunity to strategically align my research and evaluation work with my teaching work.  Creating teaching innovations is not new to me; however, I have long thought about ways to integrate mechanisms to evaluate the goals that I have that stretch beyond content knowledge that can be seen in grades and test scores.  As my students used Wikipedia more, I noticed how critical they became of research, more so than they often are with peer-reviewed scholarship. Students, especially those who have been traditionally left out or left behind in education, benefit from us showing them how to work with available resources.  This transparency adds to their ability to be critical consumers of knowledge.  Furthermore, it validates their experiences of using all available resources to survive.