Professors hate it, students are warned to steer clear of it, but put to a lie detector test both groups would fail if they claimed to never use Wikipedia. It’s impossible to avoid and hard to ignore that Wikipedia is a convenient place to START a research process on a topic you know little about. Use almost any Internet search engine on almost any topic, Wikipedia is the first or among the first hits when conducting a search.
According to Wikipedia, the site receives over 470 million unique visitors each month, with over 77,000 contributors working on over 22 million articles. For a complete picture of how vast the site has become visit their statistics page at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Statistics It’s a sure bet that by the time this blog post is live the numbers cited above will have increased . Among those 22 million articles are many entries on communication topics. Perusing them can be painful as they are often incomplete, based on outdated citations or just plain wrong. That’s where NCA’s Wikipedia initiative comes in to play.
NCA in partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation decided that if that many people were obtaining information from Wikipedia about communication related topics and the discipline as a whole, it was best to ensure that the information is as accurate as possible. NCA launched a wiki project last year at the annual convention in Orlando. Panelists, led by Wikimedia foundation education program communications manager, LiAnna Davis discussed how they incorporated wiki research projects into their classes. Assignments served multiple purposes. First, students had to learn to work with Wikipedia’s editing system. Second, students had to do traditional archival research on a topic and third, students had to write.
As a discipline, Communication embraces (or critiques) new technologies as they emerge. I remember that while working on my MA at Penn State, I was “forced” to request my first email account for a seminar in the Rhetoric of Film taught by Tom Benson. In addition to completing all the reading for each class, I needed to email fellow seminar participants a post reacting to those readings. It seems impossible to think that it was actually difficult to navigate my first email account considering I now receive hundreds of emails a day. Learning to edit a Wikipedia page certainly was more complicated for me but my tech skills are all the better for taking the time to learn and I’m sure my student’s tech skills will improve upon completing the Wikipedia assignment I have planned.
Once each year I teach a section of Public Communication at George Washington University. Next time, I plan on turning a portion of the required written speech criticism assignment into a Wikipedia assignment. The original critical evaluation of a speech by the students wouldn’t be appropriate to post on Wikipedia, but all the background research such as the biography of the orator being evaluated, when the speech occurred, what exigencies the speech was meant to address and what others said about the speech would all be useful additions to Wikipedia.
I’ll be sure to post how the assignment goes once complete. For more information and ideas for incorporating a Wikipedia research project into a course visit NCA’s Wikipedia initiative page at www.natcom.org/wikipedia You can also consult the following article for additional information: Rush (Eger), E. K., & Tracy, S. J. (2010). Wikipedia as Public Scholarship: Communicating Our Impact Online. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(3), 309-315.