Exam by Wikipedia replaces ‘increasingly unappealing’ essays

University of Sydney assessments ask students to edit and write online encyclopedia entries

March 31, 2016
Man reading Wikipedia page on desktop computer (PC)
Source: Alamy
Screen saver: the Wikipedia idea resulted from student ‘indifference’ to feedback

Many academics spend their time telling students not to use Wikipedia in their coursework, but one university has taken a different approach.

Lecturers on some modules at the University of Sydney are setting students the task of editing and authoring entries for the online encyclopedia instead of getting them to sit exams or write essays.

They argue that using academic writing as a default assessment task is “unimaginative and increasingly unappealing for both staff and students”, especially when digital literacy is now a key requirement in the workplace.

In contrast, the academics believe that learners will put more effort into a task if they know that it will have a lifespan and readership online, and if the audience for it can be measured.

Rebecca Johinke, a senior lecturer in Sydney’s English department, said that staff were motivated to experiment with Wikipedia by the sight of marked essays being left uncollected by students who were apparently uninterested in academics’ feedback.

“We don’t want to waste our time writing long-winded comments that may not ever be read and instead want to provide useful feedback that students understand and appreciate,” Dr Johinke said. “That feedback doesn’t always need to come from their teacher, but it can and should also come from their peers and others. There is value in having an audience of more than one.”

One use of Wikipedia at Sydney has been on a postgraduate course in magazine studies, where students worked in groups to create entries on Australian women’s magazines, and individually on posts about their editors. Marks were awarded for the quality of the entries, as well as for oral presentations and written reflections, and the entries have been viewed thousands of times.

In another application, undergraduates on an academic writing course were tasked with researching and writing entries on contemporary issues, and with improving the referencing of existing entries. This work, designed in part to improve students’ knowledge of how to use material from sources and how to reference it, was not formally assessed; students did, however, receive feedback from Wikipedia editors.

Colleagues in Sydney’s sociology, chemistry and biology departments also are using Wikipedia in coursework, according to an article in Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, by Dr Johinke and Frances Di Lauro, director of Sydney’s Writing Hub.

“It was clearly very rewarding for [students] to see their work circulating out in the world and contributing to knowledge construction and dissemination,” Dr Johinke said. “Rather than an audience of one reader – a single academic – their hard work has been read by many thousands of readers, and that makes their efforts worthwhile.”

chris.havergal@tesglobal.com

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Wikipedia exam replaces essays

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

PhD Position in Archaeology and Cultural History

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

PhD position in Energy and Process Engineering

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

PhD position in Electric Power Engineering

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Research Assistant in Business

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

Doctoral study can seem like a 24-7 endeavour, but don't ignore these other opportunities, advise Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman

Matthew Brazier illustration (9 February 2017)

How do you defeat Nazis and liars? Focus on the people in earshot, says eminent Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt

Improvement, performance, rankings, success

Phil Baty sets out why the World University Rankings are here to stay – and why that's a good thing

Warwick vice-chancellor Stuart Croft on why his university reluctantly joined the ‘flawed’ teaching excellence framework

people dressed in game of thrones costume

Old Germanic languages are back in vogue, but what value are they to a modern-day graduate? Alice Durrans writes