Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finding Authenticity: Publishing with Wikipedia

-by Dana Lawit

Lisa recently wrote that innovative educators don't say hand it in, they say publish it. This simple phrase conveys with great efficiency and elegance the notion that the work students produce should live beyond the classroom they sit in, and the grade they earn. This is easier said than done.

While developing assessments, I often struggle to find authentic applications of all of the knowledge and skills laid out for our students in the learning standards. Also, the world isn't built for the contributions of teens.


The world wasn't built for the contributions of teens. Today, many of the most viewed videos on YouTube are created by individuals our students' ages. The web provides not only a means for publishing, but a reason.

This past December, a co-teacher and myself worked with 20 students to conduct research to learn about the history of our school building. A new school on a much larger campus, there is little known to our students about the 90 year history of the building or the people that attended.

Over the course of a week, students read through clippings about the high school found in the Brooklyn Collection at the Brooklyn Public library, looked at primary sources such as maps and photographs, consulted with librarians and archivists, and interviewed alumni.

The students' task was to update the Wikipedia entry about the school. (You can read the older version here)

Wikipedia is an incredible teaching tool for the importance of citation, peer review, and evaluating sources. Without proper citations, the entry will change to reflect only sourced information.

Creating a Wikipedia entry was a great, authentic reason for students to publish their findings. Students were initially greatly frustrated that they had to go to so many different sources to learn about the school. I told them the reason for this is that no one had ever taken the time to put all of the history in one place. Part of their work would make it easier for other students to learn about the school.

Through research and interviews, the students worked in groups to piece together a timeline of some of the school's history. Some interesting discoveries: 1) the mural in the auditorium was commissioned by the WPA during the Great Depression; 2) students during WWII raised so much money in War Bonds, they were at one point leading the nation; 3) teachers and students were cited as socialists before the HUAC during the Red Scare; and much more. Click to read the updated entry about our school building.

Interestingly, one student asked where her name would appear in the entry.
"It won't," I told her. She seemed confused.
"But I did so much work," she said.
I explained to her that both she and I knew that she researched and worked hard, and that part of publishing on Wikipedia is contributing to a world of knowledge and information without the name recognition.
"Its about being part of a community," I told her. "Wikipedia is a collection of knowledge, we all have to take care of it."

1 comment:

  1. What a terrific example of "publish it" teaching. I want to share an idea for an extension of the project and also address your student who wants credit for her work.

    A great extension to this project for English Language Learners or Foreign Language Learners would be to create an entry in their native language about the school.

    I agree with your upset student. I would want some sort of credit too. The history page indicates who all previous authors are. Couldn't that be used?