May 2, 2012
WEST HAVEN, CONN. -- Many students are told to steer clear of the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia.
Students in Stefania Mereu’s class in cognitive psychology at the University of New Haven, however, are not only being encouraged to use it, they are actually writing entries for it.
The UNH students are participating in a world-wide project begun by the Wikipedia Foundation last fall to improve the quantity and the quality of what is on the Web, says LiAnna Davis of the foundation. Students at 37 different universities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, Macedonia, Israel and the Czech Republic are participating. The psychology entries are being created in conjunction with the Association for Psychological Science.
The assignment is not as easy as it might sound because the students not only must research and double check their facts, but they must also put it into the Wikipedia format using the correct computer code.
“Some articles on Wikipedia are really popular, yet not very well written/referenced. This represents an additional challenge for students, who may have their article read by hundreds of people every week,” says Mereu.
The assignment reveals the importance of improving that content of those articles, especially the ones on controversial topics, said Mereu. “Wikipedia is closely monitored by experts in the field who are constantly clicking and trying to improve the articles. We are part of a national push from scientists worldwide who want to improve the information and make it as reliable as possible.”
Mereu says the public often uses Wikipedia for quick searches on topics they are not expert on. But the project has the added advantage of getting the students to think about the Web and where information originates. “The students are taking a more critical approach to information,” she says. “Now they know first-hand what it takes to write one of these articles.”
One aspect of the assignment that was particularly successful, Mereu says, was the peer review process. “Each student read and criticized two articles that their classmates did and they did an awesome job. Most of them were critical and objective, revealing an amazing ability to judge their peers’ work.”
Kimberlee N. Parrish
Kimberlee N. Parrish, a sophomore psychology major from Deep River, Conn., is working on an article on automatic activation in psychology.
“It is a rather confusing topic that not many people know about outside of the psychology field,” she says. What was on Wikipedia already “left more questions than answers for me.”
So far, she says, she has taken a lot of time reading the results of experiments, and looking through books and articles on the concept. She is also trying to figure out Wikipedia formatting.
“As I got more into researching, I found I really liked the Wikipedia assignment. Formatting the article now is making me think twice about this assignment, but I'm too far in to give up now. I really want to see this come out right.”
Alexandra Breslin, a sophomore from Stoughton, Mass. who is writing about mental rotation, says she was excited about the project because she loves both writing and research.
“Right away, I realized that the assignment was more difficult than expected. The hardest part at first was figuring out how to code for Wikipedia. It was very difficult. My overall impressions of the project haven't changed much, though. I am still very excited to finalize my project and receive feedback from Wikipedia users.”
While the assignment is challenging, the students have help: a network of experienced Wikipedia users, called Online Ambassadors, were provided to them. And librarians, including Diane Spinato at the UNH library who opened a discussion board on BlackBoard to help students to find sources, helped, as did APS members who offered to contact students to help them with the assignment, Mereu says.
The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. UNH enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and University College, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.