Wikipedia and the “Content Gap”

As a teacher who decided to use Wikipedia mid-semester in one of my courses going through the training and looking at the existing courses that use it has been mind opening. I am teaching a course right now to English majors working to become high school English teachers at Queens College and this course is somewhat of an intro to Common Core as it is to the framework of one of their state certification exams. I will spare you all the gory CC details, but something we’ve been working on all semester is “writing for audiences” in addition to wrapping our heads around the ways the CC has essentially made up new genres. One of these genres is “Writing Informative and Explanatory Texts.” I used Wikipedia as a way to help my students contextualize this kind of supposedly neutral information giving writing.

Some aspects of using Wikipedia in the classroom that seem really useful:

  • Time dedicated to analyzing and using sources
  • Asking students to analyze more closely a database they use often (Wikipedia)
  • Addressing and analyzing “content gaps”
  • Asking students to write something that is not just for the teacher, but is for a real-world context and a wide audience.

In searching the courses that are using Wikipedia, there were many different subjects represented from science to history to writing-focused classes. I also noticed classes from a variety of public and private institutions (Princeton, New York U, Michigan, Cal State Fullerton, etc.) A few courses caught my attention in part because a part of their curricular interventions are to address the “content gap” issue (a compelling way to think about the canon, representation, the archive, etc). These courses ask students to locate particular content gaps and then address them by writing articles. There is a “Radical African Thought and Revolutionary Youth Culture” class from Princeton that explicitly addresses the content gap problem. Similarly, there is a “Critical Pedagogy in the Arts” class at Cal State Fullerton and a “Haitian Creole in Context” class at NYU that do the same.

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1 thought on “Wikipedia and the “Content Gap”

  1. Great final point, Wendy, about the need for “neutral” writing in Wikipedia. It’s one of the things that has always posed problems for me with writing on Wp (which I suspect you might have imagined, given my heavily opinionated opinings in class!). But I suspect it’s a great way to teach students that they need to write in multiple registers and that Wp writing is close to, though not the same as, academic writing.

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