They say that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Anne McNeil and her colleagues from the University of Michigan have taken that aphorism to heart by assigning students the task of creating and editing Wikipedia entries.
McNeil’s graduate students in Chemistry and Macromolecular Science and Engineering work with some extremely complicated concepts. If they could communicate the material clearly to the general public, this would both improve the students’ understanding as well as provide a service to interested lay people.
Working in small teams, the students chose graduate level chemistry topics that were not already adequately covered by Wikipedia and set out to improve them. Their task was to create accurate, readable entries. Not surprisingly, the students evaluated the project very highly as a teaching tool. The project worked so well, that McNeil now plans to assign undergraduates the task of editing entries on famous chemists and chemical reactions.
When McNeil first assigned the Wikipedia project in 2008, she and her students had to learn how Wikipedia works. Since then, she and her graduate student instructor Cheryl Moy have written a handbook on editing Wikipedia chemistry entries. In May, McNeil and Moy were invited to Wikimedia Foundation headquarters in San Francisco to give a presentation on using Wikipedia as a teaching tool.