College students know the online resource of which they dare not speak: Wikipedia, the voluminous internet encyclopedia demonized by many in higher education—and a resource that two University of Denver instructors use as a centerpiece of their curriculum.
Denver journalism students are writing Wikipedia entries as part of a curriculum that stresses online writing and content creation as readers move to the web en masse.
Journalism instructors Lynn Schofield Clark and Christof Demont-Heinrich said students are told to check their sourcing carefully, just as they would for an assignment at a local newspaper.
“There’s a sense of anxiety about it, because professors have a pretty negative attitude toward Wikipedia,” said Demont-Heinrich, who first assigned the Wikipedia writing to students in his introductory course taught during the university’s recent winter semester.
“Students are leery about mentioning Wikipedia, because they might be subjected to criticism. … But I tell them it’s an online source of knowledge that just has some information that might be questionable, but that doesn’t mean you have to dismiss all of [its content].”
Students in the university’s Media, Film, and Journalism Studies Department have composed 24 Wikipedia articles this year, covering everything from the gold standard to San Juan Mountains to bimettalism, an antiquated monetary standard.
Demont-Heinrich said the Wikipedia entries didn’t require old-school shoe leather reporting—because the online encyclopedia bars the use of original quotes—but they taught students how to thoroughly research a topic before publishing to a site viewed by more than 68 million people a month…
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