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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 16:09 GMT
Students assessed with Wikipedia
Nicola Pratt
Dr Pratt says Wikipedia can help develop critical thinking skills
Students at a UK university are working on the Wikipedia online encyclopedia as part of their degree course.

Postgraduates at the University of East Anglia are being assessed as they edit existing Wikipedia articles and research and write their own pieces.

Wikipedia uses a collaborative form of editing and authorship for its reference material.

Politics lecturer, Nicola Pratt, says using Wikipedia can develop students' research skills.

The Wikipedia website has divided academics - with a United States university recently banning its history students from using it, because of fears that they would reproduce material without checking its accuracy.

And on Tuesday, one of Wikipedia's US editors was revealed to have faked his academic background.

Critical thinking

But Dr Nicola Pratt, lecturer in comparative politics and international relations at UEA, believes the encyclopedia can be seen as a useful study tool, rather than a bar to original and accurate work.

She says the use of Wikipedia can develop students' critical thinking, research and writing skills.

Dr Pratt, who teaches on the Middle East for students taking a Masters in international relations and development, has built her course around Wikipedia.

Students have to edit eight articles on the online encyclopedia and then write their own article for the site.

The Wikipedia-based Middle East course counts for an eighth of the students' MA assessment.

"They're assessed on their ability to improve the quality and balance of the article and they demonstrate they have done that through additional reading around the topic for that week.

"I can see why people are sceptical of Wikipedia because it hasn't gone through a peer review process.

"But with Wikipedia you have a peer review process that's going on every day - that may not involve academics but other people who have differing areas of knowledge."


Dr Pratt also believes using Wikipedia can boost postgraduates' confidence, by making their work available to others.

"I also thought this would be a good way of motivating people to produce writing that they will have some pride in, if they know other people are going to read it, rather than just me."

Student Trina Worden, who is completing her MA on a part-time basis, says the scheme keeps study alive and active.

"You can follow the progress of your input as changes and additions are often subject to critical review by other 'Wikipedians'.

"You are also making a useful contribution to public knowledge by either improving content or accuracy, and your IT skills are improved.

"I think Wikipedia itself is a good reference point for further research. I don't believe I would cite it in my work but would rather use it to access the original source."


When this year's pilot scheme is completed, Dr Pratt will assess its success and hopes to be able to widen the scheme to undergraduate teaching as well.

"The project will enable me to test the benefits and identify the limitations of Wikipedia and Wiki technology as tools for improving the evaluative, research and writing skills necessary at postgraduate level," she says.

"New technology opens up new ways of assessing students and we have to explore those."

Wikipedia is a multilingual web-based free encyclopedia which is written and edited by contributors from around the world.

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