Strada and Gallup released a study last month, From College to Life: Relevance and the Value of Higher Education, which seeks to understand students’ perspectives on the value of their higher education. It’s the first national study of its kind, drawing data from more than 250,000 interviews with people from more than 3,000 educational programs. Subjects, who completed at least some time in a higher education program and are now employed, were asked to respond to two main statements in Strada-Gallup’s survey:
The courses you took are directly relevant to what you do at work.
You learned important skills during your education program that you use in your day-to-day life.
Findings show that those who report that their coursework was relevant to their current professional lives gave a higher rating for the quality and cost-benefit of their education. These respondents also report a higher sense of overall well-being in their current lives. Although respondents varied in gender, race, economic status, age, and more, these results were consistent across the board.
Strada-Gallup suggest next steps from this data, mainly that higher education institutions should consider exploring educational practices that best support increasingly diverse populations of learners. At Wiki Education, we’ve developed an infrastructure of support and free resources for instructors to introduce an innovative open educational practice in their classroom: teach students to improve Wikipedia’s coverage of their course topics, which nicely fits into the study’s recommendations.
1. Students understand course concepts in a real-world context.
When students learn how to improve Wikipedia as a classroom assignment, they not only gain a deeper understanding of a resource they use all the time, but they must also delve deep into course concepts to be able to succinctly transmit them to a worldwide audience. Students are excited by the prospects that millions will have access to their work, motivating them to present high quality research and writing.
The real-world tangibility and open nature of a Wikipedia assignment is what draws so many instructors and students to it. As one instructor wrote in a Fall 2017 survey, students “interpret real world material with a purposeful approach, taking their knowledge outside the classroom, engaging in a public debate and defending their ideas in the real world, communicating complex ideas in an accessible language, and exercising meaningful and civil public debate.”
2. Students learn skills that will be relevant to their future careers.
For students, a Wikipedia assignment offers skills for articulating academic topics to a lay audience. Through this articulation process, the student must understand complex course concepts in order to translate them for a public audience. A psychology instructor who also taught with Wikipedia in Fall 2017 noted that by understanding how information is created on Wikipedia, “students will understand what information their patients bring to their office, and will be able to answer questions about how well-founded those pre-conceptions are.”
3. Students come to understand larger structures of misinformation, and participate in correcting them.
For Dr. Kathleen Crowther’s course Women and Medicine, a Wikipedia assignment offered students a chance to begin to correct systemic issues within STEM fields. Her students first identified where Wikipedia lacked biography articles about notable women scientists and then wrote them themselves. As Dr. Crowther writes in a reflection about the course, “How was it, they demanded, that these women, who had achieved so much, often against serious odds, did not already have articles on Wikipedia? It was a powerful lesson on bias in history, both on Wikipedia and in historical scholarship generally. But rather than just learning about that bias, they got to do something concrete to remedy it.” (Read more about how students are closing the gender gap in STEM on Wikipedia here.)
Students thus become involved in correcting misinformation (or correcting a lack of information) by contributing well-researched content to Wikipedia. And along the way, they gain critical informational literacy skills. Students understand how Wikipedia’s information gets there and how to evaluate articles for accuracy. They become intimately familiar with Wikipedia’s high standards for what a “good quality” source is. And they rise to meet those quality standards, often with enthusiasm.
When students engage in the worldwide, open arena that is Wikipedia, they get a sense of involvement in larger structures of knowledge and politics that are relevant to their future lives and careers. As Rice University student Katie Webber wrote about the experience, “To have some concrete thing that I feel like I can really do right now has made me really feel more confident that I can find other ways to create change going forward. I call my senators, I vote, I donate to the ACLU, and now, I edit Wikipedia.”
4. Students gain a love for learning.
Dr. Cathy Gabor, who has taught with Wikipedia in a number of her courses at the University of San Francisco, wrote about one student who helped create the Wikipedia article on the principle of Eloquentia Perfecta: “By the end of the project, Chelsey realized that both Wikipedia and the principles of Eloquentia Perfecta had become ‘integrated into her life,’ including her part-time job and her other classes.”
“I really took an interest in something that I wasn’t interested in before,” Chelsey says, “which was probably the greatest outcome for me — to see that I can be interested in random things. When you take the time to put your whole self into it and really learn it, it’s cool how something can become really interesting and be integrated into your life. If I have time over the summer, I’ll try to find a new topic and research, and then incorporate my knowledge into a Wikipedia page for other people to go learn from.”
Instructors are drawn to the open educational practice of teaching with Wikipedia because of the opportunity to foster this sort of love for learning and sharing knowledge that a student can bring forward with them into their future pursuits.
“Faculty across the disciplines could easily employ a Wikipedia editing project because Wikipedia supports entries in every field,” Dr. Gabor writes.
And as one longtime instructor said in our Fall 2017 survey, “A Wikipedia assignment fits well with John Dewey’s principles that school is not preparation for life, it is life.”