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When Adrianne Wadewitz first began editing Wikipedia as a graduate student at Indiana University, her professors warned her, “don’t tell anybody you’re doing that.”
Now, Wadewitz says, it’s completely different. “I’ve seen the evolution of Wikipedia in my own career.” In fact, her experience editing Wikipedia helped land her a job at Occidental College’s Center for Digital Learning and Research, where she teaches faculty members how to implement technology in their teaching and research methods.
Wadewitz began using Wikipedia in the classroom while teaching freshman English as an Indiana University graduate student. She said she developed a Wikipedia writing assignment in an effort to break down the traditional hierarchical professor/student relationship within college classrooms.
Wadewitz said using Wikipedia in the classroom introduced her students’ work to a larger audience. “The world was going to see what you wrote and it mattered what you wrote and how you wrote it, because millions of people were going to see it,” she said. “It really motivates students to write for the world, not just for their professor.”
Now, she recruits other professors to engage with Wikipedia in their own classrooms. “We want to show students how to use Wikipedia productively. Banning Wikipedia from the classroom is completely ineffective because students are going to use it all the time anyway.”
This is a fact that Wadewitz knows all too well. One semester, one of her students chose to write a report on Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein. When Wadewitz reviewed the paper, she found that “whole swaths of the paper were plagiarized from the Wikipedia article I wrote on Mary Shelley. So, I got to write in the margin, ‘I know this is plagiarized from Wikipedia because I wrote it on Wikipedia.’”
Wadewitz believes that exposure to Wikipedia has a positive impact in the way we think about learning. “Whenever I have students put together an article or add material to an article, I have them think about…what it mean[s] to construct an article out of a variety of sources,” she said.
For her, the online encyclopedia is compelling us to reevaluate the way we see knowledge. “[Wikipedia] doesn’t take its legitimacy from who is writing. It takes its legitimacy from the information that they add, and where they got that information,” she said. “It’s a totally different way of thinking about information.”
Profile by Zoe Bernard, Communications Intern
Interviews by Matthew Roth, Global Communications Manager and Victor Grigas, Visual Storyteller