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Understanding Scholarly Conversations with Wikipedia

Lesson objectives: Through this assignment, students will learn to analyze and understand the conventions of scholarly debate on Wikipedia, including the difference between a scholarly argument and a neutral statement.

Total estimated time: 70 minutes

Course or assignment underway: Second or Third Essay

Work and/or reading completed before class: Students should have read and discussed a primary source with a robust Wikipedia Talk page, such as Frankenstein or Swann’s Way.

Sequence of Classroom Activities

  1. Collectively examine the primary elements of a Wikipedia page, including Article, Talk, and View History. Discuss the relationship between the Talk page and the Article page. What kinds of concerns do you see foregrounded? This should be an opportunity to clarify Wikipedia-specific jargon and article policies, including Wikipedia’s core content policies (from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Core_content_policies)
    1. No original research: Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source. Articles may not contain any new analysis or synthesis of published material that serves to advance a position not clearly advanced by the sources.
    2. Neutral point of view: All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing significant views fairly, proportionately and without bias.
    3. Verifiability: Material challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source. In Wikipedia, verifiability means that people reading and editing the encyclopedia can check that information comes from a reliable source. (10 minutes)
  2. In small groups, select one debate on the Talk page for analysis, and answer the following questions (30 minutes):
    1. What is the main focus of the debate?
    2. What terms were contested?
    3. How did the editors invoke Wikipedia’s core content principles to bolster their arguments?
    4. What evidence did the editors provide to support their position?
    5. How was the debate resolved?
  3. Each group drafts a one-paragraph position statement agreeing or disagreeing with the resolution of the debate, using evidence from the reading to respond to the Wikipedia editors. (15 minutes)
  4. Each group shares their position statement. Collectively compare these statements to the Article page. Use the differences to discuss the difference between a scholarly argument and a neutral statement. Discuss how scholarly debate is used to establish neutral statements. (15 minutes)

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