Wikipedia in the Classroom

Guest post by John Stewart

  • John’s twitter is jstew511.
  • Come to the brown-bag discussion Friday 8/30 at noon in the Collections (calendar).

Galileo’s signature on this collection’s copy of the Sidereus Nuncius serves as the banner for this blog. If you would like to know more about this landmark book, I encourage you to look it up on Wikipedia or Google it, which amounts to the same thing. It may surprise you to find out that the article you will read (Sidereus nuncius) is largely the work of OU astrophysics senior Jodi Berdis.

In my History of Science to the Age of Newton course this past summer, I asked Jodi and her classmates to identify Wikipedia articles related to the history of science that needed improvement and to revise them. They edited a diverse array of articles including biographies ranging from the Greek philosopher Cleostratus to the 17th century German female astronomer Maria Clara Eimmart. The students also updated articles on Iatrochemistry, Psychology in medieval Islam, and Kampo, a Japanese adaptation of traditional Chinese medicine. By working with Wikipedia to publish their descriptive research essays, the students shared what they learned in my class with a worldwide audience.

My class was the first at the University of Oklahoma to use Wikipedia’s Education Program package. Despite its capabilities for knowledge creation and sharing, Wikipedia has been met with ambivalence from many professors. The articles lack the forms of authorship and peer-review standardized by academic journals and presses. As a reference tool, the articles can lack the context and sophistication of an academic text. Misuse by students is also a concern. In a particularly infamous case from 2006, sixteen students in one University of Oklahoma history of science class plagiarized material for the final exam, nine of them copying sections from Wikipedia (OU Daily).

In response to this 2006 case, Assistant Provost Greg Heiser said, “I think that since the beginning of the Internet as a research tool, we have seen a dilution of the idea of what writing should be” (OU Daily). However the lecturer in the 2006 case took an alternative lesson from the episode. “‘The university needs to do more formally to teach its students about information literacy,’ said Katherine Tredwell” (OU Daily).

As with the media revolution sparked by the printing press, the internet has diversified the “idea of what writing should be.” My approach to teaching writing across the curriculum is to move beyond the rigid academic paper to include an element of media literacy. Students tweet and text and read the internet more than newspapers or academic monographs, so I want my course to contribute to what the Center for Media Literacy calls a “framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet.”

In their case studies from former classes, Wikipedia notes five learning objectives common to their course assignments:

  1. Writing skills development;
  2. Critical thinking and research skills;
  3. Collaboration
  4. Media literacy; and
  5. Wiki technical and communication skills.

The first two learning objectives mirror those for any descriptive essay, but the last three provide the argument for the pedagogical value of a Wikipedia assignment.

In my class, students collaborated both with each other and with the broader community of Wikipedia editors. One student made a minor edit to the article on Newton, only to have it deleted in less than six hours. However, using the talk board for the article, the student and the other editor discussed the changes and agreed upon a revised version of the student’s information (related to Newton’s aether theory) and a detailed citation. Watching the student take ownership over his research and collaborate with someone completely unrelated to the class confirmed my hopes for the project and provided the class with a valuable learning experience about the expectations of the Wikipedia community.

Publication to a worldwide audience also has obvious advantages over the traditional term paper and its audience of one. Collaboration and exposure provided an external motivation for students to produce an article that they could be proud of. Jodi’s article on Sidereus Nuncius has received more than fifteen hundred page views a month (stats). This article, as an exercise in knowledge creation in the classroom and knowledge sharing beyond it, offered a potential self-efficacy unrivaled by more traditional college writings.

In evaluating the quality of existing articles and actively making edits, students learned to analyze the production and consumption of knowledge. Learning the language of Wikipedia demystified the coding of a particular website and at the same time provided insight into the authority of online information. In participating in an edited encyclopedia project and researching with more traditional secondary sources, the students utilized multiple forms of media. This active engagement with academic publications, an edited online encyclopedia, and unedited online sources is invaluable for media literacy, an essential skill that our students must learn as they make their way through the height of the Internet Age.

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  • Cf. Kerry Magruder, “Wikipedia: Ready reference vs. Research literature“: “Why not incorporate group activities to improve Wikipedia into class assignments for undergraduates? If you show your students how to leave their mark on Wikipedia, you will inspire them to change the world.” Thanks, John, for changing the world!
Posted in Class aids | 1 Comment

See the Living Library exhibit through September 14

There are three weeks left to see the Living Library exhibition!

Living Library exhibition

The exhibit will be open through September 14. Visitors should come to the welcome desk of the History of Science Collections on the 5th floor of Bizzell Memorial Library. Admission is free. Individuals need no appointment; instructors and group leaders may contact Carilyn Livesey, Outreach Coordinator, to reserve the Exhibit Hall for exhibit-based instruction and group tours. See our Visit Us page for contact information and directions. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and noon to 4 on Saturdays (except for gamedays, when the exhibit will be open until an hour before kickoff).

QR CodeVisitors will be supplied with iPads containing an interactive guidebook to the exhibit, including photographs of additional pages of the works on display. If you have an iPad, the guidebook may be downloaded for free from either of two places:

See the Exhibit Hall page for a suggested activity using the iPads for class instruction.

Galleries in this exhibit include:

  • Ancient astronomy, including the first published edition of Ptolemy’s Almagest.
  • Egypt, including a star map from the ancient temple of Dendera.
  • China, including the memoirs of Matteo Ricci and the first map of China published in Europe.
  • Medicine and the life sciences, including a 16th-century study of body ornamentation and an 18th-century guide to midwifery and family medicine.
  • Charles Darwin, including an autographed letter.
  • Technology, including a photograph of Thomas Edison in the scrapbook of his daughter’s wedding.
  • Bonus: several display cases have been recently added, featuring treasures from the history of Geology.

This exhibit features a remarkable variety of subject areas and chronological time periods. Authors represented include Hildegard of Bingen, Galileo, Johann Kepler, Maria Merian, Buffon, William Smith, Tycho Brahe, Francesco Hernandez, Maria Cunitz, Anna Comstock and many more.

More than half of the volumes in the History of Science Collections were acquired after 1976, when a catalog of holdings was published. None of the more than 100 beautiful works on display were included in that catalog. The History of Science Collections of the University of Oklahoma Libraries is a living library, and that means exciting prospects lie ahead.

Posted in Exhibits and events | Tagged

BL5 Calendar

Wish to schedule a tour, class visit or special event?

The BL5 Room Calendar below may help you anticipate scheduling conflicts, but be forewarned that these spaces may not be available on a given date and time, even if they appear available on this calendar.

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National Holocaust Remembrance Day

Guest post and display by Elizabeth Livesey

Einstein, General Relativity (Yiddish, 1921).

In recognition of National Holocaust Remembrance Day this Monday, April 8th, several works will be on display on the 5th floor of Bizzell to commemorate the persecution and genocide of approximately six million Jews.

Taken from the History of Science Collections and the Bass Business History Collections, the works showcase only some of the internationally significant contributions made by European scientists of Jewish descent in the early twentieth century, as well as the opposing force of the science of eugenics and the deadly social movement it produced.

Among the pieces on display are those by Nobel Prize winning scientists Niels Bohr, for his discoveries in atomic structure and quantum mechanics, as well as Albert Einstein, via a rare edition of his Theory of Relativity in Yiddish (description).

These books can be viewed at the History of Science Collections on the 5th floor of Bizzell Memorial Library, Monday-Thursday 9 AM -7 PM, Friday 9 AM-5 PM, and Saturday 12-4 PM. For more information, see the Visit link above, or call (405) 325-2741. While there, you may also view the Galileo display and the Living Library exhibition which features more than 100 rare works from the History of Science Collections.

The contributions to science made by Europeans of Jewish backgrounds before and during the Holocaust are remarkable for their breadth and influence even today. Einstein’s and Niels Bohr’s groundbreaking discoveries within the fields of physics won them Nobel Prizes in 1921 and 1922, respectively. Sigmund Freud’s enormously significant work in neurology and psychoanalysis throughout the early 20th century is similarly showcased here through a beautiful allegorical drawing of the unconscious.

However, despite the internationally recognized and honored impact that these works hold today, the work of Jewish scientists was not received or appreciated in the same light immediately after Hitler’s rise to power. In contrast to these notable Jewish scientific achievements during this period, the equally pervasive science of eugenics influenced Nazi ideology and undercut these discoveries. One of the most harrowing and ironic cases involves the German-Jewish chemist and 1918 Nobel Prize winner, Fritz Haber, whose work in developing poisonous gases eventually produced the deadly weapon Zyklon gas. Haber, among the other scientists recognized within this case, was stripped of his position in the university under the Nazis, and his books were burned and denounced in favor of “Aryan” science and achievements.

Posted in Exhibits and events

OU Athletics Department enables OU Libraries to acquire manuscript for the Galileo collection

Press Release (original at Public Affairs; photos for media):

Oratio Grassi, De sphaera (1623)NORMAN – A rare manuscript written by a leading astronomer in Rome at the height of Galileo’s astronomical discoveries recently was acquired by the University of Oklahoma’s History of Science Collections.

The newly acquired manuscript, Tractatus de sphaera, by Oratio Grassi, records Grassi’s lectures in mathematics and astronomy. The Grassi manuscript is one of three works by Grassi to enhance OU’s Galileo collection this year. In two just-acquired printed books, Grassi discussed three comets that appeared in the sky in 1618.

Oratio Grassi, De tribus cometis (1619)

Oratio Grassi, De sphaera (1623)“The Grassi manuscript is an important addition to the OU History of Science Collections, which is already recognized as among the small number of great collections in science in the world,” said OU President David L. Boren.

The Grassi manuscript is one of only a few astronomical manuscripts from the leading Jesuit university preceding the publication and subsequent condemnation of Galileo’s Dialogo (1632). OU holds Galileo’s own copy of the Dialogo, containing his handwritten comments in the margins.

Galileo Galilei, Dialogo (1632)

“By any measure, this Grassi manuscript is a significant acquisition for the University of Oklahoma and an important addition to the prestigious Galileo works held by our History of Science Collections,” said Rick Luce, dean of University Libraries. “The penmanship is beautiful,” said Luce, noting that some of the pages have detailed illustrations, all hand-drawn.

Oratio Grassi, De sphaera (1623)The Grassi manuscript discusses Galileo’s discoveries, including imperfections on the surface of the Sun and Moon and the satellites of Jupiter.

These discoveries were first published by Galileo in Sidereus nuncius, printed in Venice in 1610. The OU copy of Sidereus nuncius displays Galileo’s signature on the title page.

Galileo Galilei, Sidereus nuncius (1610)

“The OU Galileo collection is remarkable,” Luce said. “While many major libraries hold one or two first editions of Galileo, OU holds the entire set of 12 first editions. Neither the Library of Congress nor the British Library can say the same. Moreover, four of OU’s first editions, including the Sidereus nuncius and the Dialogo, contain Galileo’s handwriting. The Grassi manuscript and the two other printed books by Grassi acquired this year are unique additions to an already world-class Galileo collection.”

The acquisition was made possible because of a recent $500,000 endowment from the OU Athletics Department to support exhibits and acquire rare works for the History of Science Collections.

“We are grateful to the Athletics Department for funding the endowment that made it possible for this manuscript to find its way to OU for its permanent home,” Luce said.

Key works from the OU Galileo collection, including the newly acquired Grassi manuscript, are now on display in the lobby of the History of Science Collections on the fifth floor of Bizzell Memorial Library (directions, hours). For accommodations on the basis of disability call 405/325-2741.

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Posted in Featured book, Manuscripts, archives, photos, Recent acquisitions | 2 Comments

American Paleontology in 3 minutes – TEDxOU

by James Burnes (@LifeThruTime), graduate student, Department of the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, presented at TEDxOU, January 25th, 2013.

Posted in Exhibits and events

The secret of books

Posted in Exhibits and events