Wikipedia and Modern Chinese Philosophy

Like many of you, I suspect, I regularly use Wikipedia as a first-stop when looking something up on the internet. It has many limitations, of course, but often enough it proves useful. It is only as useful as its contributors make it, though. Since I have been struck by the paucity of informaton in Wikipedia concerning topics in 20th-century Chinese philosophy, I decided to see what would happen if I made improving a Wikipedia page one of the assignments in my Modern Chinese Philosophy course this semester. 

After doing a bit of research, I realized that this was in some ways more complicated than I had initially realized, for at least three reasons:

  1. Learning to use the Wikipedia editing environment takes a bit of time; I had to make sure that students realized this, and got used to the way one cites references, adds links, and so on.
  2. Writing for Wikipedia is importantly different than writing a typical philsoophy essay or research paper. Wikipedia articles need to be neutral, balanced, and based on existing secondary scholarship, not primarily on one’s own reading of the primary sources.
  3. Publishing one’s edits or new entry is not the end of the process: there is often on-going discussion of issues on the “Talk” page associated with a given Wikipedia page, and of course other people can edit your changes. Sometimes changes will be rejected by Wikipedia editors, and one has to understand how that process works.
In light of this, I put together two assignments, the first aimed at getting the students prepared, the second in which they actually researched, published, and then followed their topic. (They also had two more-standard essays to write for the course.)
All this has now happened. I encourage you to take a look at the following entries — and to make any corrections or additions you see fit!

I look forward to any comments or questions you might have.

8 thoughts on “Wikipedia and Modern Chinese Philosophy

  1. This is an exciting project and i willdefinitely go and read them soon. Thanks for sharing the great idea with us and better information with the public.

    By the way, I was wondering if you can tell me how exactly you and students worked. For example, did you provide any worksheet to student for preparation? How did students’ research and follow-up work done? Have you found out a better way to make sure that your students know how to manage wikipedia pages? Since I am planning to use this type of class structure, i would be most grateful if you can share more of your experience with us!

    • There are a lot of different ways to do this! For a sense of the variety, look at Wikipedia’s page on University Projects. What I tried for was enough guidance/practice to get them going, and then letting them figure some things out for themselves (and also meet with me individually, as needed). So an important part of the whole process was what they wrote, and the feedback I gave them, as part of the Prep assignment (see above for the link).

      If or when I do this again, I may build a bit more into the Prep assignment. One thing I’m thinking about is to add an additional paragraph, in which they analyze or critique one of the essays that is out there on the use of Wikipedia in teaching. This would give them yet more opportunity to reflect on what kind of project they are taking on. Here are some examples:

      • “Raising the Stakes: Writing about Witchcraft on Wikipedia” by Elizabeth Ann Pollard of San Diego State University . The History Teacher Vol. 42, No. 1 (November 2008): 9-24 The article examines the relationship of academia with Wikipedia by exploring how an assignment helped students become better historians. The assignment for History 400W students require students to create Wikipedia entries on witchcraft and magic accusations from the Greco-Roman period through Colonial America. It describes the assignments completed by the students. Rubric-based assessment has revealed that the assignment has fulfilled student learning goals including researching and writing about a specific historical research. The analysis has also found that supervised student participation on Wikipedia fulfills these student learning goals (EBSCO/Academic Search Elite).
      • “Wikipedia: How it Works and How it Can Work for You” by Elizabeth M. Nix of the University of Baltimore
        The History Teacher Vol. 43, No. 2 (February 2010): 259-26. In the article, the author discusses how Wikipedia works and how teachers can effectively use it in the classroom. The main problem with electronic encyclopedias is with the accuracy of the information. Since Wikipedia is maintained by volunteers rather than by qualified historians, the information can sometimes be inaccurate. The article notes that since Wikipedia use has greatly increased and has seen increased use by scholars and teachers, history teachers should find ways to use it in the classroom. The author describes the benefit of having students prepare and submit articles to Wikipedia (EBSCO/Academic Search Elite).
      • “Sleeping with the Enemy: Wikipedia in the College Classroom” by Cullen J. Chandler and Alison S. Gregory of Lycoming College. The History Teacher Vol. 43, No. 2 (February 2010): 247-257. In this article, the author explains the pros and cons of the free online encyclopedia Wikipedia. The main drawback to the use of Wikipedia in the classroom is that it is maintained by volunteers with no qualifying credentials. The main benefit to the online encyclopedia is that it is continually updated, unlike print encyclopedias. A 2005 study of inaccuracies in Wikipedia and print encyclopedias showed that, with regard to scientific articles, only slightly more inaccuracies were found in Wikipedia. The article suggests how Wikipedia can be used effectively in the classroom (EBSCO/Academic Search Elite).
      • One essay at IHE, and
      • Another.

      Other than that, I think that things worked pretty well following the structure that’s outlined on the two assignment sheets. If you have more questions, please let me know!

  2. Hi Steve, I’ve just scrolled through the entry on Mou Zongsan and found it much better than it used to be in the past. Anyway this is wonderful idea, and I’m thinking now about starting a similar project with my students for the Taiwanese/Chinese Wikipedia…

  3. You may want to consider appending relevant links to other pages which relate most strongly to yours. For instance, if there’s a major philosophical dispute with its own Wiki page, you might want to try to insert a relevant blurb and link from it to your and your students’ pages, as well.

  4. It seems the term “New Left” in the Chinese context is not related to the same locution in U.S. history (think The Port Huron Statement, SDS until 1968, ‘prefigurative politics,’ countercultural dimension, etc.), is that correct?

    • Hi Patrick,

      There certainly are some intellectual connections with various neo-Marxist intellectual trends, but you’re right that it is not particularly connected to the US “New Left.” You’ll note that Wang Hui is quoted in the Wikipedia article as having reservations about the term because “the term New Left is a Western one, with a very distinct set of connotations – generational and political – in Europe and America. Our historical context is Chinese, not Western, and it is doubtful whether a category imported so explicitly from the West could be helpful in today’s China.”

    • Perhaps I should also say that the New Left article is not exactly the strongest of the articles that my students produced/edited. This is probably partly because “New Left” in China is something of a multi-headed hydra, but there’s still room for lots of improvement on that particular Wiki page!

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