21 Jun 2010

Descriptive Chemistry Wikipedia project

In-Class Activity

Submitted by Lori Watson, Earlham College

Students select, research, and then post an article on an inorganic compound to Wikipedia. The compounds are chosen from a list of “stubs” (short articles that need to be expanded) found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Inorganic_compound_stubs and might include such items as the synthesis, processes of isolation, structure, interesting facts about the compound in history, and/or an application of the compound. All references used come from primary literature or edited secondary literature like Encyclopedia of Inorganic Chemistry (i.e. NOT textbooks). Students become familar with participating in a Web 2.0 community they use, become more familar with the chemical literature, and develop research and collaboration skills.

Learning Goals: 
  • Understand what kinds of topics fall under “Descriptive Inorganic Chemistry” and become an “expert” in the chemistry of a particular inorganic compound
  • Utilize appropriate chemical literature resources, including both print and electronic sources, to prepare an accurate summary of the chemistry of a particular inorganic compound for a general chemistry audience
  • Become familiar with wikis and commenting as Web 2.0 technologies, including using basic markup language and adhering to a particular community’s style and formatting conventions
Equipment needs: 

A computer, access to the internet, and a good selection of chemistry journals (and/or interlibrary loan).

Implementation Notes: 

Here is the structure I use:

·            Week 4: Students submit their topic

·            Week 6: Students submit a list of 8 possible references

·            Week 10: Students submit a rough draft, which is graded (for effort) and returned with comments

·            Week 14: Students post their final version to Wikipedia.  The rest of the students are “encouraged” to read their classmates’ articles (there will be a short section (matching) on the next exam).  The final entry is graded for accuracy, completeness, citation, and adherence to Wikipedia style and format.

Challenges I've encountered:

·            Depending on the compound chosen, some of the best references were old, and hard to obtain by interlibrary loan (especially if students waited too late to request them!).

o   Outcome: Out of 14 students, one student changed topics, three other students were able to obtain the needed articles through other means. 

·            Several of the needed articles were in languages other than English

o   Outcome: Students learned how to collaborate (go find someone who knew German, French, or Russian) and/or how to use Chemical dictionaries (GermanàEnglish, for example) and machine translation to obtain basic information

·            Some students were unsure about the technology

o   Outcome: They figured it out, and felt very proud of themselves!



Time Required: 
This depends on how long/involved you ask the articles to be. I estimate that students spent 20 hours or so on this during the course of the semester.
Evaluation Methods: 

I grade the articles (after being posted) for content, style, and formatting convention taking into consideration the variety/quality of references used and paying particular attention to clarity and consiseness of writing.  On the final exam, I also included a matching section with the compounds on one side, and one of the possible uses for them on the other to check that they had read their classmates' posts.

Evaluation Results: 

Students generally improved their writing significantly between the first draft and final post; they had the most trouble being consise and editing the markup language such that items had appropriate subscripts and superscripts.  On the multiple choice section I included (as a bonus question, it turned out) this past year on my final exam: Out of 13 students, 3 had 13/13 correct. 5 had between 10-12/13 correct, 3 had between 6-9 correct, and 2 had 2 or fewer correct.  I also (unsolicited) obtained the following comments on course evaluations or by e-mail:

·            Hi Lori! Well, I've pretty much finished posting my wiki article, probably the coolest thing I’ve ever learned how to do.”

·            “The wiki idea is so much better than a paper!”

·            “Wikipedia project was both fun and challenging.  Fun in that we got to do research from scratch about material we did not know.”

·            “Working on the wiki article was very interesting.”

·            “Posting a wiki was so hard but so cool!”



Creative Commons License: 
Creative Commons Licence


I am going to use this assignment this year in our chemical literature course that is supposed to teach library and writing skills to our majors.  Its at a sophomore level and I think this assignment is perfect for what I was looking for in a term paper and has a modern twist to it!  Thank you!

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