Becoming a Wikipedia-er

This post is an assignment for Nicco Mele’s course, “Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age” at the Kennedy School of Government. Our assignment is to review and analyze a Wikipedia article for several different factors. Family beware- this blog might not be a particularly enjoyable read.

For many 20-somethings it is hard to remember a time when Wikipedia did not exist… but how many of us have ever edited a Wikipedia article? If you haven’t, you would not be alone. I created a Wikipedia user page for a current HKS course, but I can’t say I would have thought about doing so otherwise.

With my new found Wikipedia editing power in hand, I went to the page of a policy topic near to my heart: remedial education. I was fortunate to write several policy reports and blogs on the topic when I was at the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, so it made sense for an evaluation of a Wikipedia entry (which is the assignment).

My first reaction was that the article lacked the basics about remedial education courses that are critical for someone trying to build knowledge of the subject. What subjects are remedial courses usually available in? How do colleges usually place students in remedial courses? How are remedial courses delivered differently at two-year community colleges vs. four-year universities? These seem like key background questions that need to be included, and much of this information is not.

Seven out of ten of the sources for the Wikipedia entry were scholarly journal articles that contained evaluations or findings on remedial program effectiveness. This bodes well for the accuracy of the limited information provided; however, without any hyperlinks, readers could not easily access the pieces if they were interested in digging deeper on the subject. One of the sources provided was from a leading social policy center in the area of adult education, The Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Having CLASP articles as a source provides readers an example of the active policy debate surrounding remedial education. Unfortunately, little about the current debate is outlined in the article.

Outside of sources, a large portion of the article focused on the advantages and disadvantages of delivering remedial courses online. Clearly, a Wikipedia user has contributed their expertise on this area of remediation (which is an area open for debate currently). However, the large amount of content about online remedial learning skews the article – making it seem that this is one of the key topics to focus on the remedial education. The weight in the article is online learning does not necessarily reflect the broader national discussion on the topic.

For someone just learning about a large system like remedial education, a visual for how these courses fit within the overall course offerings at a community college or university could be helpful. The Wikipedia article contains no visual for how remediation connects to other courses or the trajectory of students that start in remedial courses. The map of courses below outlines remedial courses in math and English and connects them through to college-level courses. Similar course diagrams could make the large number of developmental courses and the long path to college-readiness for some students more transparent.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 12.35.06 PM

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 5.48.56 PMSimilarly, there are many visuals that trace the current trajectory of students starting in remediation that could highlight the debate about course/program effectiveness (see info-graphic). There is also a very large amount of state-level innovation and evaluation of remedial courses, and this trend is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article.

Ultimately, the Wikipedia entry on remedial education contains accurate, but incomplete background on the design of remedial education, the effectiveness of remedial programs and current efforts to improve their design and the outcomes of students.

If readers are interested in learning more about the ongoing debate around improving remedial courses there are several good resources through the Community College Research Center. Perhaps in the days ahead I will add some of these resources to the Wikipedia page and become a more active user!

Until Next Time!

SA

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