Chancellor’s Chair – Nicola Simmons

Nicola Simmons Head ShotWikipedia Assignment: Developing Graduate Student Outcomes and Employability Skills

Nicola Simmons, assistant professor in the Department of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies in Education in the Faculty of Education, continues to research the impact of a Wikipedia assignment that she created several years ago for a Master of Education entry course.

The next phase of her research, supported by the 2018 Chancellor’s Chair for Teaching Excellence award, focuses on the assignment’s value in contributing to overall graduate degree level outcomes.

Simmons created the Wikipedia assignment in 2011 as a way to explore graduate students’ perceptions about engaging in Wikipedia, what they learned about knowledge construction, the value of different kinds of resources, and if, in any way, student perspectives shifted regarding use of Wikipedia and other resources for academic work.

The MEd students, enrolled in EDUC 5P30 – Development, Learning and Curriculum, had to select a Wikipedia page that was related to the course topic. Their task was to review, critique, and edit the page. They were also asked to describe their perceptions of the overall assignment with particular attention to knowledge production.

“The intention was to help students develop their research skills in an introduction to graduate study course and to prompt a discussion about their use of sources,” she explains.

The impact of the assignment as a rich teaching and learning exercise exceeded Simmons’ expectations so much so that she pursued ethics approval to invite the class to provide more feedback about their experiences and reflections of the assignment.

“Students responded to the assignment’s effect on their thinking, finding it developed critical thinking and literacy skills and contributed to their sense of becoming scholars,” she says. “These and other themes suggested that this simple assignment might be contributing more to graduate student outcomes than I anticipated.”

For this next phase of research, Simmons is going back to the students, through focus group sessions, to gather their input on how the assignment could more strongly develop graduate outcomes. Specifically, she will examine ways in which the Wikipedia assignment contributes to the development of graduate skills — both the Graduate Degree Level Expectations (GDLEs) and the Conference Board of Canada’s (2018) Employability Skills.

Her goal is to create a list of recommendations for generic assignment design principles for graduate outcomes development that could be applied to other disciplines and assignment types.

“Process skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, self-guided inquiry, and appropriate use of resources are essential in the 21st century and are part of Ontario’s graduate outcomes,” she says. “Critiquing and contributing to Wikipedia provides an opportunity for students to develop these skills.”

She plans to share her findings through conference presentations as well as through creating an Open Access website.

Michael Owen, Dean, Faculty of Education, says the project will benefit Brock students and faculty and teaching colleagues nationally and internationally.

“The project promises to contribute to our understanding of how student learning is mapped to graduate degree level expectations and our own commitment to prepare graduates for the 21st century, as citizens and as production leaders, managers and workers.”