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SPIE Professional January 2006

Project Wikipedia

Students can use Wikipedia as a group project, helping themselves and others improve their optics and photonics knowledge.
Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org) is a free-content, multi-language encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. The site contains more than 800,000 articles, and though it has been controversial as a reference work, it remains one of the most popular reference sites online. Wikipedia's advantages over a traditional encyclopedia are its ability to be continually updated and the ability to cross reference with just a click.
For educators and students, however, this encyclopedia can serve as more than just a place to access information.
Because anyone can update the site, Wikipedia lends itself as a teaching tool. Students from high school through grad school can use this site in a group project setting to educate themselves and others about optics and photonics.
For example, a student chapter could take on the job of updating a section pertaining to their studies or writing a new entry. Liquid crystals, for instance, has a fairly extensive entry. The dual challenge here is fact checking the existing entry and then determining if more information is needed or if additional references, internal links, or external links could be added.
Then there is the matter of adding entries for notable people in optics and photonics that do not yet exist on Wikipedia. Research about key figures in photonics helps increase students' breadth of knowledge, and sharing this information through Wikipedia will provide a resource for others.
Updating Wikipedia makes for a great multidisciplinary project, as well. For example, writing or English majors could assist in crafting the entries, thus helping research students improve their writing skills, and making the entry even more helpful to readers.
This group project provides an exercise in teamwork, research, and writing. These are all skills students will need both at school and in their careers. Check out Wikipedia and brainstorm with your chapter on the best way you can utilize this tool.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4200601.0015