Students bolster Wikipedia pet nutrition contentStudents bolster Wikipedia pet nutrition content
With Wiki Ed encouraging university faculty to assign students to improve a Wikipedia article, Guelph pet nutrition program started project to update pet nutrition sections.
February 3, 2017
Wikipedia has a reputation as a go-to source for information, but is it a reputable source? The information on pet nutrition is more credible now, after University of Guelph professor Kate Shoveller’s pet nutrition class gathered reputable information on 32 different pet nutrition topics for submission to the site.
“Pet nutrition is a very underdeveloped content area on Wikipedia” said LiAnna Davis, director of programs at Wiki Education Foundation. “We were thrilled Kate wanted to help us improve the information available on Wikipedia about pet nutrition.”
The Wiki Ed Foundation encourages university faculty to replace a traditional research paper assignment with an assignment to improve a Wikipedia article.
“In adding content to Wikipedia, students gain media literacy, research, critical thinking and online communication skills, while Wikipedia gets better information on important academic subject matters,” Davis explained.
After hearing that Wiki Ed was looking for professors to write a Wikipedia page as part of class assignments, Shoveller adapted her fourth-year pet nutrition course to turn traditionally required literature reviews into a research communications exercise.
“Sometimes, changing the world comes in itty-bitty steps,” Shoveller explained. “I saw this as an opportunity for my students to do literature reviews but then share them with the world and increase the knowledge base.”
The students were randomly split into 32 groups of four or five, giving them an added learning opportunity on effective teamwork. Shoveller then provided the student groups with 40 potential topics, all focusing on current pet industry nutrition products and trends, such as, for example grain free, eating raw and sporting dog diets.
“I wanted the assignment to make students think more broadly, improve their skill sets and get them to think about how they can change the world,” Shoveller said. “I wanted them to challenge dogmas. The pet food industry is full of false and persuasive advertising.”
As Shoveller explained, selecting food for healthy adult dogs and cats can be overwhelming, even for her. “There are so many options, and everybody has marketing to make their brand and products look like the best,” she said. “'How do I figure out what is best for my dog or cat?’ That’s the kind of information I wanted the students to provide.”
Each group selected a topic, and the teams worked throughout the 12-week semester to gather credible information on their topic before drafting Wiki page content. Students were also responsible for peer editing and were able to get feedback from Shoveller and teaching assistant Nicole Weidner to ensure that the quality of information was high enough for publishing. The students also took training on how to update Wikipedia, provided through the Wiki Ed Foundation.
“Wiki Ed provides the support for faculty so they don't need to be Wikipedia experts themselves,” Davis explained. “We teach students what they need to know about Wikipedia in order to effectively contribute content.”
After completing the assignment, the students are also thinking differently.
“It is now abundantly clear there is a disconnect between research and the general public,” noted Mike Scolaro, a third-year animal biology student. “I am certain more effort must be made to communicate findings in a comprehensive and digestible manner to the consumer, especially when it relates to issues regarding health and nutrition.”
Scolaro and his group chose the topic of feeding cats a vegetarian diet.
“What I enjoyed most was the challenge of finding information and presenting it in an unbiased way. For instance, after all of the research for this project, I am convinced vegetarianism in felines is, although possible, a poor set of constraints to impose, but I had to put my opinion aside to deliver facts,” Scolaro explained.
Sarah MacDonald Murray, a third-year animal biology student who drafted a Wiki article on the general nutritional requirements of senior dogs, agreed that the Wikipedia assignment was a good way to effect change.
“When you don't know something, the first thing you do is Google it. Most of the time, Wiki pages come up first in a Google search,” she pointed out. “There are vast amounts of conflicting knowledge about pet nutrition on the web. Having one place that owners can go to get credible information can help ensure our pets receive the proper care they need.”
To provide robust feedback from different perspectives, Adronie Verbrugghe of the Ontario Veterinary College helped mark the Wikipedia submissions and also gave feedback on what needed to be adapted before final submission to Wikipedia. Verbrugghe is an assistant professor of clinical nutrition and Royal Canin endowed chair in canine and feline clinical nutrition at the University of Guelph in Ontario.
Content developed by the students will continue to be added to Wikipedia as the students upload it. After it is posted, anyone can view the information and edit it with further sourced information. So far, five pages have been posted: Sporting/performance dog nutrition, Dental health for dogs, Dental health for cats, Senior cat and Puppy nutrition.
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