Using Wikipedia to Teach Written Health Communication

Using Wikipedia to Teach Written Health Communication

Melissa Vosen Callens (North Dakota State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1928-7.ch004
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Unlike first-year writing courses, upper-division writing courses often require students to engage in discipline specific writing. In the author's upper-division course, Writing in the Health Professions, students examine health literacy as it pertains to both oral and written patient-provider communication. Students edit and expand a Wikipedia article for the final course assignment. The advantages of this assignment are threefold. First, students write for an authentic audience, decreasing student apathy. Second, students engage civically, improving health information accessed by millions of people across the world. Finally, students improve content of existing articles and broaden the scope of new articles written, leading to more diverse content and perspectives. In this chapter, the author discusses the above assignment, providing descriptions of scaffolding activities. Potential drawbacks of using Wikipedia to teach students how to write using plain language is discussed, in addition to strategies that might limit these difficulties.
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At North Dakota State University (NDSU), a land-grant research institution, I teach several upper-division writing courses: Writing in the Health Professions, Business and Professional Writing, and Visual Culture and Language. Unlike first-year composition courses, upper-division writing courses at NDSU require students to engage in discipline-specific research and writing. These 300-level courses are meant to prepare students for the workplace and / or graduate school. The primary focus of my Writing in the Health Professions course is health literacy as it pertains to both oral and written patient-provider communication. According to Osborne (2004), nurse and health literacy advocate, health literacy is “a shared responsibility in which patients and providers each must communicate in ways the other can understand” (p. 2). I believe health literacy is an important and appropriate focus for the course, as it best simulates the writing my students will engage in as healthcare professionals. While I could ask students to review and / or write journal articles, both common upper-division writing assignments, realistically, most of these students will not formally review or write a journal article after graduation.

For the foreseeable future, most of my students will not be attending graduate school or working in a lab in academia. Upon graduation, a majority of the students will enter the workforce as pharmacists or registered nurses. Some students will get promotions from their current employers as they already work as pharmacy technicians, licensed practical nurses, or certified nursing assistants. When in the workplace, most will be asked to write to inform, to educate both colleagues and patients on a variety of work and health-related issues. With either of the above audiences, these students will be expected to write in a clear and concise manner. They will be expected to communicate using plain language. In my course, students quickly learn that plain language does not mean changing the meaning of their message; rather, plain language is using words and concepts people already know and understand. If that is not possible, words and concepts should be clearly defined in a manner that the reader can understand (Osborne, 2004, p. 157). Last summer, I asked students to expand a Wikipedia article of their choosing to hone their ability to communicate in a clear and concise manner. In addition to learning more about how to use plain language, students sharpened their research skills and understanding of how social media can facilitate collaboration. This chapter explores that endeavor, explaining both the benefits and pitfalls of using Wikipedia in a writing course.

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