Dr. Heather Tienson featured in Los Angeles Times article

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In the article, UCLA biochemistry instructor Heather Tienson was interviewed about her use of Wikipedia in the classroom.  

In her undergraduate biochemistry classes Tienson’s students expand on Wikipedia articles to hone their research and writing skills.

Tienson was also recently featured in a UCLA Newsroom article about this innovative teaching technique. 

Excerpted from the Los Angeles Times (by Rosanna Xia):

College students take to Wikipedia to rewrite the wrongs of Internet science

In her intro to biochemistry class at UCLA, Heather Tienson assigns about a dozen honors students each quarter to find a topic — biological membrane, dehydrogenase, voltage gated ion channels, protein aggregation — that needs improving on Wikipedia.

A good article, Tienson tells her students, should be simple enough that someone in high school can understand it, but also well-defined and comprehensive enough that she can get something out of it too.

With the help of online tutorials and on-call experienced entry writers known as Wikipedians, students first learn how to follow the website’s (surprisingly) strict protocols. Citations, for instance, are crucial. For the final version of an entry — about two pages long, single-spaced — Tienson requires at least 10 references. To track down the most reliable sources, students usually have to read many more.

Tone also is key —  just the facts, no arguing for a particular hypothesis. Then there’s clarity.

“Normally in their science classes, they’re encouraged to write as technical as possible and maybe make it sound a little more difficult or complex,” Tienson said. “Here, they have to do the opposite…. You have to know the jargon well enough to be able to replace it with a more simple, concise explanation. To educate the average individual, it requires understanding the topic at a much deeper level.”

Since Tienson introduced the assignment last fall, 33 students have expanded articles on Wikipedia. Before publication, each article was peer reviewed by two classmates.

The assignment has led to unexpected discoveries. Last quarter, one student found that the page for Mary Bernheim, the British biochemist who discovered monoamine oxidase, an enzyme in the human body that prompted new studies on how it might affect disorders such as schizophrenia, was four sentences long.

Tienson plans to encourage students this fall to expand more pages on women in science.

“Unless they’re incredibly famous female scientists, if you go to their page, you’ll get information on who they married, how many children they had, where they worked and a sentence on their science,” she said. 

Read the full article here.