This is being written at the Eduwiki conference in Cardiff, where I gave a presentation on the first year course I run, which uses both A Vision of Britain through Time and Wikipedia as teaching resources.
Each student is assigned a different village, and more specifically a Wikipedia article about a village. Even more specifically, the villages are all also Civil Parishes, and the article are what Wikipedia call stub articles, containing just a couple of sentences.
The students’ task is to “substantially extend [their] assigned Wikipedia article to provide a rounded description of the place and, in particular, an account of its historical development”. Substantially extend means they have to turn those two sentences into four sides of A4 paper, when printed out.
We deliberately use parishes far from Portsmouth that the students don’t know, so this is all about researching using online sources, not observing, and of course a major online resource for researching British villages and parishes is Vision of Britain. Obviously, someone with real local knowledge could do a better job, at least on what the village is currently like, but we work only with articles which have had no work done on them for at least a year, so local people don’t seem interested.
The example I use in my EduWiki presentation is Sawley, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Here is the article as it was before our student got started:
Here is the article as it is now; this is obviously one of the better articles the students did, but several got higher marks:
The article includes this population time series for Sawley:
To construct this, the student drew on data for 1881 to 1961 in Vision of Britain:
It also uses recent census statistics on Sawley, from the government’s Neighbourhood Statistics site:
What would have helped the student get a higher mark would have been further drawing on earlier population figures which are currently available only within the scanned images on the Historical Population Reports site; we hope at some stage to add these to Vision of Britain:
Incidentally, the above examples show why we have been putting a lot of work into redesigning the URLs in Vision of Britain: the URLs from Neighbourhood Statistics and Hist-Pop are horrendously complex and it is very hard to be sure either which bits are really necessary, or whether they will carry on working long term.
Both we and Wikipedia use much shorter and clearer URLs. The disadvantage of our purely numerical identifiers for places and units is that nothing in the URLs tell you where they are about, but the advantage is that unlike Wikipedia you don’t need to worry about which broader area is also named to identify the place unambiguously: currently Sawley is in the county of NorthYorkshire, but historically it was in the West Riding of Yorkshire; as was another Sawley which is now in Lancashire.
You can access my EduWiki presentation here: