Ambassadors Orientation Resources: Classroom

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Using Wikipedia in the Classroom


Handouts & Job Aids


Welcome to Wikipedia is a reference guide to help you get started to contributing to Wikipedia. Using the guide, you will be able to create a Wikipedia user account, start editing, and communicate with other Wikipedia contributors. You will also learn how articles evolve on Wikipedia and how you can assess quality of an existing Wikipedia article. Welcome to Wikipedia consists 17 pages including a quick reference to help you to remember frequently used wiki markup commands.

Welcome to Wikipedia (12MB)

This document is also available in several languages. There are links to those language versions on

This sample syllabus for a university course is an example of how a Wikipedia assignment for a class supported by the Wikipedia Ambassador Program can be structured. It incorporates many elements that have been shown to work well in previous assignments, and ties in to other resources such as handouts listed on this page.

Sample Syllabus

This document is also available in several languages. There are links to those language versions on

Evaluating Wikipedia article quality is a reference guide with specific steps you can take to get the most out of Wikipedia, as well as a look at how its quality system works.
Evaluating Wikipedia Article Quality

This document is also available in several languages. There are links to those language versions on

Introduction to free licenses helps you understand the basic concepts of free licenses. It explains the idea of free licenses, as well as terms like "CC-by-SA" and "public domain".
Introduction to Free Licenses

This document is also available in several languages. There are links to those language versions on

Wikipedia Assignments Types


When instructors think about how to integrate Wikipedia into their teaching, most think only about assigning students to contribute content to the encyclopedia. However there are many ways to use Wikipedia for learning, depending on the goals you have for your class, and the following may provide you with some ideas. If your university has Wikipedia Campus Ambassadors, they can help you think through the best way to structure a Wikipedia assignment, which requires careful planning and a delineated timeline with milestones for the students. Many instructors who have created Wikipedia assignments integrate reflective papers or presentations to help them grade student work (We'll talk about Grading later in this Module).

The following is a list of Wikipedia assignments that you can use to engage their students in learning. Obviously this is by no means a complete list of Wikipedia assignments, but rather serves as a start point for how Wikipedia can be used in your class. We look forward to learning how you will use it.

Assignment Learning Objective Description
Research a topic and write an article
Learning objectives: Writing skills, Research skills, Media literacy, Collaboration and community of practice This Wikipedia assignment works best once the instructor has had a short introduction to Wikipedia, but is generally highly effective for classes that focus on researching and writing about particular subject areas. Such assignments tend to span from four weeks to at times an entire semester.
Learning objectives: Writing skills, Collaboration and community of practice Many instructors try to teach the clarity and precision of writing, but nothing quite makes the point like someone else’s failed attempt at achieving these goals. Using one of the many poorly written articles on Wikipedia, you can quickly show students the real-world effects of poor communication. You can also show them the benefits of improving that communication by copyediting the article in real-time. If you choose one of the newly-created articles on Wikipedia, you can also have a discussion with the author(s) of the article about how best to convey what they want to say! This assignment can be done by students individually or collectively as a class and is a good introduction to editing Wikipedia. It is small and does not require students to learn wiki mark-up.
Analyze the discussion about a controversial topic
Learning objectives: Research skills, Media literacy Students will be at least superficially familiar with Wikipedia articles, but many may be unaware of the corresponding talk pages where contributors discuss problems and disagreements over how to change the articles. The talk pages for controversial topics can be particularly interesting windows into the construction and contestation of knowledge that is always going on across Wikipedia. Intellectual, political, ethnic, sociocultural, and other conflicts play out over and over on the talk pages of controversial or sensitive topics. This works as a stand-alone assignment, or a preliminary exercise before students begin improving Wikipedia content themselves.
Study and critique an article
Learning objectives: Writing skills, Research skills, Media literacy Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of Wikipedia and similar resources is key for understanding when it is appropriate to use Wikipedia, and when other kinds of sources are required. Students will read Wikipedia with a more critical eye once they've picked apart a few bad articles. For an added dimension, students can analyze the history of an article, the talk page discussions associated with it, and the people who contributed to it. Putting critiques and suggestions for improvement on the article's talk page is a great indirect way of helping to make Wikipedia better, and provides a meaningful audience for the students.

Compare Wikipedia to other reference sources
Learning objectives: Writing skills, Media literacy, Research skills Many instructors use Wikipedia in the classroom to teach media literacy. Comparing and contrasting Wikipedia’s entry on a particular topic to another online resource, such as the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy or Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, is a particularly effective assignment in this regard. Not only do students benefit from seeing the strengths and weaknesses of each source, but they also learn about the different resources available from the university’s library. This assignment is a good introduction to Wikipedia, as it does not require students to learn wiki mark-up. An interesting extension is to have students offer suggestions for improvement on the “Discussion” pages of Wikipedia articles once they have performed their comparison.
Use Wikipedia as a primary source for research
Learning objectives: Writing skills, Research skills Many classes study local phenomenon, such as mayoral elections or bond issues. Wikipedia is a community in and of itself, with all of the problems attendant upon a city of 100,000 people. Studying the governance structure of Wikipedia, the evolution of policies such as “neutral point of view,” and the ways editors envision themselves as part of a larger global collective are just some of the ways you could use Wikipedia as a primary source for undergraduate and graduate research projects.
Translate an article
Learning objectives: Writing skills, Collaboration and community of practice Did you know that Wikipedia exists in over 270 languages? Translating articles from one language to another is an all-encompassing endeavor for some Wikipedians! Having students translate articles or write articles in foreign-language classes gives their assignments meaning and relevance outside of class. Moreover, their interactions with native speakers on the Discussion pages of the articles will help improve their language skills. For this assignment, it would be best if the instructor were familiar with all the language Wikipedias being used in the class, as each community has different norms. However, it is generally recognized that those editors doing translation work are not as familiar with community norms as those “native” to home projects; translators are generally greeted with open arms and helped along in a very friendly manner.
Compare Wikipedia to journalism sources
Learning objectives: Writing skills, Media literacy, Research skills To what extent is Wikipedia a form of journalism? Comparing and contrasting Wikipedia articles, such as “2004 Indiana Ocean earthquake and tsunami,” to the reports and stories that were issued by mainstream news media can help students answer this question.

What role does Wikipedia play as a popularizer of science? Scientists often bemoan the coverage of science in the major newspapers. Comparing and contrasting the coverage of the “2009 flu pandemic vaccine,” for example, in the popular press and on Wikipedia would allow biology professors to discuss what it means to write for the public. Also, having students assess the accuracy of the two fora would allow professors to discover what the students really understand about the concepts.

This assignment is a good introduction to teaching with Wikipedia, as it does not require students to learn wiki mark-up. However, an interesting extension is to have students offer suggestions for improvement on the “discussion” pages of Wikipedia articles once they have performed their comparisons.

Chart the evolution of an article over a news cycle
Learning objectives: Writing skills, Media literacy, Research skills Wikipedia has become a news source for many readers—the main page even has an “in the news” section. However, articles change drastically over the course of a news cycle as interested readers add and delete information. Having students trace these additions and deletions and the consequent effects on the article will give them greater awareness of the changing flux of information in the internet age.

Create charts, graphs, images and pictures
Learning objectives: Research skills Wikipedia is not just about words. Charts and graphs that illustrate important concepts, such as migration, population growth, and climate change are also crucial. Assignments that ask students to create and add these visual aids to Wikipedia articles can be integrated into computing, science, rhetoric, and any other classes where the visualization of data is important.

Another way to engage your students in knowledge creation is to have your students work on articles about notable local subjects that lack pictures. Take them on a "photo-walk," have them upload their images to Wikimedia Commons, and finally add their original pictures to the articles they are working on.

Create recordings
Learning objectives: Research skills Wikipedia's articles on art forms, such as dance and music, benefit enormously from video recordings. Students could record themselves performing classic moves or pieces and upload these recordings to Wikimedia Commons.

Spoken articles make Wikipedia content available to those who can understand English but cannot read it. Students in voice training could record themselves reading Wikipedia articles aloud in conjuncture with Spoken Wikipedia.

Developing New Articles


If students are starting new articles, encourage them to go through the Articles for Creation (AfC) review process. This process for new articles makes sure they meet some basic requirements before releasing them to the public. To use it, first have them write their article in a user sandbox named after your topic, such as User:Example/George Harold, just as they would when expanding an existing article. When they're done and ready to deploy it, add the text "{{subst:afc submission/submit}}" to the top of the page. A bot will (within 30 minutes) automatically move their article to an "Articles for creation" subpage, such as Wikipedia:Articles for creation/George Harold. A reviewer will then review it as soon as possible and provide feedback. If it is approved, it will be moved again and become an official article. If it is not, the student may address the reviewer's feedback and try again. There is no limit to the number of retries. Note that AfC cannot be used for editing or expanding existing articles.

Grading Rubric


Many professors are unsure of how to grade Wikipedia assignments. In an effort to help, let's look at how they can assess their students' contributions to Wikipedia and their experience writing on Wikipedia. Depending on the complexity of the assignment, designing a grading rubric for it may be easy or challenging. Here are some ideas that have worked well for other instructors.

Before we get into some of the methods for assessing student work, there are a couple key items that will help in the grading of Wikipedia assignments:

Knowing all the students' usernames on Wikipedia is a necessary precondition
Without knowing the students' usernames on Wikipedia, the instructor won't be able to grade them. Create a page for the course on Wikipedia in the beginning of the semester. Then create a participants list and make it mandatory for the students to add their usernames to that list. Once all students have signed the list, the instructor can come back later and click on "user contributions" (in the menu bar on the left hand side of the browser screen) to review all of the student's activities on Wikipedia.
Be clear about the expectations
Being explicit about what the instructor expects the students to do is key. Example: The assignment for the students could be to add a minimum of 3 new sections to an existing article. Students could also be asked to add a minimum of 8 references to an existing article that lacks the appropriate sourcing, etc.

Evaluation Type Description
If the project extends for an entire semester, you might consider having the students blog about their experience. Giving them prompts every week or every two weeks, such as "To what extent are the editors on Wikipedia a self-selecting group and why?" will help them begin to think about the larger issues surrounding this online encyclopedia community. It will also give the instructor the material both on the wiki and off the wiki to grade.
Reflective paper
After the assignment is over, consider having students write a short reflective essay on their experiences using Wikipedia. This works well for both short and long Wikipedia projects. An interesting iteration of this is to have students write a short version of the essay before they begin editing Wikipedia, outlining their expectations, and then have them reflect to what extent those expectations were met after they have completed the assignment.
Similar to the reflective paper, another possible grading method is to ask students to turn in a series of writings: (1) a collection of all of their contributions from Wikipedia and other class activities (thus reducing the need for the professor to find these student contributions on Wikipedia himself/herself), (2) a summary of and reflection on the students' interactions with other Wikipedia editors, and (3) a reflective paper discussing their experiences working on Wikipedia. By creating such a portfolio, students collect their work and debrief about their experience.
Presentation (individual or group)
Consider having students give an oral presentation on their Wikipedia experiences. This allows students to practice public speaking skills in addition to the writing skills they have learned on Wikipedia.
Peer reviews
Asking the students to peer review each others' work meets two objectives:

First, the students will practice their review skills. They will have to critically evaluate their peer's contribution to Wikipedia. For example, they could try to answer questions like: Are the newly added sections of the article readable? Are all additions well referenced? Does the content adhere to Wikipedia's Neutral Point of View policy? How much do the additions improve the article overall?

Second, asking students to peer review each others' work also helps to save time. Assessing the contributions of each individual in a class of 30 students can be time consuming. Asking the students to write reviews is a more effective way of assessing the student's work on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia quality assessment tools
Use Wikipedia's own quality assessment tools as part of the grading schema. Most articles on Wikipedia are ranked "stub" through "featured" class. The instructor could require students to move articles up this quality ranking scale, or achieve one of the highest quality levels - "good article" or "featured article."
Bytes or characters
Grading students on the sheer amount of material they add to Wikipedia can be easily calculated using Wikipedia's many automated tools.
Article history
A key tool for professors assessing the student's work is Wikipedia's "page history" feature. The page history contains a list of the page's previous revisions. All past changes to the page in question are listed in reverse-chronological order. To find out what a specific student contributed to a Wikipedia article, you have to follow these four steps:
(1) Go to the article that the student worked on.
(2) Click on "View history" in the upper right tab list on top of the article.
(3) Find the student's Wikipedia user name in the list of contributors.
(4) Compare the previous version with the version the student saved: Tick the left-column radio button of the older version and the right-column radio button of the newer version, and then click the "Compare selected versions" button.

See Wikipedia's help page page history for more information about how to use the page history feature.

Student contribution history
Another key tool for assessing an individual student's work is the "contribs" feature, which will show a history of a specific student's edits.
(1) Click the history of any page to which the editor you are interested in contributed.
(2) Locate the name of the editor in the edit history.
(3) Click on the word "contribs" next to the editor's name.
(4) A list of the every edit that user has made to Wikipedia will appear.

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