Education/Reasons to use Wikipedia

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Wikipedia is an opportunity to teach students essential 21st century skills that most will use in their careers and personal lives. Wikipedia is a valuable public resource, and in a classroom environment, students learn how to contribute to it and how to use it properly. Curricula can and should include Wikipedia. Wikipedia belongs in education.

Students at Indiana University discussing Wikipedia in class
Students use Wikipedia. It is very critical that we, meaning academia, get on board with this, because it is going to happen if we like it or not. We need to work with them to learn to use Wikipedia correctly and contribute to it to make it better.

—Professor

Turning in a paper and getting it back with a letter on it is far less rewarding than submitting an article onto one of the world’s most renowned knowledge bases for all to see.

—Student

The Wikipedia assignment is about media literacy. Knowing what to look for, how to understand and contextualize your resources.

—Professor

Benefits[edit]

When using Wikipedia in education, student motivations and learning outcomes can vary widely. However, most students are more engaged in a Wikipedia assignment than a traditional assignment. They also learn many skills.

Student engagement[edit]

These are some of the reasons that using Wikipedia in the classroom is so engaging, according to students:

  • The global audience — students appreciate that their work could be viewed by thousands of people.
  • The usefulness of the assignment — students like that their work serves a purpose; it isn't just graded and forgotten.
  • The résumé builder — students add a new skill to their professional portfolio.
  • The "cool" factor — students like showing their work to family and friends.
  • The feedback — students like getting input from the broader world.
  • The different experience — students appreciate an alternative assignment format and learning new things.

Student learning[edit]

Students learn a variety of skills by using Wikipedia in the classroom. Some of the main ones are:

  • Reading — students get better at reading by reading more, and while working on Wikipedia, they read a lot!
  • Writing — students practice writing in an expository, encyclopedic, summary style.
  • Critical thinking — in contrast to many class assignments which require an argumentative or persuasive paper, Wikipedia's neutrality policy helps students think about class content in a new way.
  • Information literacy — students identify bias and partisanship; students recognize whether an article is credible or not.
  • Literature review — students practice finding and summarizing appropriate sources for their topic.
  • Collaboration — students work with other people to develop high quality encyclopedia articles.
  • Community of practice — students can connect with people in the Wikipedia community who work and study in the same field.
  • Citation — students learn how to reference and use reliable sources correctly.
  • Copyright — students learn the basics of copyrights and free licenses and the importance of attribution.
  • Coding — students learn to use wiki markup, a computer programming language and form of coding, as well as the mechanics of working with wikis.
  • Online etiquette — students learn how to work well with people whom they only know online and may never meet in person; this is an essential skill in today's online environment.
  • Online citizenship — students participate in a large-scale knowledge project as peers and encounter challenges that are unique to an online environment.

Challenges[edit]

Wikipedia assignments are rewarding, but are in several respects more challenging than traditional assignments.

  • Demanding of students — Students typically find Wikipedia assignments more challenging than similar traditional assignments. They must not only research and write as they would normally, but also learn how Wikipedia works and how to follow its rules and norms. Also, the stakes feel much higher when students are writing in public.
  • Planning ahead — Instructors must plan Wikipedia assignments well ahead of time, since it takes a bit of extra time to coordinate with the Wikipedia community. For instructors who are new to using Wikipedia in the classroom, this is essential to a successful project.
  • Pacing — Students have less flexibility in pacing their work, since some critical elements involving feedback from the Wikipedia community will not be effective if rushed or put off until the last minute.
  • Grading — Especially for instructors who are new to Wikipedia, there is a modest learning curve to devising an efficient grading rubric, and assessment of student work may take more time than it would for a traditional assignment.

See also[edit]