Documentation:Teaching with Wikipedia Notes

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These are the notes from UBC Teaching with Wikipedia workshops (and related Wikipedia presentations) as compiled by Will Engle and Erin Fields.

Why Wikipedia?


Wikipedia is being embraced across higher education as a form of public scholarship that embeds the processes of digital scholarship directly into the process of editing.  When we ask students to undertake assignments, we are asking them to engage in:

  • open collaboration
  • critical thinking, and knowledge building for a global audience.
  • Communication and collaboration with communities other than their peers in a classroom,
  • opening their ideas up to public scrutiny,
  • evaluating, creating and communicating information in new ways.

Open Pedagogy and Valuable Assignments

Wikipedia assignments are a form of open pedagogy that reframe the student as creators or producers of knowledge and reframe their work as having value beyond the course:  

David Wiley, amongst other scholars, states that most assignments add no value to the world and describes these assignments as “disposable” -- “Disposable assignments are assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away. Not only do these assignments add no value to the world, they actually suck value out of the world. What if we changed these “disposable assignments” into activities which actually added value to the world?”

The Student as Producer pedagogical model, as described by Mike Neary at the University of Lincoln, involves more research and research-like activities at the core of the undergraduate curriculum… In this way students become part of the academic project of the University and collaborators with academics in the production of knowledge and meaning. emphasizes the role of the student as collaborators in the production of knowledge.

According to Derek Bruff, students should move from being the object of the educational process to its subject. Students should not be merely consumers of knowledge but producers, engaged in meaningful, generative work alongside the university’s faculty.  Bruff describes three aspects of student as producer assignments that are encompassed by Wikipedia assignments

  • Students are asked to work on problems that haven’t been fully solved or questions that haven’t been fully answered
  • Students are asked to share their work with others, not just their instructor.
  • Students are given a degree of autonomy in their work.

What is Wikipedia?

What is a Wiki?

In 1995 Ward Cunningham Created the first wiki called the WikiWikiWeb. At the time:

  • He observed that most of the tools for collaboration were concerned with complex collections of roles and requirements - only designated writers could create text, only editors could publish it, etc.  Very slow to publish to the Internet
  • He had radical thought: Groups of people who want to collaborate also tend to trust one another  

The core functionality of a Wiki (found in Wikiwikiweb) included:

  • No distinction between the idea of editor and reader; a user can move between those two roles
  • Every wiki page is the sum of total changes with all earlier edits stored as historical documentation (version control)
  • Not much has changed since then; Every page has a link saying "edit text" ;Whenever a user edited a page, the wiki records the change and saves the previous version

History of Wikipedia

In 2000, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched their first online encyclopedia:

Suppose scholars the world over were to learn of a serious online encyclopedia effort in which the results were not proprietary to the encyclopedists, but were freely virtually any desired medium. How Quickly Would That Encyclopedia Grow?”

Nupedia was launched with above statement and the main question was: How Quickly Would That Encyclopedia Grow?

Answer: Not very quickly

Nupedia launched in March 2000; by November 2000, it has published only 2 full length articles  

  • After six months, only 20 finished articles
  • Rather innovative idea of making the content freely accessible
  • Rather traditional contribution model
  • many editorial policies, guidelines, etc.

In 2001, Wales and Sanger decided to try creating a collaborative website to provide an additional source of rapidly-produced draft articles that could be polished for use on Nupedia. The Result: much easier to create articles; advisory board hated it:

  • offended their mission of creating a rigorously controlled knowledge base, designed and edited by experts
  • must move to their own url and thus wikipedia is born.
  • Sanger emails his mailing list asking them to humor them and take 5 or 10 minutes to write a new article,
  • within weeks, it has more articles than nupedia,
  • by end of the first year, Wikipedia had over 15,000 articles

As of summer 2018, there are:

  • 292 Different Language Wikipedias
  • 5.7 Million Articles on the English Wikipedia
  • 2.03 Million on the French Wikipedia


Almost from the beginning of Wikipedia there have been many questions about it's accuracy. As a result, there have been many research studies on this topic.

In 2005, four years after Wikipedia was launched, Nature published the results of an attempted blind study seeking reviewer evaluations of the accuracy of a small subset of articles from Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica. The non-peer-reviewed study was based on Nature's selection of 42 articles on scientific topics, including biographies of well-known scientists. The study found "Wikipedia comes close to Britannica in terms of the accuracy of its science entries".

A more recent study from 2014, in the open access journal PLOS One looked at the quality of Wikipedia articles on pharmacology, comparing articles from English and German Wikipedia with academic textbooks. Wikipedia's information about pharmacology was 99.7% and that the completeness of such information on Wikipedia was 83.8%. The study concluded: "The collaborative and participatory design of Wikipedia does generate high quality information on pharmacology that is suitable for undergraduate medical education."

How Wikipedia Works?

Wikipedia's collaborative and participatory knowledge development model has proven that it generate high quality information. Wikipedia's Core Content Norms help keep the project focused.

Core Content Norms

  • Neutral point of view – All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view, representing significant views fairly, proportionately and without bias.
  • Verifiability – Material challenged or likely to be challenged, and all quotations, must be attributed to a reliable, published source. In Wikipedia, verifiability means that people reading and editing the encyclopedia can check that information comes from a reliable source.
  • No original research – Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia

This are the basics a there are numerous guidelines on content, editing, notability, naming conventions.

The Five Pillars

  • Wikipedia is an encyclopedia
    • You can create your own wikipedia article but it must meet the notability standards: If a topic has received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject
  • Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view
    • Do not create: pages about yourself, your company, your band, or your friends; pages that advertise; personal essays; or other articles you would not find in an encyclopedia.
  • Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute

    • Content that is placed in Wikipedia, such as images or pictures, must be openly licensed.
  • Editors should treat each other with respect and civility

  • Wikipedia has no firm rules (but does have policies)

Reliable Resources

All facts within Wikipedia should be attributed to a reliable, published sourceIf available, academic and peer-reviewed publications are usually the most reliable sources. Other reliable sources include

  • university-level textbooks
  • books published by respected publishing houses
  • magazines
  • journals
  • mainstream newspapers

Bias in Wikipedia

Wikipedia's Demographics

The average person who edits English Wikipedia is:

  • male,
  • technically inclined,
  • formally educated,
  • an English speaker (native or non-native),
  • aged 15–49,
  • from a majority-Christian country,
  • from a developed nation,
  • from the Northern Hemisphere, and,
  • likely employed as a white-collar worker.

How does this demographic shape which information gets added and stays on Wikipedia?

Gender Bias

Anywhere from 8 and 22.7% of Wikimedia’s contributors are women. Many articles on notable women are still absent from Wikipedia, for example, and systemic bias remains an issue in topics that do have coverage

There is power in editing wikipedia: "Having a broad range of contributors and content is necessary to achieve our shared vision: that anyone can contribute to the sum of all knowledge. Where we are missing important voices, we also miss important context and information."

Wikipedia Assignments

Examples of Projects

There are many types of projects or assignments, with varying levels of difficulty, that use Wikipedia. Examples include:

  • Gap Analysis: Review a Wikipedia article for information gaps
  • Small Edits: Grammar edits. Add citations using the Citation Hunt website.
  • Local Wiki Projects: Assign groups articles to write in your local wiki, such as the UBC Wiki.
  • WikiEDU: Using WikiEdu or Wikipedia have students create or make significant edits to a Wikipedia article or stub.
  • Translations: For language learners, translate and article for the foreign language Wikipedia site.

Tips for Successful Assignments

From Jon Beasley-Murray:

  • The instructor must already have had experience on Wikipedia—here, we're referring to experience as an editor, with all of the frustrations and rewards that brings, such as having edits reverted and articles stuck with clean-up templates.
  • The instructor must be willing to interact on Wikipedia as least as much as his or her students, and probably much more. The encyclopedia is a site of constant interaction and negotiation, and the instructor cannot simply hold back and expect students to "get on with it".
  • The assignment must be given time, probably an entire semester. All serious writing is a dynamic, ongoing process of rewriting, and this is more evident on Wikipedia than anywhere else. Any featured article, or even good article, will need to go through scores, more likely hundreds, of revisions. For students to see this evolutionary process is an important part of the experience, and has the potential to transform their writing process.
  • The assignment's goals must be clear and compatible with those of Wikipedia. "Original research" is highly prized in academia, but the genre of the encyclopedia prioritizes research and writing skills. The assignment should take account of the state of existing Wikipedia articles, and not duplicate existing content.
  • Students should be prepared to work with other people's text, revising and reworking stubs and start-class articles rather than thinking that their job is to start from scratch.
  • Students should be prepared for others to work with their text, and they should negotiate with and take advantage of the encyclopedia's collaborative environment.

Editing Wikipedia

Writing for Wikipedia

Writing for Wikipedia can be different from traditional academic writing:

  • Fact-based rather than persuasive writing.
  • Formal tone and simple language.
  • Cite all sources.
  • Clear section headings/structure your content.

Free Content

All content on Wikipedia should be freely distributable in almost any medium. In practicality, this means that all text and files should openly licensed, which is usually done with a Creative Commons license:

Creative Commons is a non-profit organization whose mandate is to make it easier for creators to share their work and/or build upon the works of others. They have created licenses that anybody can apply to their work to allow others to share, remix, or use the work without having to contact the copyright owner to ask for permission

When adding content such as images to Wikipedia, be sure to remember that:

  • Just because something is online, doesn’t mean you can use it!
  • All Creative Commons licenses require that users of the work attribute (cite) the creator.
  • All files uploaded to Wikipedia must have a CC License applied to them

Best Practices for Students

  • Get to know Wikipedia. Create your user page
  • Choose a topic
  • Research! Research! Research! Find reliable sources
  • Draft your article in your sandbox
  • Post comments on related talk pages asking for feedback
  • Publish article in mainspace
  • Watch article, respond to feedback, peer review

Presentation Slides

Open Educational Practices: Teaching with Wikipedia

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