Last modified on 17 August 2014, at 21:47

Education/Reasons to use Wikipedia

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 and use it properly. Curricula can and should include Wikipedia!

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.


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.


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



Student engagementEdit

When using Wikipedia in a class assignment, student motivations and learning outcomes vary widely, but one constant is that students are more engaged in a Wikipedia assignment than a traditional assignment. Here are some of the benefits students state for using Wikipedia in the classroom:

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

Learning outcomesEdit

Students learn a variety of skills through 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 will be reading a lot!
  • Media literacy — students identify bias and partisanship; particularly with respect to Wikipedia, students recognize whether an article is credible or not.
  • Critical thinking — in contrast to many class assignments which require an argumentative or persuasive paper, Wikipedia's neutral point of view policy helps students think about class material in a new way.
  • Expository writing — students practice writing in an encyclopedic summary style.
  • Collaboration — students work with others to develop high quality encyclopedia articles.
  • Community of practice — some students find a group of people within the Wikipedia community who work and learn in the same field.
  • Literature review — students get a lot of practice finding and summarizing appropriate sources for their topic.
  • Citation — students learn how to reference and use reliable sources correctly.
  • Online etiquette — in today's computer driven environment, it is common to work with people one may never meet in person; students learn this essential skill.
  • Coding — students learn simple basics of wiki markup language, a form of computer programming or coding, as well as the mechanics of working with wikis.
  • Understanding copyrights — students learn the basics of free licenses.
  • Practicing digital and online citizenship — students embrace the opportunity to participate in a large-scale knowledge project as peers and face the unique obstacles associated with such participation in a digital and online environment.


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 because they must not only research and write as they would normally, but also learn how Wikipedia works and how to follow its rules and writing norms—and because the stakes feel much higher when they are writing in public.
  • Planning ahead — Wikipedia assignments should be planned well ahead of time, since it takes a bit of extra time to coordinate with the Wikipedia community (which, for instructors who are new to using Wikipedia in the classroom, 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 won't be effective if rushed or put off until the last minute.
  • Grading — especially for instructors new to Wikipedia assignments, there is a modest learning curve to devise an efficient grading rubric, and grading may take more time than it would for a traditional assignment.

Further readingEdit