Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool (Bookshelf)/Print version

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Instructor Basics: How to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool

Page 2 (1st half)Edit

Educators around the world have been using Wikipedia as a teaching tool in their university classrooms for years. In this brochure, we bring together their experience to provide important information for you as you determine how to use Wikipedia in your classroom.

We've organized the brochure into three parts:

  1. Assignment planning: Learn key Wikipedia policies, and get more information on designing assignments, with a focus on asking students to write Wikipedia articles for class.
  2. During the term: Discover the structure of a typical Wikipedia article, how students should choose which article to improve, suggestions for what to cover in a Wikipedia lab session, and how to interact with the community of Wikipedia editors.
  3. After the term: See a sample assessment structure that's worked for Wikipedia assignments in the past.

Page 2.5-3: Understanding key policiesEdit

Since Wikipedia started in 2001, the community of volunteer editors — "Wikipedians" — have developed several key policies designed to ensure Wikipedia can be the best encyclopedia. Any assignment you integrate into your classroom must follow these policies. Understanding these cornerstone policies ensures that you develop an assignment that will meet your learning objectives and improve Wikipedia at the same time.

"We use the concept of notability to determine if a topic merits an article. In general, we consider a topic notable if there has been third-party coverage of the topic in reliable sources. If your students are starting new articles, they should familiarize themselves with the notability policy before they pick a topic." User:Wikipedian1

"The most reliable sources on Wikipedia are third-party sources with a reputation for fact-checking, such as international newspapers, peer-reviewed academic journals, and books published by academic presses. You should avoid citing blogs, press releases, and other less formal sources. Students should be using sources that represent significant viewpoint, rather than a one-off study or fringe work." User:Wikipedian2

"Everything on Wikipedia must be written from a neutral point of view. Wikipedia is not the place for argumentation, analysis, or advocacy, unlike many college papers. All information must be presented accurately and without bias, describing all the significant viewpoints published by reliable sources. You should explain different opinions on a topic, not argue for one or the other." User:Wikipeidan3

"The work students contribute to Wikipedia is free content and becomes part of the commons. It may be edited and reused by others under a free license. All writing on Wikipedia must be original. It's not appropriate to copy and paste from other sources." User:Wikipedian4

"Everyone who edits Wikipedia, including students, should assume good faith when interacting with each other. That means we treat each other with respect and assume that the everyone is operating with the same goal: to improve the content on Wikipedia. We value civility when interacting about contentious topics. Remember to always discuss the content being edited, and not the person editing, and refrain from personal attacks." User:Wikipedian4

Page 4-5: Designing your assignmentEdit

Wikipedia offers many options for assignments, based on your learning objectives. Consider your students' skill sets, how much of a contribution you want your students to make to Wikipedia, how much time you have in the course to dedicate to the assignment. In this brochure, we feature the assignment to ask students to write an article on a course-related topic, one of the most common assignments professors use.

sidebar: Alternative assignments with the translate, illustration, and copyediting text and the section that begins "A complementary…" Add an image of the CS brochure cover.

In the write an article assignment, you ask your students to expand an existing article or create a new article on a course-related topic. Using reliable sources, students explain information about the topic. Often, professors feature this assignment in conjunction with a longer analytical paper off-wiki; the student's Wikipedia article forms the literature review section of that paper.

Learning objectivesEdit

Asking students to write a Wikipedia article generally meets these four learning objective well.

  1. Writing Skills Development: Students learn how to write for a real audience of Wikipedia's millions of readers around the world, and they discover the differences between fact-based and persuasive writing.
  2. Media and Information Literacy: Wikipedia's transparent and collaborative content development process allows students to gain a deeper understanding of how information is both produced and consumed.
  3. Critical Thinking and Research Skills: Students learn to critically analyze Wikipedia articles to determine what is missing, very similar to the literature review process that is crucial in scholarly research.
  4. Collaboration: Students learn first-hand how to collaborate with a community of active volunteer editors (including their fellow students) in the development of encyclopedic content. They often receive feedback on their work and learn to negotiate with other editors in building consensus on content.

Syllabus designEdit

sidebar, with illustration of syllabus cover: A companion brochure offers a sample syllabus used by more than 100 professors who have used this assignment. Download the brochure at:

It is crucial for students who are going to be editing Wikipedia to become comfortable not only with the markup, but also the community. Requiring tiny assignments early in the term, such as those listed below, will acclimate them to the site. Professors who do not set up these milestones throughout the term usually have bad experiences with their assignments. These simple tasks prepare students for a longer Wikipedia assignment by introducing students to skills they will need later.

  1. Create your user page.
  2. Personalize your user page by adding a sentence or two about yourself.
  3. Improve the clarity of a sentence or two in an article related to this class.
  4. Leave a comment on the "Talk" page of an article related to this class.
  5. Find an image on Wikimedia Commons and add it to your user page.
  6. Upload an image to Wikimedia Commons that you have taken yourself.
  7. Use a reading from the course to add a reference to an article.

Once students have accomplished these milestones, they'll be more comfortable with working on Wikipedia. Students procrastinate, and so it's better to work these in as milestones throughout the term, so they have accomplished them prior to when they start writing.

Page 6-7: Choosing an articleEdit

art direction here: flip these two pages; remove the How WP is different section, so it is mostly the screenshot of the structure and the do/don't section with the intro text. Add to intro text:

...that is, well-covered by reputable third-party sources in your field.

Just what makes a good Wikipedia article? Make sure you familiarize yourself and your students with the structure of a typical Wikipedia article in your discipline, so students know what types of sections they will be expected to contribute. Most students will have never thought about the structure of an encyclopedia article before, so spending a few minutes in class clarifying how encyclopedias work is important.

Page 8: Teaching wiki basics to studentsEdit

In the first few weeks of class, we recommend that you give students an introduction to the basics of Wikipedia, including instructions on how to edit and some things they should keep in mind about how writing for Wikipedia is different than a typical college essay.

Editing basicsEdit

If you have time, take your students into a computer lab and do a hands-on introduction to wiki mark-up. This allows students to see editing take place "live," and gives them a safe space to make mistakes and ask questions in real-time. Typically, such labs last an hour or two.

If you feel comfortable enough with wiki mark-up, you can teach this lab yourself. If not, you can recruit local Wikipedians or contact your local Wikipedia Campus Ambassador (if your university has one).

Tips for what to cover:

  • Bolding and italicizing text
  • How to create headers
  • How to edit subsections
  • How to create bulleted and numbered lists
  • How to create links
  • How to create references
  • How to create a sandbox
  • Distinction between article pages, talk pages, and user pages
  • Use of talk pages

It is best to have students create their user accounts before they come to the lab. This allows them to read Wikipedia's username policy and consider how anonymous they want to be on the site (and also avoids triggering the automatic limits placed on creating numerous accounts from the same location in a short time period).

If you'd rather have students do this on their own time, an online training covering this material is available at:

sidebar: add the references for students section here that highlights the Welcome brochure

How Wikipedia is different from a college essayEdit

Be sure your students spend extra time thinking about how writing for Wikipedia is different from a typical assignment:

  • Fact-based, not persuasive writing. Rather than making an argument, students will be writing a description of the information about a topic, cited to reliable sources.
  • Formal tone and basic language. Articles should be written in a formal tone, but with easy-to-understand language. Wikipedia isn't the place for students to show off their extensive vocabularies. The audience of Wikipedia is global, and people who have never heard of the topic before will be reading what students are writing. Students need to clearly convey the basics of the topic in their writing.
  • No large block quotes. Academic writing favors large block quotes from reputable sources, but Wikipedia's policies state that you should try to paraphrase whenever possible. Quoting from sources is encouraged, but students should try to provide the context in their own words and only quote the truly key phrase or two from the original.

Page 9: Interacting with the Wikipedia communityEdit

Keep as is.

Page 10-11: Assessing student workEdit

How can you assess your students' contributions to Wikipedia and writing about Wikipedia? Depending on the complexity of your assignment, designing a grading rubric for it may be easy or challenging. Here is a sample grading rubric that has worked well for other instructors.

table in middle, 5 callouts:

Participation grade for early Wikipedia exercises

Did students complete the milestones (first referenced on page 4) listed in your syllabus?

Participation in class blog

Many instructors ask students to keep a running blog about their experiences. 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 you material both on the wiki and off the wiki to grade.

Peer reviews

Students evaluate each others' work on Wikipedia, leaving reviews for each other on or off the site. These evaluations can cover questions such as how reliable are the references, how well does the article cover the topic, or how well-written is the article.

Quality of Wikipedia contributions

Many instructors contrast what an article looked like before and after a student worked on it, using the article history. You can compare the beginning version with the end, extract the contributions made by the students, and see the individual changes made by the students. You may want your students to do this comparison themselves and add it to a portfolio they present to you.

Reflective essay

After the assignment is over, ask 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 on whether or not those expectations were met after they have completed the assignment.

Page 12: Back coverEdit

Leave as is.