Can academic faculty members teach with Wikipedia?

397 readers like this.
open academics written on paper

Since 2010, 29,000 students have completed the Wiki Ed program. They have added 25 million words to Wikipedia, or the equivalent of 85,000 printed pages of content. This is 66% of the total words in the last print edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. When Wiki Ed students are most active, they are contributing 10% of all the content being added to underdeveloped, academic content areas on Wikipedia.

Eager to learn more I contacted LiAnna Davis, director of Programs for Wiki Ed, who enthusiastically agreed to answer my questions.

Bonus: Wiki Education Foundation (Wiki Ed)'s platform is built on free software; find it at WikiEdu Dashboard GitHub.

How did Wiki Ed get started? Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got involved.

In 2010, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF, the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia) noticed a trend that university faculty who were also Wikipedia editors (Wikipedians) were successfully incorporating Wikipedia editing assignments into their classes. WMF created a pilot program to answer the question: Can non-Wikipedian faculty members teach with Wikipedia if they have enough support for the Wikipedia editing portion of the course?

I was part of the team hired in 2010 to work on the pilot and the answer we provided was a resounding "Yes." In 2013, the WMF spun off the American and Canadian versions of the program into a new nonprofit organization, the Wiki Education Foundation (Wiki Ed); I moved from WMF to Wiki Ed. Since we became our own organization, we've been able to focus on the program and grow its impact from 75 classes each year when the program was with WMF to 275 classes this term.

People automatically assume that college students are savvy in all things tech related, especially the Internet, but your website says, "University undergraduates may be tech-savvy, but that doesn't always mean they're digitally literate." Can you explain that?

Just because someone can figure out how to use their iPhone doesn't mean they can tell whether something they read online is trustworthy or not. As a Stanford study ("Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning November 22, 2016.") recently showed, students aren't very media literate. However, when students are writing Wikipedia articles, they have to be. They need to follow Wikipedia's Reliable Source guideline, which says information on Wikipedia must be cited to a source that goes through some sort of fact checking, is independent, etc. For many students, such sourcing is the first time they've had to do more than just Google their topic and cite the first source they see. They need to understand which sources are reliable and which aren't, and they become more digitally literate consumers of information.

What do you say to those who make the statement: "Wikipedia isn't a reliable source."

Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, which is by definition a tertiary source. By the time students reach undergrad, they should be consulting primary and secondary sources, not tertiary sources, so no, students shouldn't be citing Wikipedia. But it's a great place to start your research, to give yourself a broad overview of a subject, and discover links to sources at the bottom of the article that you can consult. As we like to say, "Don't cite it! Write it!"

It puts students into the position of producers of knowledge, not just consumers of knowledge...

How can a professor's involvement in Wiki Ed change a student's learning experience higher education?

By teaching with Wikipedia, instructors provide students with valuable media literacy, critical thinking, online communications, and writing skills that they need to succeed, whether they continue in academia or enter the workforce upon graduation. It puts students into the position of producers of knowledge, not just consumers of knowledge, and gives them a meaningful assignment that actually makes a difference in the world, not just a rote academic exercise that gets thrown away at the end of a term.

We're actively onboarding new classes for the spring term. Interested faculty should visit the Wikipedia Education Foundation's Teach page to get started.

What staff development is needed for a teacher to participate? How much training is necessary for students?

When you sign up on the Wikipedia Education Foundation's Teach page, Wiki Ed provides an online orientation for new faculty on the basics of how to teach with Wikipedia. We also have a series of online training modules that we automatically assign to students based on the specific assignment (for example, if you want your students to add images, they'll get a module on images; if you don't, they won't). In a dozen disciplines, we also have specific guidebooks showing how to edit in that topic area on Wikipedia. In addition, we have staff who are experienced Wikipedia editors who can help answer students' and instructors' questions. Our system is quite extensive now; we supported more than 6,300 students this fall term, and we're used to working with faculty who have no experience editing Wikipedia, so that shouldn't keep anyone from doing the assignment.

What are Visiting Scholars?

Our program to encourage teaching with Wikipedia isn't the only connection we make between Wikipedia and academia. In the Visiting Scholars program, a university library or department will open up access to their collection to an established Wikipedia editor (called a "Visiting Scholar") who is lacking sources. Using this university login, the Visiting Scholar will have access to sources, so they can improve articles in broad subject areas of interest to the institution. It's a small but mighty program, because it takes a lot of work to get set up, but the Scholars produce a lot of truly fabulous content on Wikipedia.

Who are your partners and how important is their involvement to your success now and in the future?

We partner with academic associations who see the value in our work as a service to their discipline. Let's face it: when people want information about a topic, they don't go read the peer-reviewed journal articles published by those associations, they go to Wikipedia. By encouraging faculty in these associations to teach with Wikipedia, they're improving information on Wikipedia in those subject matters. Our partners enable us to reach large numbers of potential new faculty members, and enable us to dramatically improve content in a specific subject area through a partnership.

We welcome donations at on our Support Us page if your readers want to support our work.

User profile image.
Educator, entrepreneur, open source advocate, life long learner, Python teacher. M.A. in Educational Psychology, M.S. Ed. in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator.


Very interesting and smart idea!would like to get involved and learn more.

If you compare what you get from Wikipedia with what you get from a web search using whatever engine you like, Wikipedia wins hands down, with a lot of information not collected elsewhere. I've looked at a lot of technical and medical information in its pages and the accuracy and detail is generally excellent. I'm not seeing evidence of leftist activists in the information I look for.

Great article! I'd also like to mention that the WikiJournal of Medicine may be a good fit for high-quality articles that students produce and think are a suitable level for academic peer review.

Wow. That's great thanks for sharing. It would be great to learn more about that. You should submit a proposal to "open at"

In reply to by Thomas Shafee (not verified)

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.