Almost every student can agree that at some point in their academic career, they’ve been told not to cite a Wikipedia article.
For Cody Kommers, a first-year physics student, this moment came during the first day of his English composition class.
“I always use Wikipedia to get a better idea of what I am going to write about when I’m doing a research project, but I always use other websites on the Internet to cite relevant sources,” Kommers said. “I think it’s common knowledge that Wikipedia should never be cited.”
But one global program is trying to mend the credibility of Wikipedia.
Through the Wikipedia Education Program, college professors in about 12 different nations are working with their students to edit preexisting articles and write new articles for the site. The project is run by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization that runs various wiki-based programs, such as Wikipedia.
For instance, students at various universities in Mexico can receive academic credit for editing Wikipedia articles, and Wikimedia Macedonia has been holding courses on Wikipedia editing in Macedonian universities. Educators become involved in the project by reaching out to the Wikimedia Foundation and setting up a pilot program on a campus.
Students at UC Berkeley, San Francisco and the University of Massachusetts Amherst can also access the program. UCLA is not one of the participants so far, said LiAnna Davis, communications manager for the Wikipedia Education Program, in an email.
The concept of the Wikipedia Education Program is based on the Public Policy Initiative, a pilot program originally created by the Wikimedia organization for professors at university public policy programs to work with their students to improve articles in their fields of study.
The initiative began in the United States as a pilot project in 2010 and strong interest from professors all around the world led to the expansion of the initiative into the Wikipedia Education Program, according to the program’s website.
The overall aim of the Wikipedia Education Program is to gain greater involvement from both students and academics, while also improving the credibility of the website for all users, according to the program’s mission statement.
For example, Arabic students at the University of Cairo have fixed incorrect information on a Wikipedia Arab page, according to the website.
“There is nothing wrong with students using (Wikipedia) in the classroom, but once college professors are able to edit the site, (students) will be able to utilize it better as a source,” said Maximilian Klein, a regional ambassador of the Wikimedia Foundation and a teaching assistant at the UC Berkeley. As a regional ambassador, Klein works with professors at UC Berkeley and trains participants on how to edit Wikipedia pages.
The assignment also helps students learn the value of libraries because they have to write original articles using information from libraries and other primary sources, Davis said.
To address concerns regarding its credibility, the Wikimedia Foundation is also collecting and analyzing statistics about the accuracy and quality of its articles.
For some students, the Wikipedia Education Program may change the way they can incorporate Wikipedia into their research and assignments in the future.
Paola Lafler, a fourth-year political science student, said she uses Wikipedia to look up general facts, but has never referenced it when writing a paper because her professors told her the information on the site might be inaccurate. She said she might be more likely to use it if it becomes more accurate through this program.
“If professors are becoming involved in the creation and editing of Wikipedia pages, it might be possible for Wikipedia to play a greater role in the papers students write,” Lafler said.