Integrating Wikipedia in Your Courses: Tips and Tricks

screenshot of adeline koh's feminist theory wikipedia course page

Wikipedia is the seventh most-popular website on the Internet and is the web’s most popular and largest reference resource. Many instructors decry student reliance on this online encyclopedia open to anyone to edit, but I am part of a growing movement of teachers who integrates student editing of Wikipedia pages into our pedagogy. There are many pedagogical reasons for this; integrating Wikipedia editing into your courses

  • teaches students to navigate the rules and social norms of an online community of knowledge creation,

  • trains them in developing responsible public-facing research, and

  • introduces them to ways of dealing with a variety of responses to their work.

I’ve integrated Wikipedia into two of my courses now — Digital Writing and Feminist Theory) — and my syllabi and assignments are publicly available (please go ahead and take what might be useful for you!). In each course I’ve been amazed by student reactions to the assignment: they overwhelmingly report that this is the most engaging — and nerve-wracking — aspect of the course, as their work has public impact, and that editing Wikipedia is tremendously empowering.

Below I share what I have found to be most useful when thinking about assigning Wikipedia editing in my courses. These are things which I wish I had known about before I started using Wikipedia in my teaching.

  1. Visit the Wikimedia Instructor handout repository. It contains great resources which you can download and give to your students without having to continuously reinvent the wheel. This includes an introductory guide to editing Wikipedia, advice on choosing articles to edit, and how to cite sources and avoid plagiarism when editing Wikipedia.

  2. The same handout repository contains some very helpful guides for instructors new to Wikipedia editing, including a basic introduction to using Wikipedia as a teaching tool, a sample syllabus for a Wikipedia assignment, and case studies for how professors are teaching with Wikipedia.

  3. Complete the Wikipedia Training For Educators exercise, a walk-through demo that is immensely helpful for beginners. At the same time, integrate the Wikipedia Training For Students exercise for your students in your syllabus as a required activity.

  4. Often, students and instructors may find pushback against their edits when they have insufficient knowledge of Wikipedia and the rules of the community. The Wiki Education Foundation wants to help. To help them help you, make sure that your course has its own Wikipedia course page and request a Wikipedia ambassador for your course. An ambassador can provide helpful feedback to your students on their edits. Also check out the best practices to integrating Wikipedia assignments into your courses on Wikipedia itself.

  5. I am indebted to the late Adrianne Wadewitz for teaching me a great deal on integrating Wikipedia into my courses. One of the most important lessons Adrianne taught me (and that I learned the hard way), was the importance of scaffolding the Wikipedia assignment into the entire course, and not rushing through it in a matter of weeks. Training students (and yourself) in the proper understanding of Wikipedia and how it functions takes time and should not be rushed. For a terrific example of how Wikipedia editing can be scaffolded into a course, refer to Adrianne’s Wikipedia course page on a Children’s Literature class that she constructed for Fall 2011.

Overall, Wikipedia editing has been a very successful assignment in my pedagogy. Students find this a really important and engaging assignment–you can check out my student Alicia Pileggi’s (also a DH@Stockton intern & HASTAC Scholar) blog on her experiences with editing Wikipedia here. Integrating Wikipedia editing into my courses is also for me an important aspect of my scholarly outlook—as it trains students in contributing to public knowledge responsibly, and shows them what it is  like to participate in public communities of discourse. I see it as an important aspect of many of my courses that I will continue to use for the long-term.

Have you integrated Wikipedia into your courses? What lessons have you learned?

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