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U. of Toronto Class Assignment Backfires in Clash on Wikipedia

A University of Toronto professor’s assignment that asked students to add content to Wikipedia backfired when a contingent of the Web site’s volunteer editors began raising concerns about the raft of new contributions, according to the Canadian Press.

The professor, Steve Joordens, had asked the 1,900 students in his introductory-psychology course to add information to relevant Wikipedia pages, in an effort to improve the site and to teach the students about sharing information. But the new contributions alarmed a group of Wikipedia’s editors, who said the additions came from individuals who did not possess the relevant expertise.

Some community members raised concerns that the contributions had been plagiarized, and others called the assignment an unnecessary burden on the site’s editors. Mr. Joordens defended his students, saying that only a small fraction of their contributions had been flagged for problems, the news service reported.

A spokesman for the foundation that operates Wikipedia told the news service that the professor had had some preliminary discussions with the site’s leaders before carrying out the assignment, which the spokesman described as “experimental.” He said the Wikipedia community’s fast response is one of the factors that makes the site attractive to educators.

The professor said he would limit the number of students who take on such assignments in the future and make sure that they’re familiar with the site’s editing practices.

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