More professors embrace Wikipedia in their classrooms

About ten years ago, Amin Azzam, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, often told medical students not to look up health information on Wikipedia because of concerns about the trustworthiness of the website. However, one student once looked at him “crazy”, which made him reconsider that stance.

“You see, we all go there first as students,” the student said to Azzam. “Why are you fighting us? Can you help us improve?”

Azzam considered the wisdom of the student’s comments. The free encyclopedia entries are written for students to understand. It also provides an accessible first pass on new topics and reviews of forgotten topics. Furthermore, he determined that many patients rely on Wikipedia to research medical issues, and that doctors who ignore that reality are fooling themselves. I decided to design and teach at

“At the time, it was a far-fetched idea to require all medical students to edit Wikipedia,” Azzam said. Since then, UCSF’s School of Medicine has incorporated the Wikipedia editing challenge into a required core course for all medical students. This task is part of a curriculum that nurtures an identity as a doctor who embodies a “spirit of inquiry,” which is defined as “a practice that is hard to give up.” Students who enjoy assignments are encouraged to enroll in elective courses that focus entirely on Wikipedia editing.

Azzam is part of a growing trend of professors incorporating Wikipedia editing assignments into their classes. In the process, these instructors are debunking old arguments against crowdsourced websites, improving students’ digital literacy skills, and broadening the role of educators from the classroom to society. However, apart from the curriculum’s efforts to make use of Wikipedia for student convenience, some students are discouraged from citing Wikipedia as a source of information for their research.


When someone researches a topic online, the subject’s Wikipedia entry is often the top result returned. Crowdsourced platforms are well-known for their depth and breadth, but they also have shortcomings, including heterogeneity in geographic, historical, gender, race, sexual identity, and cultural representation.

According to Diana Park, science librarian at Oregon State University, professors who create a place for Wikipedia in the classroom can seize the opportunity to have conversations with students about how knowledge is built and shared. Her research was conducted with Laurie Bridges, Librarian and Associate Professor of Education and Outreach at Oregon State University, during her two-credit course at the university to help students think about information equity through the lens of Wikipedia. Based on teaching experience.

“The whole course is about Wikipedia, but Wikipedia also uses it as a larger placeholder for information about the Internet in general,” said Park.

In the Wikipedia Editing Course, students develop research and digital literacy skills while writing and editing articles on the platform. Instructors use subject matter knowledge to assess the quality of student contributions, emphasizing values ​​such as knowledge sharing and diverse perspectives. Wiki Education provides educational and editorial resources and support for faculty and staff.

Students also learn skills that help detect the quality of information on the site. For example, WikiProject Medicine ranks Wikipedia’s health-related articles by importance (highest, high, medium, low) and rates them. Taken together, these rankings stratify health-related content on websites by importance and quality, Azam said. Students also learn about the article’s “talk page” where others discuss the article’s benefits.

Students who edit Wikipedia articles as part of their coursework often find it “much more meaningful than writing papers that only professors see.”

Students see their impact from a course dashboard that keeps scores like a team scoreboard. For example, in Azzam’s most recent course, which ran in his late August through September this year, 165 students contributed about 1,440 edits, 100,000 words, and 886 to Wikipedia articles that had 1.16 million views. Added a reference to

“For some students, this is the greatest achievement of their career,” he said. “The impact on global public health could be severe.”

Taken together, the number of Wikipedia editing classes in all subject areas around the world is remarkable. At the time of this writing, for example, the 6,040 students enrolled in the 360 ​​Wikipedia editing class in the fall of 2022 added 1,430,000 words, provided 14,900 references, edited 3,140 articles, and contributed 136 new I wrote an article and received a total of 89 million pageviews.

“There’s a lot of wisdom in the saying, ‘If you can’t beat them, join us,'” said Azzam.

Indeed, the site’s founder, Jimmy Wales, has gone on record about how students should and, importantly, not use Wikipedia.

“I don’t think people should quote it, and I don’t think Britannica should quote it,” Wales said in 2005. To a deeper level. “

Many instructors agree, with some writing in response to questions on Twitter: not good looking” When “A good place to start. It ends badly. Follow the citation.


Instructors interested in incorporating Wikipedia editing challenges into their courses may face challenges. For example, a professor skilled in writing academic prose may need to learn to compose prose suitable for a general audience.

Simson Garfinkel, a data science specialist lecturer at George Washington University, has incorporated Wikipedia editing into the courses he teaches. However, some of his students were baffled by the liberal assignment of making significant contributions to Wikipedia.

“For many topics, the reason Wikipedia articles are short or non-existent is that there are not many reliable, citable secondary sources that meet Wikipedia’s citation criteria,” writes Garfinkel. “Students wanted a quantifiable metric. How many words would they need to type to get an A?”

Despite the challenges, Garfinkel is a strong advocate of teaching with Wikipedia, especially for students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics who would benefit from learning science communication skills.

Park encourages students to edit articles in line with their own interests, but that presents a challenge for students with interests considered unremarkable by Wikipedia’s standards. Park recalls a student who wanted to write about lemon bars and other recipes traditionally viewed as women’s pursuits. I noticed that. They worked together to strengthen the article’s case and successfully got the article accepted.

Asking students to write new articles is more work than asking them to edit existing pages. However, students need instructions as to what information should be included and how that information should be retrieved before creating or editing. Instructors assist students in providing guidance on research methods, types of information to add, and acceptable sources of information. Instructors familiar with the Wikipedia ecosystem are well suited to lead the class through the process.

“You might think it would be really easy just to edit or add a few sentences, but those few sentences require a lot of work,” says Park.

beyond the classroom

Savannah Schmock, a sophomore medical student at the University of California, San Francisco, knew nothing but teachers warning her to avoid Wikipedia until she enrolled in Azzam’s class, where she had to edit Wikipedia articles.

“Upon closer inspection, it was quite eye-opening how inaccurate some of the information could be,” said Shumock. “In one sentence…you defined an arrhythmia as a heart rate that is too fast, which is very wrong.” A classmate corrected the entry to state that an arrhythmia is an irregular heart rate.

Shumock also found an article about childhood blindness with no information on vision testing, so he added it to the article. She’s also looking for ways to make her articles more inclusive, such as adding information about women who weren’t assigned to women at birth to women’s health articles. On pages on specific medical conditions, she adds insight into how low-income settings affect disease progression. She said such efforts are important.

Now that class is over, editing Wikipedia articles “I think I’m doing it again,” Schmock said. “I feel a responsibility to correct misinformation in proper sources.”

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