information literacy

Students editing Wikipedia

From time to time I hear colleagues who are aghast at the thought of our students referring to Wikipedia.  I’ve often thought that rather than having a rant about students using Wikipedia, we could be getting them to critically review and edit a page and improve an entry relating to a medical topic.  Reading this paper in First Monday on assigning Wikipedia editing to students has made think about this again and explore whether this is something we can have a go at with our students.

Roth, A., Davis, R., & Carver, B. (2013). Assigning Wikipedia editing: Triangulation toward understanding university student engagement. First Monday, 18(6).

The abstract highlights:

Several themes emerged through the research and many of the dominant themes were linked. The global audience both motivated and intimidated students. Students appreciated the usefulness of contributing to Wikipedia and found satisfaction in making information accessible to the public worldwide. Students engaged with an online community and appreciated feedback and collaboration. Some recognized a degree of possessiveness that they felt toward the article. Both instructors and students observed that student research and writing skills improved. Qualitative data from both students and professors indicates that in learning basic writing skills, a Wikipedia writing assignment is comparable to a traditional research paper, however, students are more engaged in a Wikipedia assignment.

There is much talk about developing students’ digital literacy skills (or information literacy  as some of us would prefer to call them).  It strikes me that editing Wikipedia would help students develop their understanding and skills in this area as well as give them a sense of achievement.


I’m a keen advocate of getting our students involved as producers of learning and these comments from students quoted in the paper chimed a chord with me.

Many students remark on the satisfaction that their work serves a useful purpose. One student comments, “Wikipedia project = a paper I’ve written that didn’t end up in a professor’s recycling bin. Awesome.” Another one states, “I really like the fact that the work done for this class won’t just get thrown away at the end like most homework.” Another student states that it “felt good doing something that wasn’t just an assignment, but that actually benefits outsiders.”

This echoes what some of our students have been saying where they’ve been creating a learning resource as part of their dermatology block assessment, they feel they are leaving a legacy that will help and support the students coming up behind them in their learning.

Would be interesting to know if others have asked students to review and edit Wikipedia and what the outcome has been.