97% of instructors would teach with Wikipedia again

Of course we think teaching with Wikipedia is rewarding for students and Wikipedia alike. After all, that’s our job! But every term, we put that theory to the test by surveying our participating instructors. We ask every instructor who taught with Wikipedia through our program to share their thoughts on what’s working, and what isn’t.

This fall, more than half of our instructors responded (61%). And nearly all of them — 97% — are interested in teaching with Wikipedia again. That’s up from 92% in fall 2014 and 91% in spring 2015.

Why are these instructors so excited about Wikipedia writing assignments? A majority said it improved media and information literacy skills beyond a traditional essay. They said it was more effective for practicing real collaboration. But don’t take our word for it.

“I find it a very useful tool to help students understand digital literacy and the production of information on the Internet,” wrote one instructor. “It’s also a great motivator for students to care about their work.”

Many addressed the assignment’s impact on inspiring students to engage more deeply with their writing. That’s why one instructor ran the assignment for another term:

“I hoped to once again expose students to a new writing situation. Having a real world audience, a community with rigorous standards, and yet, freedom, has been thrilling for students who commit,” they wrote, adding: “Those who are going through the motions are inevitably left behind, and often frustrated.”

Luckily, many instructors mentioned the power of contributing to something beyond the classroom. That taps into an intrinsic motivation that’s hard to replicate in a term paper.

“Students need to do meaningful work that improves the world,” one instructor wrote. “With this they do so on the world’s best loved, most used platform.”

One instructor wrote:

“It is important for students to learn how to translate their class-based learning into meaningful information that can be used by the public. It changes an assignment from a hoop designed to impress me (something they are good at, but has a limited audience, and feels artificial to them) to something that ‘real people’ will see, and so matters more.”

One instructor couldn’t stop at just one reason. They gave us six:

  1. It teaches them how to interpret the quality of Wikipedia and other online sources.
  2. It makes them write at a higher level when they know their work is public.
  3. It teaches professional values (in science, this means the obligation to share your knowledge and to educate others).
  4. It teaches them how to respond to criticism.
  5. It gives them experience and confidence in interacting with authorities in the field.
  6. It improves the quality of Wikipedia articles in the field.

Another instructor couldn’t stop at six: “too many reasons,” they wrote, before moving on. Maybe these other instructors addressed a few of them:

  • “I think it’s an amazing way to have students write for a real audience, with real stakes, and real-world rules for writing, researching, citation, and collaboration.”
  • “Outstanding way to teach about inequality, writing, research, knowledge production, community norms, and project management.”
  • “Having a public voice helps my students find purpose in writing.”

We heard support for our Year of Science initiative, too. We think these assignments not only teach science communication to students, but expand access to scientific information for the public. This instructor agreed:

“I am interested in improving access, confidence, comfort, literacy, and understanding of science. These assignments allow my student(s) to impact the global audience with meaningful contributions.”

Our online tools earned some appreciation from instructors, too, with one instructor writing, “Best e-learning technology available, and it’s free.”

We’re excited to report that the assignment is exceeding expectations in the field. Once instructors start embracing Wikipedia assignments, they tend to stick with them across terms. And we’ve made it easy to get started. We assist first-time instructors with setting up assignments that can be easily replicated term after term. We also offer tools to track student work on Wikipedia. We offer an online orientation to instructors, and a series of online trainings for students.

We’re already looking for new courses to come on board for Fall 2016. If you’d like to become part of the 97% of satisfied Wikipedia course instructors, we’d love to have you. Check out our resources, or send us a message: contact@wikiedu.org.


3 thoughts on “97% of instructors would teach with Wikipedia again

  1. I would just like to add that a number of parallel efforts are going on at the Wikiversity sister site. I am familiar with two of them:

    1. Weaker students can publish almost anything as a Wikiversity article. The standards are much lower there.

    2. An effort is underway to establish online journals. From Wikipedia, visit the links:
    * [[Wikiversity:Second_Journal_of_Science/About]]
    * [[Wikiversity:Wikiversity Journal]]
    From Wikiversity, omit the “Wikiversity:” prefix.

    1. Guy,

      I’m glad to hear of the journal efforts — wishing you the best of luck with them!

      But I disagree with your first point — we believe students should be held to high standards everywhere. If students lack the writing skills necessary to contribute successfully to Wikipedia in an expand-an-article assignment, alternative assignments (copy editing, evaluating what’s missing in an article, translation, finding and removing plagiarism, adding media to articles, etc. — see our Case Studies brochure for more) can all be assignments where students meet valuable learning objectives.

      We work with instructors to shape the assignment to the skill level of their students and the learning objectives the instructor is trying to meet.


      1. After writing about the lower standards I also had second thoughts. There are many articles that could be started at a quality level by beginning students. For example, every movie has a synopsis, but there are very few for NOVA science videos. Students could begin a summary and let editors add to it. There is a lot to do on Wikipedia. Nevertheless, there might be a place for Wikiversity, such as reflective essays.

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