Achieving student learning objectives with a Wikipedia assignment

The Stanford Graduate School of Education published a study in 2016 that found that young people have trouble when it comes to “civic online reasoning.” Researchers defined the phrase in terms of students’ ability to identify credible sources online, to distinguish advertisements from news articles, and to understand where information came from. The study reports that despite young peoples’ supposed social media savviness, they have difficulty with all of these aspects of informational and media literacy.

The researchers were primarily concerned by how rapidly misinformation about civic issues can spread and therefore threaten democracy. Being able to identify, and then disregard, misinformation is a valuable skillset for the everyday citizen in the age of fake news.

Instructors in our Classroom Program agree that these skills are important to their students’ education and every day lives. In our survey of Fall 2017 instructors, 87% of respondents said a Wikipedia assignment is more effective for media and information literacy skills than a traditional assignment. Classroom Program participant Dr. Edward Benoit, III spoke to Wikipedia’s role in academia, declaring,

“Higher education aims to both prepare students for their careers, and develop well-rounded citizens in society. … Contemporary students must become proficient information users and creators to succeed in society. This includes understanding how resources like Wikipedia function in the world, dispelling myths of Wikipedia’s quality, learning about information access limitations, and more.”

Understanding where knowledge comes from, and who engages in that production and why, are all student learning outcomes with a Wikipedia assignment. Students understand the historical mechanisms that influence authorship. They are made aware of what is represented on the world’s most accessed online encyclopedia, and what topics or people are missing. They identify the gaps and make efforts to remedy them. “The exercise had students thinking more carefully about how knowledge is reported,” Dr. Nora Haenn reflected. And Dr. Kyra Gaunt remarked that justifying “notability and inclusion is one of the best skills members of marginalized groups should have in academia and in a post-truth world.”

Wiki Education’s Classroom Program provides instructors with the tools to teach with Wikipedia. In doing so, they meet a number of student learning objectives. In 2016, we conducted a study of what students learn when they improve Wikipedia as a course assignment. From this research, Dr. Zachary McDowell concluded that a Wikipedia assignment engages students in digital literacy and critical research; writing for a public audience; and collaboration. And they’re more motivated than in a traditional assignment! 81% of survey respondents agreed that the experience is more effective than a traditional assignment for online communication skills. And over half of respondents agree that a Wikipedia assignment is more effective for self-directed learning skills. Among these skills, instructors also cited others that a Wikipedia assignment fosters in students. Namely, students

  • explore the intricacies of academic integrity and plagiarism
  • communicate to diverse nonspecialist audiences
  • are excited and invested in their work, and have an increased sense of motivation and ownership
  • gain a better understanding of quality sourcing and its importance
  • gain skills to write for a wide and diverse audience
  • understand the difference between encyclopedic writing and theoretical/argumentative writing
  • have an impact beyond the assignment, which provides an outward “real world” focus to the application of course material.

“The more students write for Wikipedia, the more they understand its strengths and weaknesses,” longtime Classroom Program participant Dr. Joan Strassmann said. “They learn where knowledge comes from and how it is transmitted. They learn the power of evidence and gain suspicion when there is none. It should be the first but not the last place they look for information. Its importance cannot be overstated.”

Not only are students gaining important digital literacy skills that will equip them for civic conversations happening in the public sphere, but they can feel empowered in engaging in this way. To learn more about teaching with Wikipedia or to get you and your students involved, visit or send your questions to


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.