Empowering millions by ensuring the future of facts

By on June 14, 2018

Empowering millions by ensuring the future of facts

By on June 14, 2018

Empowering millions by ensuring the future of facts

Representing knowledge accurately and extensively for the public is integral to Wikipedia’s mission and that of Wiki Education. Millions of people look to Wikipedia to make political and behavioral decisions in their lives, so we’re taking purposeful steps to improve the site’s coverage of subject areas like public policy, political science, law, history, environmental science, and sociology. Through our Future of Facts initiative, we strive to better represent these topics that are relevant to an informed citizenry. Together, with the work of students, Visiting Scholars, and Wikipedia Fellows, we will empower millions of Wikipedia’s readers to contribute to society and participate in public affairs based on factual and reliable information.

How students are making a difference

We currently support 160 university courses editing Wikipedia articles within Future of Facts topic areas. There are 3,700 students in these courses, who have already added 3.4 million words to Wikipedia since January. These students have improved more than 4,000 articles, 300 of which they created from scratch. And those articles have been viewed more than 180 million times this spring.

Students understand that their work can be accessed by millions, which often motivates them to produce higher quality work than they do in a traditional assignment. A Wikipedia assignment fits well into courses looking to engage in service learning, as it situates course concepts within larger conversations about access to information and the importance of an informed public. Environmental science students in Dr. David Die’s graduate course at the University of Miami, for example, applied course concepts this semester to improve public knowledge of conservation. In total, the 12 student editors in the course added almost 10,000 words to Wikipedia articles that have been accessed 115,000 times since. An integral part of conservation efforts is educating voters about relevant issues and policies. These students are directly participating in making that information more accessible to the public, who ultimately vote and participate in political processes that can bring about positive change.

Not only do students make well-researched information available to a worldwide audience through a Wikipedia assignment, but they gain skills to identify trustworthy information in their own lives as citizens. One student reflected at the end of last term, “A valuable thing I learned that I will use forever is how to assess an article. I had never done anything like this in a previous class, so I do not have something directly to compare it to, but I can say that I learned things that I will hold with me forever. It is so important that instead of just disregarding the site as a whole, we should be working on strengthening it, because people are going to use it no matter what.”

According to a study published by Strada and Gallup this spring, students find their education to be worth the cost when their coursework is relevant to their lives. And according to a study published by the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2016, students are lacking critical skills when it comes to digital literacy and identifying misinformation online. With a Wikipedia assignment, not only do students learn the ins and outs of a resource they use all the time, they contribute to world knowledge, learn about the importance of access to trustworthy information, and recognize their own information privilege. Students take these skills with them into their personal and professional lives, walking away from the experience of editing Wikipedia as more informed citizens.

How academics are making a difference

Wiki Education’s Wikipedia Fellows program engages scholars in improving Wikipedia using their subject-matter expertise. We often hear from academics that they are looking for better ways to disseminate their research to the general public, and now Wikipedia Fellows provides just that opportunity.

“People are lifelong learners,” says participant Dr. Michael Ramirez, “Sometimes learning is as simple – and as accessible – as looking up an article on Wikipedia. I am more and more compelled to see it as sociologists’ duty to put our knowledge out into the public for the largest audience possible.”

The pilot program, which kicked off in January, was a success. Our partnering associations, the National Women’s Studies Organization (NWSA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), and the Midwestern Political Science Association (MPSA), assisted in identifying participants who could benefit Wikipedia by contributing their knowledge of Future of Facts relevant topics. The Fellows in this group significantly improved 65 articles by adding 29,100 words. These articles have been viewed 5.68 million times.

“I applied for the Wikipedia Fellows pilot because I wanted to improve public access to scientific information,” says participant Madeline Gottlieb. “In an era of ‘fake news,’ I find it more important than ever to reaffirm the value of facts and carefully-cited information.”

The Wikipedia Fellows program is scaling this year to support many more cohorts of scholars, from a wide variety of disciplines. The newest cohorts are looking forward to improving articles related to upcoming midterm elections in the United States.

How Visiting Scholars are making a difference

Our Visiting Scholars program connects academic institutions with experienced Wikipedia editors. The institution grants the Wikipedian virtual access to their databases and collections, and the Wikipedian improves articles of interest to both parties. The program is a way to expand the readership of academic research, while at the same time supporting an editor who can make a big impact on the quality of articles. Gary Greenbaum, or User:Wehwalt, is a good example of how the Visiting Scholars program has directly impacted highly trafficked articles that better inform citizens. Gary brings articles about America’s political history up to Wikipedia’s highest quality standard. One such article, about 27th US president William Howard Taft, has been viewed more than 3 million times since Gary vastly improved it. The Dashboard’s Authorship Highlighting tool shows all that Gary has added to that article here.

Wikipedia is an important avenue for the public to learn about topics relevant to their social and political lives. Students, academics, and Wikipedians are all making strides to ensuring that information on Wikipedia is up-to-date, relevant, and trustworthy. And Wiki Education is here to support them as they do.


For more information about teaching with Wikipedia, visit teach.wikiedu.org. To apply to become a Wikipedia Fellow, visit fellows.wikiedu.org. And for more information about Visiting Scholars, see our informational page here.

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