University students are collaborating with UNESCO on Wikipedia

This spring, Wiki Education began working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to bring freely licensed, well-researched information to a mass audience on Wikipedia. Several United Nations agencies have published text under an open license for the public’s benefit, and both UNESCO and Wiki Education recognize that this information could reach so many more people if it were brought to relevant Wikipedia articles. That’s why we’ve created a new assignment type that engages students in copying open license text into Wikipedia. This assignment differs significantly from the typical research project we support, so we piloted the idea this spring. Due to the success of this first course, we’re excited to announce we will continue supporting courses working with UNESCO texts.

Essentially, information on Wikipedia gets there in one of two ways:

1. Volunteers synthesize information from a reliable source in their own words and cite the source, or

2. Volunteers copy information from a source that has released its text under a license compatible with Wikipedia’s copyright policy.

John Cummings, the Wikipedian in Residence at UNESCO, has curated a helpful list of UNESCO’s freely licensed text that volunteer editors can add to Wikipedia. He has also written the process and instructions to use open license text on Wikipedia, for the benefit of all volunteers. Wiki Education’s role is to find those volunteers and equip them with other editing know-how to add the information in an effective way.

Together, we prepared an assignment template for instructors in our Classroom Program. Using this template, instructors can guide their students in converting this open license content into Wikipedia articles as part of their classroom assignment. Engaging with UNESCO text on Wikipedia differs from the typical classroom assignment we support in that students are allowed to copy and paste the UNESCO text word-for-word into Wikipedia. In participating, students learn how to identify appropriate Wikipedia articles related to UNESCO reports, synthesize what should be in Wikipedia, and communicate the information to a reader.

Mike Doane and his students at the University of Washington were a great fit for this new connection. Doane specializes in information architecture, metadata, and semantic web knowledge structures. This term, he had success incorporating this new assignment type into his Knowledge Management course.

“Students responded well, once we all figured out how it worked and our responsibilities,” Doane says about the project. “The training could not have been more helpful, and the response from the Wiki Education team was amazing.”

Teaching with Wikipedia in the classroom provides students with a diverse range of critical skills, as instructors in our Classroom Program have echoed in the past. Students gain an understanding of Wikipedia’s inner-workings and learn to analyze the information on the site for accuracy.

“The more students understand about Wikipedia and how to use it, the more they’ll get out of it,” says Doane about the place Wikipedia should have in higher education. When students engage with this knowledge resource in a way they haven’t before, they gain digital literacy skills that they carry beyond Wikipedia itself. They must also work collaboratively, both with each other and with the Wikipedia editors they encounter through their work.

“This was a great experiment and I think it should continue,” Doane reflects. He sees the assignment as a great fit for graduate students, who are already familiar with writing styles, references, and citations. As evidenced by Doane’s students’ great contributions to Wikipedia, we think it’s also a great fit for information science students at all levels.

Doane’s course added more than 7,000 words to Wikipedia articles that have since been viewed almost 300,000 times. Using UNESCO’s databases of content, these students contributed content about access to education in sub-Saharan Africa, how confidence affects women in STEM fields, what the Government of Singapore invests in its education, and more. All Wikipedia articles that incorporate UNESCO texts are measured using this tool here.

“We developed the process to reuse Open Access text on Wikipedia to allow any organization publishing under Open Access to share their knowledge with the world through Wikipedia,” says Cummings. Students are in a great position to bring this knowledge to Wikipedia, providing a huge service for the site and the wider public.

“We hope that the success of the University of Washington can encourage more universities to use this course model and more organizations to adopt Open Access,” says Cummings.

Interested in incorporating a UNESCO Wikipedia assignment into your course? Reach out to and we’ll get you started! For more information about teaching with Wikipedia, visit

ImageFile:Flag of UNESCO.svg, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


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