This April 2, on #AprilFactsDay, we’re reminded of the importance of trustworthy information. How can we equip the next generations of information consumers and producers with the skills they need to participate in our rapidly changing digital landscape?
Wikipedia is one of the most trusted sites among the cacophony online. That’s because it’s built on the principle of verifiability; its community-made policies take a strict stance against promotion and advertising; and the volunteers that curate its content value neutrally presented and well-referenced facts. Information that doesn’t adhere to these standards is deleted as soon as one of Wikipedia’s thousands of devoted volunteers encounters it.
But there are still gaps in information on Wikipedia, which can be harder to spot than false information. That’s where instructors and students in our Student Program are making a difference. Higher education instructors use our tools and assignment templates to teach students how to identify gaps on Wikipedia and use what they’re learning in class to correct those gaps.
That’s what Dr. Ada Palmer did with her 32 students at the University of Chicago last fall term. Students added 90,000 words of well-researched content to Wikipedia about “how new information technologies trigger innovations in censorship and information control.” *
Did you know, for example, that food producers can more easily sue their critics in certain states in the US because of food libel laws? The laws are often criticized as a restriction of first amendment rights.
And newspaper theft, a form of censorship, occurs when an individual, organization, or government removes a large portion of a publication without the consent of the publisher in order to prevent others from reading it. The Wikipedia article now highlights some notable cases, as well as the strategies that various states and cities in the US employ to counteract it.
Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post calls April 2 (also known as Fact-Checking Day) “a global counterpunch on behalf of truth.” She also writes that it’s an opportunity to get the public more involved in the processes of informational evaluation that journalists undertake daily.
In a Wikipedia writing assignment, students participate in fact-checking Wikipedia, looking for informational gaps, and correcting those gaps for the benefit of millions of readers. Wikipedia writing is fact-checking in action, with an added praxis of making the digital informational landscape better.
In the case of Dr. Palmer’s students, the assignment is also an opportunity to educate others of their rights in the face of false information and censorship.
In general, a Wikipedia writing assignment provides students with an opportunity to learn to critically evaluate information and participate in modes of knowledge creation that they typically accept passively. When Stanford Graduate School of Education found in 2016 that most students can’t tell the difference between a credible news website and a fake news site, a lot of instructors sprung into action to understand how they could help reinforce these skills in their students. Critical media literacy is an essential part of education and a skill that every instructor in higher education has the power to teach.
The ability to access trustworthy and free information equips citizens to know and protect their rights. Access, however, is just the first step. Access plus judgement – the ability to discern reliable from unreliable information – is what truly makes a digital citizen.
Read more about how our work at Wiki Education combats fake news and how you can help. And for more information about Dr. Palmer’s course, visit the University of Chicago’s course page here or their Youtube channel.
Interested in adapting a Wikipedia writing assignment to fit your course? Visit teach.wikiedu.org for all you need to know.