What ecologists and Wikipedians actually have in common

“Hi, how are you? Do you want to learn about Wikipedia and education?”

It may be pretty simple, sure, but that’s the phrase I said over and over at the Ecological Society of America’s annual meeting. As it turns out, many people did want to learn more. I spoke to biogeochemists, dendrologists, and limnologists, graduate students, post-docs, and professors. I told them about our free resources that instructors use to teach and empower students how to edit Wikipedia. I explained the benefits of such a task.

Many were taken aback by this. “Wait, you want students to use Wikipedia?” or “But I’ve always told students that Wikipedia isn’t a reliable source!”

Wikipedia shouldn’t be considered an academic source, we know. Just like other encyclopedias, it’s a tertiary source. But reliability on Wikipedia is a much bigger conversation than simply telling students, “Don’t trust it.” The site is built on a system of verifiability. And by teaching your students how to improve content, I’d say, you would help them become more information literate. Students can help distinguish fact from half-truths and fill in content gaps. Not only would you get to achieve your education goals outlined on the syllabus, but the whole world—no exaggeration—would get to benefit from the result.

I led a bird researcher to the very incomplete article on “gray vireo”. I found articles on genera of invasive bamboo. And I showed these experts the thousands of views these topics received each month. Oftentimes, they would find errors or omissions within the first few sentences, illustrating the need Wikipedia has for editors with diverse scientific backgrounds.

With our special emphasis on improving coverage of the sciences on Wikipedia, Wiki Education has helped teach nearly 23,000 science students how to add content to Wikipedia, resulting in 20.4 million words. However, there’s still more to be done. By attending conferences such as ESA, we get to have hundreds of conversations and interactions with scientists, bringing in new voices that will shape the way the public understands science.

To access our free assignment templates, tools, and student trainings, visit teach.wikiedu.org.

Header image by Thompsma, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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Your email address will not be published.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.