Using Wikipedia in education

This posting is a brief summary of the keynote address given by Dr Toni Sant (Wikimedia UK) at the 6th International Integrity and Plagiarism Conference held in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 17 to 18 June 2014.

  • Who has used Wikipedia?
  • Who has edited Wikipedia?
  • Who has written an article for Wikipedia? (Think about doing this, or setting an assignment for your students to do so – see more information below about developing an article for Wikipedia.)

The Wikimedia Foundation is the organisation that runs Wikipedia – it is donor funded, there is no advertising, it employs 150 people and operates in 286 languages. The project includes many specialist areas:


Five pillars of wikipedia

  1. It is an encyclopedia – has exactly the same scholarly authority as any other encyclopedia.
  2. Written from a ‘neutral point of view’ – should this rather be ALL points of view?
  3. Free content than anyone can edit/use/modify/share
  4. Editors should respect each other
  5. Does not have many firm rules, but there are some fundamental principles (enter the given shortcut in the Wikipedia search bar for more information):
  • notability; conflict of interest; verifiability (WP:V); neutral point of view (WP:NPOV)
  • plag (WP:Plag) – e.g. flag: ‘citation needed’; fair use (WP:NFC)
  • civility (WP:Civil); consensus (WP:Con); assume good faith (WP:AGF)

How can we address concerns about the use or misuse of Wikipedia?

  • Editing Wikipedia: every page has an edit button at the top – anyone can do it. Get your students to write a wikipedia article as part of their assignment – you can get help on the process of ‘Developing an article’
  • Evaluating Wikipedia: there is a hierarchy of article types – you can start with a ‘stub’ if you have just the beginnings of an idea for an article (e.g. see ‘Fatberg’):wiki_article types
  • Wikipedia education programme (available online to redistribute freely) – all about Wikipedia, plus a 12-week course on how to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool.

Dr Sant concluded by saying that Wikimedia and academia are natural allies – Wikipedia is often the starting point for essays, assignments or research, BUT it can lead students back to the primary sources (via the Reference list). Wikipedia provides a support mechanism – students can discover, understand (collaboration and crowd sourcing), comprehend, and learn to distinguish between diff types of sources (reliable, less reliable, unreliable) for  use in their own writing.

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