Wikipedia Papers - How to improve Wikipedia plus the Quality of University Education

By Mark Finnern
July 14, 2009 | Comments: 8

100px-Wikipedia-logo-en-big.pngToday in an email to a German professor friend of mine I linked to the description of the Net-Promoter Score on Wikipedia. Her reply was: Unfortunately Wikipedia is not a scientific source and therefore not quotable. Although it is always good if you want to get an overview of a theme. That is the sentiment and attitude not only of people in higher education, but also of German journalists. Rumor has it, that in some news rooms access to Wikipedia is blocked.

It felt a bit like: What the plebs are producing is just not good enough for the Ivory Tower. And I was wondering, why they don't come down and fix what is not up to their scientific standard. 

Then it clicked. There is a simple solution: The Wikipedia Paper. Every student that takes a class has to create or improve a Wikipedia page to the topic of the class. It shouldn't be the only deliverable, but an important one.

The Wikimedia organization could help the professors with tools, that highlight the changes that a certain user has done on a page. You only pass, when the professor is satisfied with the scientific validity of the page. One could even mark the pages that went through this vetting process differently.

Instead of creating papers that end up in a drawer, you would create pages that you even feel ownership of and would make sure that they stay current and don't get vandalized. You could even link to them on you LinkedIn profile.

It would make an enormous difference to the quality of Wikipedia year over year. One can think of wiki-how and other pages that could be improved using the same model.

A quick search shows, that there are projects happening at Schools and University already where Wikipedia improvement is included in the curriculum.

I especially like the 10th graders that improve the Wikipedia entry of their hometown and the translation course that is using real German Wikipedia pages and translates them into English and vice versa. It is much more interesting and motivating for the students too.

I just hope this grows to a whole movement so much that one day students will demand from there professors: "Please give us a project where we can improve the knowledge base of the world?"


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8 Comments

This makes me reacall all those times that I have read a Wikipedia page and I know I can enhance it, but I'm just too lazy.
I think it's the moment to change that attitude

Great idea. Very slightly diminished with all the typos in the article, however.

And although it isn't quotable, the reference it provides leads to many sources that are research-ready. It's a place to start, just as encyclopedias were in even ten years ago.

Hi guys,

Wikipedia deliberately chose to be not a source of primary research but an encyclopedia (then based on primary sources). The professor's opinion cited in Mark's article is correct and intended this way by the Wikipedia community. Should be somewhere in the metapages, i.e. the Wikipedia constitution.

If you are interested in primary research around Wikipedia, please come to WikiSym 2009.

As to having student projects to improve Wikipedia. I think this is a good idea. Wikipedia already has a humunguous number of Wikipedia improvement projects underway, of small groups, dedicated to their topics. Student groups sure could help. (But don't underestimate the effort it takes to learn Wikipedia rules and regulations before you can become an effective contributor.)

I believe the Wikimedia Foundation is already suggesting such projects through its Wikipedia University outreach efforts at various universities.

Cheers,
Dirk

Primary research is well in hand, but every student at every level all over the world spends countless hours researching and writing on every known topic for course credit - compiling basically encyclopaedic knowledge from primary sources - what if all that effort could be combined on Wikipedia to contribute to all those who come after them - there is so much potential here.

I like this idea, but I wonder if the end-user of an encyclopedia and of a research paper are different: layman vs. scientist.

What about a different layer/language? Wikipedia has "Simple English" as an option for some articles; how about "Scientific English"?

I think this is a great idea. One of my former committee members has been experimenting with it in undergraduate genetics classes. I'm sure he would be happy to discuss his results with you. See Wyeth Wasserman at the University of British Columbia - http://update.estrategy.ubc.ca/2008/10/01/making-wikipedia-work . There was also a really interesting related paper in PloS Biology recently http://www.plosbiology.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pbio.0060296 called "Metagenome Annotation Using a Distributed Grid of Undergraduate Students".

@lobo7922 Wow, if you actually do change any Wikipedia pages, can you post a "Yes I did" comment here? That alone would make it worth having writing the post.

Thanks, Mark.

@Dirk Riehle I think @Jeremiah has already answered your concerns: "... every student at every level all over the world spends countless hours researching and writing on every known topic for course credit - compiling basically encyclopaedic knowledge from primary sources ..." Harvesting that activity to improve Wikipedia or any other publically available knowledge repository would be amazing.

There is the MIT Open Courseware http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/web/courses/courses/index.htm I don't think they have problems with credibility. How about linking the different wiki pages to the exact minute of the video where the topic is covered?

Lots of possibilities, Mark.

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