Teaching & Learning

Student views on a Wikipedia project

Wikipedia - T-shirt

Alan Levine (@cogdog) has posted interviews he did with 3 UBC students about their perceptions and experiences participating in a Wikipedia Education Project assigned to them by UBC History professor Tina Loo.

While it is the experience of only 3 students, I think it’s a valuable read for any faculty who may be considering doing a Wikipedia Education Project.

In summary, the students that Alan spoke with noted the following:

  • After spending 4 years writing academic papers, the students found the challenge of writing an article for Wikipedia a refreshing change.
  • Students felt strange deleting existing contents of Wikipedia articles (“the first edit was terrifying”).
  • The students worked in groups, and found it challenging to find a common writing voice within their group while adhering to the Wikipedia standards of neutral point of view, concise length, and precise language that can be understood by a lay person.
  • Students found the Wikipedia community both helpful, and challenging to the point of being rude. In the later case, the Wikipedia Project ambassador intervened and provided support to the students.
  • Students said they were motivated by the fact that their writing was going to be public as they “do not usually get to write for others.” As a result, the students felt extra pressure to make sure the facts were correct.

A key principle in  adult learning theory is that adult learners are relevancy oriented, and judging by some of the quotes from these students, this assignment fit that principle. The students felt that by doing their work in the public on Wikipedia, their education was being used on a project that they see as relevant in world outside of academia.

The reality is that Wikipedia really is becoming a basic source of information, not the thing you are going to write your whole paper with, but people go to it– even my grandmother goes to Wikipedia as a reference.


The more we got involved into it, the more it seemed like we were using our education to actively help the world.

For me the kicker quote in the whole article is:

I look at Wikipedia differently. I have found an article on an author that was blatantly wrong. Now I know to change it

A student that comes away from an assignment feeling different than they did before about something; feeling empowered to change something that they see as wrong in a public forum? That is a transformational learning experience.

Photo: Wikipedia t-shirt by mikeedesign used under Creative Commons. I want this t-shirt :).

CC BY 4.0 Student views on a Wikipedia project by Clint Lalonde is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.