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Who at the U Writes Wikipedia?

Aug. 20, 2012 – For some students at the University of Utah, term papers end up not in a file or at the bottom of their backpacks, but published – on Wikipedia.        

Students in Günseli Berik’s graduate economics class this fall will continue to participate in the Wikipedia United States Education Program, which encourages professors to assign their students to edit or create new articles on the popular Web-based encyclopedia as part of their coursework.          

Participating for the first time in the Wikipedia program this past spring, Berik assigned her students to write an article in lieu of a term paper for their course on Gender and Economic Development in the Third World.  By the end of the semester, students had contributed 15 new articles that explored topics such as maternal health in Uganda, child marriage in India, women’s rights in Tonga, the Gender Inequality Index, and women’s education in Pakistan. They also learned important lessons in research, publishing and editing on Wikipedia.

“The project is invaluable in teaching students how to think critically, write to be read, engage with the Wiki author community and, above all, have a tangible contribution to scholarship,” says Berik, a University of Utah professor of economics. “Knowing your research will be available immediately and to a worldwide audience influences a student’s interest and diligence.”

“The Wikipedia assignment was a very exciting and new adventure for me,” says Teashia Stennet, an economics senior whose project was the Gender Inequality Index of the United Nations Development Program. “With the Wikipedia project, I personally felt much less stress writing the paper. Compiling the hard facts and articulating them in a very specific format allowed me more mental freedom to really understand what I was researching and writing. I would like to contribute more to the Wikipedia community.” 

Another student approached the assignment with some trepidation, realizing that anyone and everyone could have access to it. “For the same reason, the assignment was exhilarating because it could be seen beyond the classroom,” says Guadalupe Aguilera, a senior studying sociology and economics. “I appreciated being able to contribute scholarly research to the public discussion in my area of interest.”

Berik notes that while students typically were knowledgeable about using the Internet, they had to learn technical aspects specific to Wikipedia. Students also had to learn to carefully document their work, since a Wikipedia article can be edited quickly by someone else.

“This was a challenging assignment for me as well as the students,” says Berik. “Not only do students have to do the research to write a scholarly paper, but also they have to learn to navigate the Wiki culture and mechanics – all in one semester.”

Wikipedia helped on that front.  Berik’s teaching assistant, Diksha Arora, also was trained by the Wikimedia Foundation as a campus ambassador and served as a resource for Berik’s students.

“I attended a training course in Indianapolis that specifically taught the technical parts of Wikipedia as well as the ethics of editing and contributing on Wikipedia,” says Arora, a Ph.D. student in economics. “It was good fun working with students for this course, as their questions made me explore in depth the technicalities of Wikipedia editing. The exercise is very good for students as they learn to review the work of – and be reviewed by – their peers.”Arora will continue in her role of campus ambassador for the U.

For her part, Berik will be using this assignment again fall semester in a Ph.D. course named Labor and Gender, and will adjust the steps to make it easier to become a contributor to Wikipedia. She notes that “the urge to continue adopting this assignment is irresistible, since there are many gaps on Wikipedia, where good scholarship is needed. It is an assignment that is appropriate for upper-division undergraduate or graduate courses. It benefits from having students with strong writing skills and who are invested in producing good research papers.”  

The United States Education Program is part of the Wikimedia Foundation’s Wikipedia Education Program.


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