How students can help inform the public about conservation

When students learn to edit Wikipedia as a course assignment, they make research available to a worldwide audience and improve a resource that millions use daily. Considering that people look to Wikipedia to make behavioral and political decisions, ensuring that the information they find is accurate is an important task.

Students have done some great work in improving Wikipedia’s coverage of scientific topics and scientists. From expanding coverage of country-specific environmental issues to writing biography articles about women in STEM to contributing accurate medical information — students are well-equipped to translate important topics for the general reader. Through our Communicating Science initiative, we hope to continue to engage STEM students in improving a resource that is so widely used to access scientific information.

Matthew Bergman’s course, Introduction to Policy Analysis, at the University of California, San Diego, contributed to a number of topics on Wikipedia related to conservation biology and public policy. Students improved Wikipedia’s article on water conservation, a term that refers to the policies and activities to maintain fresh water and protect the hydrosphere for future human needs. Dr. Bergman’s students outlined key strategies in water conservation, adding significantly more information to the article. Rain water harvesting, for example, is the process of “catching” water in human-made ponds, lakes, canals, and reservoirs for future use. Protecting groundwater resources is another strategy in water conservation, which involves the careful monitoring of potential polluters (such as septic systems, uncontrolled hazardous waste, landfills, chemicals, etc.).

An essential element of water conservation is developing effective communication between scientists, policy makers, farmers, land managers, and the general public. Education is an important aspect of that communication. And now, these students have now had a hand in that dissemination of knowledge. They added more than 1,700 words to the article about water conservation, which has since been viewed 115,195 times. Students also contributed almost 1,000 words to the article about the Flint water crisis, which has since been viewed almost 644,000 times. And another student added more than 1,000 words to the article about acid rain, which was viewed 370,000 times since. All of the articles students worked on as a part of the course have received a total of 9.28 million views!

Similarly, Deborah Stine’s students at Carnegie Mellon University improved the article about hydraulic fracturing in the United States. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is a process of drilling oil and gas wells through the high-pressure injection of fluid (usually water with sand or other thickening material). The health and safety risks of fracking are highly debated, and a hand full of states have banned the process in the last ten years. The environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing in the United States includes potential contamination of groundwater and air quality. There are also risks in the mishandling of waste from the process and the resulting health effects, including increased rates of cancer. Fracturing also has potential to surface gasses and hydraulic chemicals that are harmful to the environment and human health. After students added 1,300 words to this Wikipedia article, it’s been viewed almost 5,000 times. Students also edited the article on oil spills, which has been viewed 38,700 times since, and the article on water treatment, which has been viewed 34,000 times.

To read about what Dr. Stine’s students thought of the assignment, read her reflections about the course here.

For more information about how you and your students can improve this important resources for public knowledge, visit or reach out to

Image: File:Cloud formation from refinery in Curacao.jpgHdeK, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.


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