Helping political science students share their voices on Wikipedia

Last month, Wiki Education attended the Midwest Political Science Association’s (MPSA) annual conference to promote Wiki Education programs alongside one of our most dedicated educational partners. MPSA began partnering with Wiki Education during the Spring 2015 term, so we have been able to commit some of our limited resources to improving Wikipedia’s coverage of political science. Earlier this year, MPSA teamed up with us in the inaugural cohort of Wikipedia Fellows. We worked with three MPSA members to teach them how to edit Wikipedia—enabling them to add content expertise to Wikipedia. You can read more about Wikipedia Fellow Dr. R.G. Craven’s experience here.

For the past three years, MPSA has encouraged their members to assign students to write Wikipedia articles, helping us train more students to share political science knowledge with the world. Through our partnership, Wiki Education has supported 72 political science courses and 1,800 political science students. Those students have added nearly 2 million words to Wikipedia. That’s 2 million words about important political science topics—topics that impact people’s daily lives—backed up with academic references from the university library. Political science students have improved articles about carbon tax, Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy, Indian removal, list of the first LGBT holders of political office, criminal justice reform in the United States, renewable energy in Canada, sanctuary city, ethnic conflict, peacekeeping, Movement for Black Lives, Refugees of the Syrian Civil War, and Kalief Browder.

At this year’s MPSA conference, we recruited more instructors excited by the idea of channeling students’ hard work, research, and writing exercises into something as impactful to public knowledge as Wikipedia. Rather than throw student papers into the recycling bin, the political science instructors working with Wiki Education are now a part of this group that has reached more than 153 million readers. During this year’s conference, MPSA put together an education roundtable to share successes and champion Wikipedia as a meaningful platform for sharing political science with the world.

I served as discussant alongside three instructors who are teaching with Wikipedia: Dr. Jinu Abraham, Dr. Matthew Bergman, and Dr. Megan Osterbur. This was a fun opportunity to learn about their experiences on the ground, and I’m grateful they encouraged their peers to join Wiki Education’s Classroom Program. They each offered insightful tips about teaching with Wikipedia for the first time, and they made compelling arguments for doing so.

I started out asking each panelist to frame for the audience why Wikipedia matters to instructors and students in the first place. Dr. Osterbur believes academic scholars have an obligation to think about what kind of information the public accesses. If a political science concept goes viral, for example, people will find more scientific information if scholars have put effort into making that knowledge accessible. Giving students a real-world assignment like adding that knowledge to Wikipedia is one way to do so. Dr. Abraham finds the Wikipedia assignment prompts more complex discussions with students than other assignments. Breaking down Wikipedia’s policies about neutrality and a balanced point of view helps political science students understand bias, how to weigh scientific evidence against unsubstantiated claims within an article, and how to write about political science topics through a nonpartisan lens. Discussing Wikipedia editors as gatekeepers to knowledge that reaches hundreds of millions of readers helps students uncover truths about the media they’re inundated with each day. After all, as one attendee pointed out, “We scholars also are flawed in what we know.”

I asked these seasoned Wikipedia instructors to share how Wiki Education has supported them over the years. In praise of Wiki Education’s Dashboard—a learning management system we developed for instructors to facilitate their Wikipedia assignment—Dr. Bergman mentioned the Dashboard’s ability to surface student plagiarism. Hilariously, he tells his students early in the term “if [they] copy and paste, a robot will find [them].” We have heard for years that one major benefit of the Wikipedia assignment is that students actively learn about plagiarism and close paraphrasing. Dr. Osterbur also mentioned the Dashboard and its scaffolding-based assignment design. She believes the weekly milestones Wiki Education has built into the Wikipedia assignment template force students to avoid procrastination and to put more effort into their project.

Thank you to these instructors for taking time to share their experiences teaching with Wikipedia. Joining Wiki Education’s Classroom Program is a proven way to add high quality information to Wikipedia. If you’re a political science instructor interested in joining, visit or email us at As Dr. Megan Osterbur posed to attendees during our panel, “Knowledge is political. If we don’t use our voices, what then?”


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