Academia is changing its mind about Wikipedia

“Most medical students use Wikipedia, yet most medical schools do not train students to improve Wikipedia or use it critically.”

So begins the research study published by MedEdPublish this spring about the use of Wikipedia in medical education. The article ultimately encourages the implementation of Wikipedia writing assignments “across all health professional schools.”

Attitudes toward Wikipedia’s place in higher education have evolved quite a bit since our Student Program began in 2010. Early adopters of Wikipedia writing assignments were questioned by their colleagues at best, and mocked at worst. Occasionally someone would walk up to a Wiki Education representative at a conference hiding their face so “my department head doesn’t see me talking to you guys.”

What academics can all agree on, though, is that their students are using Wikipedia constantly, regardless of faculty attitudes or class policies. And those students don’t necessarily have the media literacy skills to critically consume the information they find. Instructors are looking for ways to teach those critical skills. A Wikipedia writing assignment is one of the best ways.

The movement of Wikipedia in education has grown one instructor at a time. Institutions have begun recognizing their instructors for the ways they utilize the assignment to engage students. Students have received awards for their contributions to Wikipedia. And now academic journals are publishing articles commending the approach for teaching critical media literacy, science communication, collaborative writing, and research skills across disciplines.

These journal articles span a wide range of disciplines: archaeology, English, feminist theory, and politics, just to name a few. The influx of peer reviewed arguments encouraging academics to implement Wikipedia assignments in the college classroom points to the growing acceptance of Wikipedia-based assignments in academia.

Amin Azzam–a full professor at three San Francisco bay area health professional schools and contributor to the MedEdPublish article–writes about this shift in a recent guest blog post,

“Reflecting back on when I first created my course 5 years ago, I used to warn my medical students about being ‘out’ about my course on their interview trails for their next professional steps. I’d say, ‘Most of your faculty and senior professionals still shun Wikipedia as inadequate and unprofessional.’ But more recently I’ve stopped that caveat. My students—and all health professional students who edit Wikipedia—SHOULD be OUT and PROUD about making the world’s most heavily used health information source more accurate and thorough. Can you imagine a world where everyone has access to high quality health information for free? I sure can, and I’m grateful to be a part of that movement.”

Let Wiki Education and the vast community of educators we support help you become a part of that movement too. Join us!


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