Research quantifies student editors’ impact on Wikipedia’s scholarly references

In a new academic paper, Japanese researchers Jiro Kikkawa, Masao Takaku, and Fuyuki Yoshikane investigated the additions of scholarly references to English Wikipedia, finding Wiki Education’s Wikipedia Student Program is responsible for spikes in the addition of scholarly references.

The paper, “Time-series Analyses of the Editors and Their Edits for Adding Bibliographic References on Wikipedia”, was published in the Journal of Japan Society of Information and Knowledge, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2021. The text is in Japanese.

Two figures from the paper show Wiki Education’s impact on these numbers. The researchers excluded bots and IP addresses (unregistered editors), looking only at registered users who were adding scholarly citations to English Wikipedia.

From Wikipedia’s start in 2001 through the start of what is now known as the Wikipedia Student Program in 2010, there were small seasonal spikes as editors added more scholarly references. Group A, in blue, is users who add just one scholarly reference a month; Group B, in pink, are users who add 2–4 scholarly references per month; and Group C, in gray, are users who add 5+ references per month. Group D (purple) is our participants. When our program gets going, you can see the seasonal spikes on all four lines start. But when Wiki Education’s program started scaling, the spikes became much more pronounced, particularly in November and April.

figure showing spikes of references in April and November
To investigate the cause of these spikes, the researchers called out Wiki Education student editors in their own purple line, concluding that these large seasonal spikes every April and November can be attributed to student editing coming from Wiki Education’s program. Figure 3, below, shows a detailed view on the years Wiki Education’s program was in operation. Note Wiki Education’s participants are included in the groups A, B, and C (based on how many scholarly citations each user added), and then are separately called out as Group D to showcase how closely they align to the spikes.

zoomed in figure showing spikes of references in April and November
The researchers built the dataset using the data dump of English Wikipedia as of March 1, 2017, meaning the latest year in this study is from 2016. Even in 2016, Wiki Education’s student editors represented 15.5% of all registered non-bot users on English Wikipedia who added scholarly citations. In 2016, the program had about 10,000 students participating; last year, more than 16,500 students participated, meaning we expect that percentage has only grown over time.

I’m always gratified to see external researchers identify editing patterns of our program participants as an important area of study. We enable any researcher to download usernames of our participants through our Dashboard, and we are happy to answer any questions that arise. Many thanks to Jiro and colleagues for their excellent study.


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