Wikipedia often gets a bum rap for being a poor source of information, and many educators discourage - or even ban - their students from using the site. But the Public Policy Initiative is a pilot program undertaken by the Wikimedia Foundation that, in conjunction with a number of universities, is making verifying and updating Wikipedia pages part of college coursework.The collaborative encyclopedia
The 17-month long program is aimed at improving the quality of public policy articles on Wikipedia. The program gives professors sample lesson plans and handouts for their students on the basics of editing Wikipedia and also recruits Campus Ambassadors - "TAs for Wikipedia" - who can offer real-time assistance in the classroom. In turn, the students and the professors provide the subject matter expertise.
This semester there are 14 courses participating in the program, and Wikipedia plans to double that number for the spring semester. Some classes are working in large groups on specific articles, and some classes are having students write multiple articles. Currently, students are working on more than 150 articles, and Wikipedia hopes that this number will top 200 by the time the semester ends.
According to LiAnna Davis, Communications Associate for the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization is "always looking for ways to increase our contributor base - we want anyone who has access to knowledge that's not covered on Wikipedia to share it freely." Davis notes that students are an ideal demographic for this as they are "immersed in knowledge on a day-to-day basis, and they have access to an incredible amount of information through their school library systems."
Davis also says that students enjoy this sort of research and writing assignment, as they realize that their projects aren't just done for their professors, but will have a wider audience.
The project also teaches students an important lesson in media literacy, helping them understand and appreciate how to assess the quality of articles found, not just on Wikipedia, but in all the publications and sources they come across.
"We'd love to expand beyond public policy, beyond our initial batch of schools, and even beyond the English language Wikipedia," says Davis. "Our long-term goal is to establish Wikipedia within the educational communities as a tool for teaching."