Wikipedia in the Classroom: Tips for Effective Use

Most academics consider Wikipedia the enemy and so forbid their students from using Wikipedia for research. But here’s a secret that they don’t want you to know—we all use Wikipedia, including those academics.

There’s a reason that the Wikipedia entry normally comes in at the top of a Google search. Google relies heavily on inbound links to rank a site, and Wikipedia is one of the most commonly linked sites on the Internet. Here’s another secret—Wikipedia is vetted by volunteer academics. Wikipedia’s motto is “no original thought,” meaning that everything must be cited, and uncited material is quickly removed. In fact, studies have shown the Wikipedia is about as accurate as Britannica.

Here are two ways to use Wikipedia to improve learning outcomes in your classes:

Have Students Build Articles
In the Spring of 2008, Professor Jon Beasley-Murray at University of British Columbia had the students in his class “Murder, Madness, and Mayhem: Latin American Literature in Translation” create articles for Wikipedia on the books that they read. He transformed his students from learners to teachers, which improves outcomes. Plus, creating public work improves motivation as well as performance.

Importantly, the students were instructed to make contact with the Wikipedia editors—called the “FA Team”—to receive feedback on their work for revisions. The instructor had effectively enlisted outside academics as reviewers for his class. Wikipedia also has a quality ranking system that assigns “Good Article” or “Featured Article” status to exceptionally good works. About 1 in 800 articles reach Good Article status, while 1 in 1,200 reach Featured Article status. The instructor guaranteed his students an “A” for Good Articles, and an A+ for Featured Articles.

The results? The students, who worked in groups of two or three, produced three Featured Articles and eight Good Articles, an exceptional result given how few articles achieve these levels. These articles receive thousands of hits per month, demonstrating to students the value of their work. Now more than 20 universities have projects in Wikipedia.

Host a Course on Wikiversity
Wikimedia–the non-profit foundation that created Wikipedia–also hosts nine other wiki projects, including: Wikibook (free textbooks), Wikispecies (dictionary of species), and Wikiquote (compilation of quotes). One interesting site is Wikiversity, which provides a space for hosting courses or other content. An instructor can build a course page with syllabi, lesson plans, and other material for the students to access whenever they need it. That page can also be linked to other educational material such as videos.

Best yet, students can be given editing access to the page to add their own material. Groups can be assigned to add material to the course, such as resources for further exploration of the topics. Another option is to have the students build self-tests on the material using free web-based quiz functions for future students. This will enlist the students in an ongoing project of developing knowledge that outlives their particular class and is passed on to future generations of students.

The Latin American Literature Project:
Guide for university projects:
Listing of university projects:
Guide for peer review of articles:

John Orlando, PhD, is the Program Director for the online Master of Science in Business Continuity Management and Master of Science in Information Assurance programs at Norwich University. John develops faculty training in online education and is available for consulting at