Academics Working to Make Wikipedia a Reliable Student Resource

With Wikipedia being the most popular and commonly used encyclopedia online, it’s no surprise that they are doing what they can to ensure that it is a reliable source for students to use in academics.  Millions of college students, whether with their professors’ consent or not, rely on Wikipedia. Therefore, it was only logical that attendees at the Association for Psychological Science’s annual meeting were urged to join the APS Wikipedia Initiative and represent psychology fully and accurately, according to an article posted in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Wikimedia Foundation, which is a non-profit organization and also the parent company of Wikipedia, was even holding demonstrations for the site in the middle of the conference exhibit hall during the meeting.

While Wikipedia has endured its fair share of criticism from professors, scholars, and professionals due to a lack of credibility because anyone can edit information on Wikipedia’s pages, more professors and educators are coming around to the idea of using Wikipedia as a reliable source. A psychology professor at Harvard University, Mahzarin R. Banaji, who once expressed disdain for the site is now backing the initiative, expressing her feelings saying that she believes this will work. As one of the leaders of the project, Banaji has plans of using a new custom-designed interface which will make entries easier to write and edit, a social network that links scholars who share interests, and tutorials for professors on ways to make writing for the site part of course assignments, the article further stated.

Another psychology professor, Anthony G. Greenwald at the University of Washington, watched the editing demonstration and asked some of his students to work on Wikipedia articles as part of their coursework. Greenwald required students to do the "repair work" because he feels so much of the content on Wikipedia is inadequate or just plain inaccurate. However, Ms. Banaji feels it would be difficult to get her colleagues to re-write Wikipedia articles because it may not seem important enough to them if it will not be something that they can add to their resume. But after looking at some of the psychology articles, Banaji was shocked at how outdated and inaccurate some of the articles were. With Wikipedia experiencing 13 million views per day, it was troubling to her that only 9 out of 5,500 psychology articles on the site were rated good by peer-assessment process, according to the psychology association.

While it is a no-brainer that something needs to be done about the articles, Banaji admits it is hard to motivate people to want to clean up all the information.  Banaji began to try to see how professors could incorporate cleaning up the site into teaching and their lectures, spurring the Wikimedia Foundation to push the idea of using the website as a teaching tool. Carnegie Mellon University professor and human-computer interaction specialist Robert K. Kraut was contacted, where he and one of his graduate students designed the new portal, which matches volunteer writers with others interested in the topics, gives professors sample syllabi for assignments, and adds software that enables the insertion of more-sophisticated content.

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