Wikipedia Launches Public Policy Initiative At U.S. Universities

November 4, 2010

Wood blocks with the word 'WIKI'The Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that operates Wikipedia, has started a pilot program at various institutions that will address the site's shortage of public policy articles.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the organization has recruited professors from nine universities, including Georgetown University, Harvard University, Syracuse University, University of California Berkeley and Hofstra University for the Public Policy Initiative. Across these universities, a total of 11 courses have Wikipedia-related assignments incorporated into the syllabuses. Students will be required to write and contribute new public policy articles to Wikipedia as well as edit existing content.

Inside Higher Ed reported that the Wikimedia Foundation recruited and trained "ambassadors" at those colleges to help with the technical aspects of contributing to the site. "Online ambassadors"--or experienced Wikipedia users from around the world--were also recruited to serve as mentors, advisors and helpers, particularly when students need assistance the night before a due date.

Assignments will vary depending on the class and professor. For instance, at George Washington University Peter Linquiti will have his policy analysis graduate students meticulously critique an existing entry, analyzing things such as credibility, use of supporting information, extent of balance and/or bias and tone.

Rochelle Davis, an assistant professor in the school of Foreign Service at Georgetown, said she plans to have her students submit literature reviews and summaries to the site. "I'm going to make them create something that's not just a thing for me to read; it's going to go out into the community." Davis believes the pressure of knowing that others might read the information will force students to be more meticulous about their work.

Some professors will have students fill in the gaps, noted The Chronicle of Higher Education. At the University of California Berkeley's School of Information, assistant professor Brian Carver will have his students write an article about a specific portion of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which he noticed had been cited in Wikipedia but did not have a full entry on it.

Because anyone can contribute--and edit--to Wikipedia, most professors and students do not consider it a reliable source. Furthermore, although Inside Higher Ed noted that more than half of college students use Wikipedia during the research process, NPR pointed out that most students do not actually cite it in a college paper.

Rodney Dunican, education programs manager with the Wikimedia Foundation, said that he knows reliability is an issue, but stated that the goal of the Public Policy Initiative is not to fix that. "I would say it's not so much the goal of making it accurate, it's the goal of how we can increase and improve the articles in the public policy area," he said.

According to Inside Higher Ed, Wikimedia plans to recruit 15 more professors by the spring and hopes to eventually expand beyond public policy. "While we are working only with U.S.-based public policy programs during the pilot program, we will also be continually seeking opportunities to engage our Wikimedia chapters, professors, students, and Wikipedians in other parts of the world and in other topic areas," said Frank Schulenburg, head of public outreach at Wikimedia.

Compiled by Heidi M. Agustin


"Professors Shore Up Wikipedia Entries on Public Policy," chronicle.com, November 3, 2010, Paige Chapman

"Wikipedia for Credit," insidehighered.com, September 7, 2010, Steve Kolowich

"Wikipedia Teams Up With Academia," NPR.org, November 2, 2010, Sarah Gonzalez

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