Campus Collaborates With Wikipedia to Improve Site

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Rather than being evaluated by the traditional term paper, some UC Berkeley students will be assessed on how well they can update existing Wikipedia articles this semester as part of a collaboration with the online encyclopedia website.

UC Berkeley's School of Information has been collaborating with Wikipedia on the WikiProject United States Public Policy initiative, which aims to improve the quality of the website's articles on U.S. public policy while providing a new learning tool for students to help improve their media literacy skills and introduce them to collaborative work.

The $1.2 million Wikipedia initiative - to be funded through September 2011 - supports courses through online and campus ambassadors for 10 different universities nationwide, including Harvard University and George Washington University. Two courses at UC Berkeley are being offered in conjunction with the initiative - one at the information school and one DeCal.

"The main reason we're working with professors and students is that they're constantly dealing in the world of knowledge," said Annie Lin, the initiative's campus team coordinator and a UC Berkeley alumna. "Academia focuses heavily on good sourcing, research and writing skills, and these all align very well with Wikipedia."

For Brian Carver, assistant professor at the information school, incorporating Wikipedia articles into class assignments for his course, "Intellectual Property Law for the Information Industries," is not a new experience - he has assigned students to edit the website's articles for several semesters.

Carver said benefits of the collaboration with Wikipedia include the additional support provided by the website with a new framework for when assignments are due as well as the initiative's hired online ambassadors who provide technical assistance. He said his class must be making some improvement to Wikipedia's coverage of intellectual property law because he has "nearly run out of topics to set for students."

Carver added that since the initiative began, more students have expressed an interest in editing Wikipedia articles in their free time.

UC Berkeley senior Max Klein said the "Politics of Piracy" DeCal he is co-facilitating aims to silence critics who claim Wikipedia lacks academic rigor. He added that his is "the most Wikipedia-esque course of all those participating" since it is not led by the traditional authority of a professor, just as the site does not have one sole contributor.

Klein said each course supported by the initiative aims to fill the gaps within Wikipedia knowledge on "more niche and academic topics" than the area of popular culture in which the site has traditionally been very strong.

At Syracuse University, the project has led to a newly created class called "Wikipedia and Public Policy."

"This is an interesting experiment that can have long-term value for my students and Wikipedia, so I see it as win-win for everyone," said Syracuse University professor Carol Dwyer, who is teaching the course, in an e-mail.

For next semester, the project's organizers are planning to expand the project to 20 universities, according to Lin.


Contact Rachel Banning-Lover at [email protected]

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