Instructors in more than 90 countries worldwide assign their students to edit Wikipedia as a class assignment. Today, the Wiki Education Foundation (Wiki Ed) is releasing the results from the most comprehensive study ever undertaken to evaluate student learning outcomes from Wikipedia assignments. The study concludes that Wikipedia assignments provide students valuable digital/information literacy, critical research, teamwork, and technology skills, and students are more motivated by these assignments than they are by traditional writing assignments.
Wiki Ed is an independent nonprofit organization that supports college and university faculty in the United States and Canada to assign their students to edit Wikipedia articles. In 2016–17, Wiki Ed sponsored Dr. Zachary McDowell at the University of Massachusetts Amherst (now at the University of Illinois at Chicago) to conduct a research study on the student learning outcomes for students in Wiki Ed’s program. With approval from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Human Research Protection Office, Dr. McDowell conducted a mixed-methods research study using surveys and focus groups on students and instructors participating in Wiki Ed’s program in the fall 2016 term. That term, more than 6,000 students in more than 270 courses edited Wikipedia as a class assignment.
Among the study’s findings:
- 96% of instructors thought the Wikipedia assignment was more or much more valuable for teaching students digital literacy than traditional assignments are
- 85% of instructors thought the Wikipedia assignment was more or much more valuable for teaching students the reliability of online sources
- 79% of instructors thought the Wikipedia assignment was more or much more valuable for teaching students to write clearly for the general public
- Wikipedia assignments shift students’ perceptions of Wikipedia’s reliability to show more trust in Wikipedia
- Students are more motivated to complete Wikipedia assignments, particularly because they perceived work to be useful beyond the classroom
- Students’ skill development from Wikipedia assignments maps well to the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Information Literacy Framework, particularly:
- Authority is constructed and contextual
- Information creation as a process
- Information has value
- Scholarship as conversation
These findings demonstrate the value that comes from learning to edit Wikipedia for the first time, something critical for program leaders within the Wikimedia movement. A large student learning outcomes study provides program leaders trying to convince new instructors, administrators, or organizations the data behind the skills that can come from learning to edit Wikipedia articles.
The full research report and all of the data, codebooks, and other documentation from the study are freely licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. We encourage others to conduct additional analysis on the data, and hope to continue to advance our understanding of student learning outcomes from Wikipedia-based assignments with future research.
LiAnna Davis, Director of Programs and Deputy Director
Wiki Education Foundation