Learning to be a Wikipedian teaches students why they can't cite Wikipedia in their essays

Getting ready to create and edit Wikipedia pages for women in STEM

Getting ready to create and edit Wikipedia pages for women in STEM

When Wikipedia was launched in 2001, my students soon discovered and started citing its articles. In the early 2000s, when I began to use TurnitIn to analyze student essays and lab. reports, I would sometimes find entire paragraphs lifted from Wikipedia pages. Plagiarism aside, most professors, including me, immediately banned Wikipedia from being cited as a reference. This is because it's a tertiary source of information, and both primary and secondary sources should be used instead. There are some rare occasions when it's acceptable to cite Wikipedia, but not many.

This doesn't mean that I avoid Wikipedia pages. On the contrary, they are often the first thing that I read when I want a quick overview of a topic. Many experts contribute to Wikipedia, and I've found that those science topics for which I have expertise, are very well fact-checked.

In 2013, inspired by hearing about Wikipedia Editathons, I created an assignment for Ecology students to learn how to edit and write Wikipedia pages. In 2015, John Dupuis and I launched the annual York University Ada Lovelace Day Wikipedia Editathon, to improve and increase the coverage about Women in STEM.

From their assignments, I found that students improved their technical understanding of why professors don't allow them to cite Wikipedia in research essays and laboratory write-ups. Teaching students to become Wikipedians has become one of my favourite assignments. While I'm on sabbatical in India, I'm planning to hold a Wikipedia Editathon here!