Undergraduate Science Writing Impact: Why & How with Wiki Edu

Early iBarbara Alonso 2015n 2015, ASPB established a partnership with Wiki Edu. This post features some simple, yet critical details for understanding and using Wiki Edu to help your students think and write more effectively about plant science. The insights shared here come from  Barbara Alonso (photo), Lab Manager for the Lemaux Lab at University of California-Berkeley. Barbara attended a seminar presented by Wiki Edu’s own Jami Mathewson (Educational Partnerships Manager) and Samantha Erickson (Outreach Manager) at Berkeley on December 8, 2015:

Developing Wikipedia Assignments in the Classroom

Why teach with Wiki? Impact.
A student article written in May 2014 has been viewed 31,000 times. The feedback is quite immediate and very real. Students can feel pride in knowing that their page contributes to correct knowledge and continues to be used after the class is over. They also have the Wikipedia page as a vetted citation.

Legislators use Wikipedia
Everybody uses Wikipedia as a resource, and that includes legislators. Wikipedia has the chance to affect real policy change, as better-researched and more complete articles can lead to a comprehensive public understanding of that topic and issue.

The Wikipedia Year of Science
Launching in January 2016, science communication is a key focus of the Wikipedia Year of Science. Preparing science information that is geared towards laypeople is a fundamental goal. Currently, this is a challenge because Wiki lacks Featured Articles in science that are not overly technical (i.e. requiring a PhD to truly understand).

General background: Wikipedia needs more voices
There are approximately 10K volunteer editors, 90% of which are white males. The majority of featured articles focus on warfare, sport and recreation, and gaming. Other subjects, including science, are not well represented in Featured Articles.

Featured Articles are available on the main Wikipedia page, which undergo a rigorous review process. The ones that are selected are well written and have solid bibliographies. There are 477 Featured Articles regarding biology, but nearly 450 are about individual species, meaning broader biology topics are ripe for improvement.

Types of assignments:  Wikipedia is a flexible teaching tool
Approximately 70% of participating classes have used the Wikipedia assignment as the sole main project for the course. However the assignment can be tailored to fit the needs of the class. Instructors determine the length of the assignment, so it does not need to be tied to a campus calendar term. The Wiki Edu’s Dashboard creates weekly assignment modules for the students to use while:

  • Translating a page into a different language.
    • For example, a Wikipedia page that is dedicated to a town in Italy may be different in English (where they focus on tourism) from the Italian version, which is richer in history and detail about the town.
  • Revising an existing Wikipedia page to check references, update citations.
  • Creating a new Wikipedia page

Teaching logistics and student work flow 

  • It’s an individualized assignment; the pages must be edited by one student (i.e. no class account for collective editing).
  • No HTML code skill required; the visual editor is WYSIWYG.
  • Students can do peer-review together.
  • Instructors can track contributions by each student.
  • After a class page has gone live, the author still can edit it. Authors are notified if someone outside changes the page.
  • This works best for classes with 50 students or less, but it can be scaled up.


  • Student-centered booklets and online support help students learn how to edit Wikipedia and to evaluate articles and sources.
  • Online training and ongoing support is available for instructors.
  • Community support at wikiedu.org allows instructors to post/see/respond to questions from other teachers and to get help.
  • Wiki Edu staff help with any real-time questions.
  • The system has multiple points for checking for (eliminating) plagiarism.
  • The system’s library can help students in determining what are appropriate references to cite.

Get started now!


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