Higher ed and Wikipedia go great together

The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles LiAnna Davis, Wikipedia Education's director, who forges alliance with colleges and their faculty.

Educators have long had a fraught relationship with Wikipedia: a combination of the encyclopedia's willingness to accept claims of expertise without citations to facts; as well as lazy students' propensity for copying out of the encyclopedia and failing to follow references; along with confusion about whether a world-editable encyclopedia could be a reliable source all conspired to make some academics queasy and mistrustful.

But according to Davis, there's been a thaw in relations between Wikipedia and academia, thanks in part due to the Wikipedia Visiting Scholars program, which "pairs academics at colleges with experienced Wikipedia editors."

The perception of Wikipedia as a potentially unreliable source can be a benefit, if it's harnessed to teach students that they should always be skeptical of what they read, following up on references and reading critically.

Access to the university's resources, she said, can mean the difference between a short "stub" article on Wikipedia and a more exhaustive page. Since starting as a Visiting Scholar, she said, she has written 231 articles on Wikipedia and edited 334 more.

And by opening its archives to Stephenson-Goodknight, Rust said, Northeastern is making history more accessible, a mission she said is shared by Wikipedia.

"If the goal of Wikipedia is to create the largest, most reliable free encyclopedia for everyone in their own language, that shows a stance towards not only the sharing of knowledge but also the belief that humans want knowledge and humans want to learn," Rust said. "That, to me, is what educational institutions also believe."

Royce Kimmons, an assistant professor of instructional psychology and technology at Brigham Young University, said Wikipedia's crowdsourcing has been key to its growth.

"The reason that Wikipedia has become what it has become," he said, "is because of its unique approach to knowledge creation and sharing and how it has valued laypeople as potential knowledge sources."

Some Colleges Cautiously Embrace Wikipedia [Megan Zahneis/Chronicle of Higher Education]

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