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Instead of Forbidding Wikipedia, This Professor Has Students Work to Improve It

Enter a search term on your engine of choice and the odds are high that one of your first hits will be a Wikipedia entry. Enter most classes and students will hear that “Wikipedia is not a source,” says Pomona College Professor of Politics Amanda Hollis-Brusky. But she thinks those assumptions about the Internet encyclopedia need to be challenged.

In Hollis-Brusky’s Intro to American Politics course, the students work in groups to either create a new Wikipedia entry or expand a current “stub” with sources and literature. The goal is to “improve the breadth, scope and quality of Wikipedia content; enhance student information literacy; and increase the number and diversity of contributors to the free knowledge movement.” 

Since this may be the only politics course these students take, Hollis-Brusky says it’s crucial to teach them information literacy.

“They learn to distinguish a good Wikipedia article from a bad one and, as registered Wikipedia contributors, they have the skill set now to play an active role in improving it. ”

One entry that students wrote in class—“guest worker program”—has been viewed 40,000 times.

“Which is far more than my research gets viewed,” says Hollis-Brusky. “It’s a public contribution they are making to the broader discourse.”

Pomona College senior Logan Galansky’s team’s Wikipedia article was on political polarization. A public policy analysis and science, technology and society double major, Galansky and her team analyzed nearly 100 different scholarly sources in order to be accurate, objective and comprehensive. She learned that the oft-maligned site has rigorous regulations and guidelines, and the assignment taught her basic coding skills as well.

What surprised Galansky were the virtually immediate returns on their efforts. Within hours of posting their team’s entry, people around the world had clicked to their page.

“This project enabled me to see the writing, researching and critical thinking skills that I've honed at Pomona in action. I think it is unique to have an experience at the undergraduate level that allows your work to reach such a wide audience and it was really rewarding to feel like our article made an impact outside of the Pomona setting.”