Universities told not to edit their Wikipedia entries

Wikipedia records 150 edits every minute.

Campus communications officials shouldn’t aggressively monitor and change their university’s Wikipedia page unless the entry has been “vandalized” by another editor, a Wikipedia spokeswoman said during a recent discussion on how educators are using the vast online encyclopedia.

During a webcast on Blog Talk Radio March 28, LiAnna Davis, a communications associate for Wikipedia – the internet’s fifth most visited website — said college representatives should only edit their school’s entry if they spot an incorrect number or date, for example, and the edit should always be cited to a “reliable source.”

Read more on Wikipedia in higher education…

Journalism students turn to Wikipedia to publish stories

Study suggests Wikipedia is accurate … and a little dull

New software can help ‘proofread’ Wikipedia

No change should be made, Davis said, until the college employee creates an account that acknowledges he or she works for the campus.

“We would encourage you not to edit anything that you have a bias in,” Davis said during the radio webcast, organized by the Association for Social Media & Higher Education (ASMHE), a group based at The George Washington University (GWU). “If you work for the university … that gives you a certain amount of bias about the topic of your university.”

College and university employees who make changes to their institution’s Wikipedia information should leave notes on why that edit was made on the page’s discussion section, Davis said.

Menachem Wecker, cofounder of ASMHE, said campus officials could raise awareness of errors on a college’s Wikipedia entry on the site’s discussion page and encourage other editors to make the change and include proper citation.

“Users should not try to participate in Wikipedia in a vacuum,” he said. “One doesn’t show up in a community and tell it how to do its business, and one should immerse oneself in the Wikipedia community and realize that it functions as a community.”

Factual changes to a Wikipedia entry are usually deemed as OK by the website’s 80,000 contributors, but any edit beyond facts and figures would be considered controversial by Wikipedia users who track changes, said Ryan Dellolio, web program manager at GWU.

“Wikipedia says it’s not an indiscriminate collection of information — it’s not a dumping ground for your institution,” said Dellolio, a frequent contributor to Wikipedia, who added that sneaky edits by colleges and universities will often draw the ire of the Wikipedia community. “Attempting to hide anything will only arouse suspicions … so you should always be clear about your affiliations.”

The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia, partnered with colleges and universities last year when the group launched its campus ambassador program, which trains faculty, staff, and students to teach others how to create and edit Wikipedia pages.

The program is designed, in part, to help professors and instructors trying to incorporate Wikipedia into the class curriculum.

Students in the University of Denver’s Media, Film, and Journalism Studies Department composed 24 Wikipedia articles last year, covering everything from the gold standard to San Juan Mountains to bimettalism, an antiquated monetary standard.

Journalism instructors Lynn Schofield Clark and Christof Demont-Heinrich said students were told to check their sourcing carefully, just as they would for an assignment at a local newspaper.

“I tell students to use it as an information portal … and you can see what information has been sourced and see that they’re reliable sources,” Demont-Heinrich said. “Wikipedia can be a great resource.”

Research published in March 2010 in the journal First Monday showed that eight out of 10 students surveyed said they used Wikipedia for background knowledge. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they frequently used the web-based collaborative encyclopedia, “even if an instructor advised against it.”

Twenty-two percent said they rarely or never used the site. Only 17 percent of student respondents said they used Wikipedia because it was more reliable than other websites.

About 2,300 students responded to the survey, according to the First Monday web site.

Davis said Wikipedia should serve as a starting point for college research, and just as a student wouldn’t include a paper encyclopedia on his or her citation page, Wikipedia entries shouldn’t be cited either.

“There are certainly Wikipedia articles that are of better quality than others, and we realize that,” she said. “As in any information source, it’s important to investigate it and determine whether or not it’s reliable. … There certainly are good and bad parts to Wikipedia.”

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Comments are closed.

Sign up for our newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.