Classes allow students to edit, develop material for Wikipedia

One of the most visited websites on the Internet is about to become a shade of green.

The Wikimedia Foundation — the nonprofit organization behind the website Wikipedia and its sister projects — recently started the Wikipedia Public Policy Initiative, which allows college students to edit and produce detailed Wikipedia articles on public policy topics within their classrooms, said LiAnna Davis, communications associate for the Wikimedia Foundation.

MSU is offering two courses this semester through the initiative, focusing on public policy in the media and telecommunications.

The initiative is funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Stanton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that promotes civic education and freedom of speech, according to the Wikimedia Foundation’s website.

Davis said the initiative started last semester with 14 classes, but since has expanded to include 28 courses dispersed among 21 different colleges.

MSU students involved in the program will write articles for Wikipedia on public policy issues, which focus on important issues that relate to citizens of the U.S. and the local community.

The article would take the place of a more traditional term paper, said Johannes Bauer, a telecommunication, information studies and media professor involved with the project.

“(The initiative is) a way to provide positive incentive for students to do something that has value beyond the classroom,” Bauer said.

The professors and students were provided with information about Wikipedia’s mission and goals and suggestions on how to best write Wikipedia articles, Davis said.

She said students also have access to trained campus ambassadors in the classroom to help with learning about the website and many online ambassadors from across the world to give additional assistance.

Christopher Cheney, an MSU graduate student, is one of the three campus ambassadors helping the classes learn the inner workings of writing Wikipedia articles. He said the idea behind the initiative was different because it showed students how quickly information can change in modern society and helps them adapt to that change.

Samuel Agot, a media and communication technology senior, said having a variety of people view his work would push him to write better.

“It will push me to make sure I learn about the topic in a multifaceted way, not only from one angle,” Agot said.

Jonathan Obar, the instructor teaching the other class involved with the project, said the only concern he can foresee with the project is how it might be perceived by the academic community.
He said in the academic world, Wikipedia is not always regarded as a credible source of information. Even so, he said the project would help connect students to the online world.

“The point is, Wikipedia is real. It’s very popular, (and) students are interested in getting connected to social media,” Obar said.

Davis said she would like to see Wikipedia’s initiative expand from classes solely focused around public policy issues in the U.S. in the future.

“We hope that this will expand beyond public policy, beyond America and beyond the English language,” she said.

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