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For a Growing Number of College Students, Wikipedia Is Homework

With 20 million articles in 283 languages, Wikipedia is the world's go-to reference. Can student editors make it more accurate?

Wikipedia doesn't have a stellar reputation for scholarly accuracy, but its staggering collection of 20 million articles in 283 languages has nonetheless made it the go-to reference for the world's students—it's even the most plagiarized source on college campuses. Now, a growing number of professors are bucking the anti-Wikipedia trend and assigning a new kind of homework: editing the site's articles.

According to the Wikimedia Foundation blog, professors from nine nations are participating in the two-year-old Wikipedia Education Program, which allows them to assign articles to their students. In the United States, about 50 classes are participating in the editing effort. Student contributors "are expected to put in as much work into the Wikipedia assignments as they would put into a term paper or other large assignment," the program's founders say. The students are guided through the editing process by their professor, trained in-person "campus ambassadors," and virtual mentors.

Last year, Harvard professor and Association for Psychological Science president Mahzarin R. Banaji launched a similar effort to clean up the inaccuracies in Wikipedia's psychology entries, while British students and faculty teamed up to do the same in several content areas. If independent efforts like these are consolidated under the Wikipedia Education Program umbrella, the site could be on its way to true academic legitimacy. And because students—and the rest of us—are never going to stop using Wikipedia, we might as well focus on making the world's most popular reference service a credible one.

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