Wikipedia:Student assignments

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Student assignments can help improve Wikipedia, but they can also cause the encyclopedia more harm than good when not directed properly.[1] Even experienced Wikipedia editors who are classroom instructors have had mixed experiences.[2] Despite the difficulties, successful assignments and classrooms do exist, and this information page is intended to point the way to achieving good outcomes. A successful assignment requires careful crafting and its grading system will be in accordance with Wikipedia needs and Wikipedia norms (known as policies and guidelines). If you have any questions about anything related to student assignments, please ask at the education noticeboard.

Instructors are expected to have a good working knowledge of Wikipedia and should be willing to help address core content policy violations.[3] Each assignment should have a course page, so editors and ambassadors can direct constructive feedback to the right place. The user pages of students should link to the course page and any draft. Instructors should be identified at the course page, and their user page should provide contact details or enabled email. If issues such as copyright infringement develop, contact with the instructor can become necessary.

Established editors should welcome student editors, and students should learn to communicate via the normal Wikipedia channels, such as on article talk pages and user talk pages. If editors contact an instructor, they should try to be helpful. Likewise, if an instructor receives constructive feedback on a classroom assignment, they should be responsive. Improving medicine and health topics often requires particularly careful use of sources. Specific examples of best practices are also shown below.


Good assignments are based on a knowledge of Wikipedia's norms (known as policies and guidelines). When knowledgeable instructors, competent students, and good ambassadors collaborate based on those norms, an assignment has a good chance of succeeding. To keep things on the right track, a grading system and assignment that are aligned with these norms are necessary. Students should be willing to put in the effort to leave a quality contribution.

Students and instructors participating in assignments can feel overwhelmed by multiple policies and guidelines, style preferences, some unpleasant Wikipedians, and coding complexities. Wikipedia can have a steep learning curve, especially when editing in controversial subject areas, or areas related to health, medicine, biology, or psychology (which have their own norms described below).

When experienced editors encounter the results of a poorly performed assignment, they can feel overwhelmed by an onslaught of multiple content or format issues in articles they care about. They might also feel as if they are acting as unpaid and unthanked teaching assistants. If an entire class has systematically failed to adhere to Wikipedia's content policies and guidelines, student work may be reverted or deleted, and it can drive away or discourage existing editors, especially when students do not use talk pages to reach consensus on disputed material.

Wikipedia takes pride in being "the encyclopedia that anyone can edit", and the Wikipedia community is based on volunteers who attempt to follow the norms of the site. When students edit to meet the requirements of a class (which might not align with the norms of Wikipedia), rather than out of a voluntary desire to execute Wikipedia's mission, this dynamic changes. Because of this fact, Wikipedia justifiably expects instructors to take responsibility for their students' work,[4] both for the students' sake and for the good of the encyclopedia.

Student assignments should always be carried out using an Education Program course page. It is usually best to develop articles on the students' user pages, or as drafts. After evaluation, the articles may go on to become Wikipedia articles.

Course pages, user pages, and user names[edit]

Each classroom should have a course page (see example)[5] that identifies the user names of the instructor, the ambassador(s) (if they exist), the students, which articles the students are planning to work on (even if they don't yet exist), and the locations of any draft versions (such as the user's sandbox). It is especially important that there be a complete listing of all Wikipedia pages that students in the class will be editing. Course pages help editors track classroom progress and distinguish between classroom-specific and editor-specific issues, so that constructive feedback is targeted to the right place. Consequently, a class that does not have a course page may be seen by other editors as disruptive, and those editors may end up undoing your students' work. Each student editor should also have a link to their course page, the article(s) they plan to or are working on for the assignment, and any draft at the top of their user page (see example, complete with WP:Diffs to the relevant edits for the assignment). Instructors should make sure they can reply to their user talk pages, or either provide contact details or an enabled email address (which will not be disclosed unless you reply to received emails or use Wikipedia to send an email).

Some editors use their real life names as user names, to identify themselves on Wikipedia, whereas others choose never to reveal personal information. For each class project on Wikipedia, instructors should give thought as to whether or not students should edit under their real names. Some instructors have required their students to use their real names, so as to encourage taking responsibility for text and to mimic academic journals. Doing so can, however, unintentionally have a permanent impact on a student's reputation. If the student is perceived (correctly or incorrectly) by other editors as having plagiarized material or having engaged in other misconduct, there may be comments to that effect left on discussion pages that will be permanently accessible by Internet search engines. Instructors should think carefully about the irreversible effects such situations may have on their students' futures, and give consideration to allowing the use of screen pseudonyms. Further information can be found at Wikipedia:On privacy, confidentiality and discretion and Wikipedia:How to not get outed on Wikipedia.

Each student editor should register his or her own editor account. Under no circumstances should more than one student edit under the same account.


Advice for students[edit]

Further information: Wikipedia:Training/For students

First, welcome to Wikipedia! Wikipedia welcomes new editors, and we hope you will want to stick around after your class is over. Writing and editing here is an expression of encyclopedism using an open and free wiki. You will find that editing Wikipedia will feel quite different than writing a typical term paper, particularly because you will likely have to work with editors who are not fellow students in your class.

Wikipedia has its own core content policies, style, and editing structure. The traditional writing assignment of the essay (with its necessary point of view) is not suited for publication here because our encyclopedic style requires a neutral point of view.[6] Wikipedia is a tertiary source, so what you will write needs to be based mainly on secondary sources, and not on your own interpretations.[7] And because this is an open wiki, other editors can modify or revert the edits you make, often at the same time that you are working on your article. No person or entity (not even your class!) owns articles here, and everything you publish here instantly becomes freely-licensed to the public, which means that others are free to rewrite, reuse, or modify it for any legal purpose, as long as they credit the original source. Of particularly high importance, please read carefully what it says about plagiarism and copyright infringement, below, and please take it very seriously!

If you plan to edit an existing article but you want to practice with test edits first, then copy and paste the article into your sandbox for practice. You can also start new drafts there. Please be aware that it is a very bad idea to copy a large amount of text into a Wikipedia article all at once, especially at the end of the semester. Before placing such large edits into articles, please have your instructor review and approve the text, or post at the article talk page well ahead of time, allowing established editors to look at your sandbox draft and give you feedback. Otherwise, you may find that your work will be deleted. You can request the deletion of your sandbox at any time. If you are starting a new article (which can appear as a red link like this when linked or can be a redirect), then your topic should be notable (see the general notability guideline) and worthy of a separate page (see the reasons for merging). It's possible someone else wrote an article on the same subject that you plan on creating, so please check for alternate titles.[8]

Experienced editors might give you advice or might revert your contributions with an edit summary. Please consider their advice attentively; it usually will help your assignment be more successful. Be responsive if they start discussing your edits at a talk page (the article should be on your watchlist). If someone removes or changes your work, read their edit summary in the article's history. (Do not "edit war". See WP:3RR.) If you disagree with an edit, it might be best to open a discussion on the article's talk page, politely explaining why you believe your version is better. Please use policy and guideline-based arguments on the talk pages.

Wikipedia is a collaborative environment that depends upon communication. If you think editors are being an impediment to fulfilling your assignment requirements, then please say so to an ambassador (privately if helpful) or at the education noticeboard. Also please raise your concerns with your ambassador or at the noticeboard if you think your assignment is asking you to violate any Wikipedia norms. Editors and ambassadors can help by consulting with your instructor to optimize the assignment design (and regional ambassadors are ones who focus on assignment design especially). To receive help, you also can always ask a question at the help desk or Teahouse. We hope your experience will be pleasant. Happy editing!

Advice for instructors[edit]

Brochure in PDF form developed for the Wikipedia Education Program on how to use Wikipedia as a teaching tool in higher education classrooms

Ideally, you already have some experience as a Wikipedia editor. If not, there are materials available and people willing to help you learn. Available people might include another instructor who has experience with Wikipedia assignments, an ambassador (see the links in that section below), or someone at the Teahouse. Please ask at the education noticeboard if you would like assistance. We recognize that you are an expert in your field, and in how to teach it. You may, with good reason, perceive Wikipedia as populated by editors who lack your experience and judgment, but please understand that many editors are also experienced academics, and any editor, expert or not, may cross paths with your students. Please do your due diligence to understand Wikipedia before you craft an assignment. We thank you in advance!

The volunteer community here can be very welcoming to new student editors, but they are also limited in their ability to deal with new issues that suddenly develop, as can happen when many students show up at the same time. Often, volunteers have a niche area they contribute to, which may coincide with your class assignment. Because there may be many eyes on the articles where students work, and because you cannot control what Wikipedia editors will do, or when they will show up to make edits of their own, careful attention to Wikipedia's policies and guidelines from the start of the course will improve your students' experiences – and may save you from aggravating and time-consuming incidents just at the time when you are submitting your grades.

Always create a course page for your class every time that you teach it, and please ensure that your class follows the above advice for course pages, user pages, and user names; please make these requirements to receive assignment credit. Ambassadors can help you set up a course page and provide feedback on assignment design. At your course page please include a course assignment template that specifies the term and links to the course page. Your students should post it on the article talk pages they plan to improve. When new articles are written, please ensure that your students also place that template on the article talk page.

Your assignment and grading rubric should reinforce (and certainly not contradict) Wikipedia's norms, and your class should improve the encyclopedia. Wikipedia has its own "grades" for articles, reflecting how article quality is conceptualized by the editing community.[9] Please do not give students credit for writing an arbitrary quantity of words or bytes. Wikipedia should not contain unnecessary and off-topic material, because encyclopedias prize brevity. You should monitor the edits your students make, and especially take notice if other Wikipedia editors give feedback to your students, in which case you should make sure that your students respond. Do not assume that Wikipedia editors will always fix the mistakes your students make, and do not assume that the fact that a student edit was not reverted means that other editors have accepted the edit. If something in your class assignment turns out not to work as well as you had hoped, please correct it before you repeat the assignment in a subsequent semester; repeatedly editing in unhelpful ways may be considered to be disruptive. Good article and DYK nominations are strongly discouraged for a number of reasons,[10] but allowing a small portion of the most dedicated students to attempt these outcomes, after careful review by the instructor or ambassador, may be rewarding. There is no point however in ending an assignment with a Good article nomination, because the nominator needs to be around, probably weeks later, to deal with review suggestions.

Encourage your students to engage with basic Wikipedia processes and standards. Make sure they understand the advice above for students, perhaps by making this information page assigned reading for a quiz.[11] Make sure your students understand the differences between the style and content appropriate to term papers and other academic forms, and those appropriate to an encyclopedia, where original research is not permitted. (See core content policies, which is also linked to in the student section above.) Please ensure that your students understand that plagiarism and copyright infringement are not allowed, and establish with your ambassador what to do if cases develop.

Have students post specific suggestions for improvement (not just compliments) directly on the talk pages of their peers' articles, and not offline. Incorporate responding to feedback into the grading rubric. Reward students who give good advice on Wikipedia. Reward students who seek out advice from experienced editors (such as at peer review) and then make improvements to the article based on that advice. If an active WikiProject exists around the content you'll be assigning your students to edit, encourage students to notify editors there. Penalize students who do not address the points that were raised by non-student editors.

Consider encouraging your students to work in a sandbox and know that it is an option to have their assignment graded there. In particular, please require students to obtain your approval before moving content from sandboxes into the main article space. Students should not abruptly move large amounts of text into articles without first having the material reviewed either by you or by experienced editors, because otherwise we may end up having to revert everything that the student has done. Articles that are already well-developed before your course starts are likely to be watched by many editors, and so your students may find more editors objecting to changes at such articles, particularly if the articles are already of good quality. It is often better to have students improve short articles that are only in the early stages of development. Please don't allow students to publish articles that do not improve Wikipedia. Base their course credit instead on the sandbox version, and not at the burden of the volunteer editing community. (Also, the articles for creation process is generally not compatible with class projects, and should be avoided.)

Thank you for introducing your students to Wikipedia, ensuring that they fit in well here, and helping them leave behind a positive contribution for many readers!

Advice for editors[edit]

Depending on how classes are organized, students may have different priorities than established editors do (class grades rather than improving Wikipedia; making a few changes and not coming back). Editors sometimes encounter large numbers of student edits in a short period of time, and can find it difficult to get students to pay attention to editorial advice. As always, WP:CIVIL, WP:AGF, and WP:BITE apply, but student editors should be treated in the same way any new editor is treated, without any special considerations that other editors do not receive.

If you see problem edits, explain your concerns on article or user talk pages. Make edits you consider appropriate, as you would in the case of other new editors. You are entitled to revert content or move it to the talk page, or to nominate for deletion if appropriate, especially when there are serious policy violations. (A student can always request that an administrator userify a deleted article.) Class projects never own the pages they are working on. Once you have politely expressed your concerns, you are not obligated to keep repeating the advice.

You are never obligated to be an unpaid teaching assistant. Please do not let student projects diminish your enjoyment of editing. Do not feel bad about reverting edits that justifiably should be reverted. Student grades are not your responsibility, nor is any other aspect of teaching the class, unless you personally choose to involve yourself. If you do not want to fix all of the problems on a page, feel free to leave it for other editors to do, rather than becoming stressed by the effort of doing it alone. There is no deadline, so consider adding Template:Cleanup or a similar template to the page. If students are not satisfactorily responsive to concerns, consider drawing the matter to the attention of the instructor, or to the campus ambassador. Be professional and polite; educators are talented and hard-working professionals, and campus ambassadors are volunteers just like all other editors. (If you know the educational institution, but cannot find the instructor or the course page, you may be able to find this information at Special:Institutions.) If you do not get a timely or satisfactory response, please report the matter to the education noticeboard.

You can point editors who appear to be new student editors in the right direction by using Template:Welcome student, or, in the case of content related to medicine or health, Template:Welcome medical student. Please note that these templates do not merely welcome students; they also point the students towards how to avoid common problems.

When students become interested in editing cooperatively, it can be a genuine pleasure to work with them. If you see a valuable student editor, please consider giving them The Excellent New Editor's Barnstar by placing {{subst:The Excellent New Editor's Barnstar|1=Put your message here. ~~~~}} on their talk page. Likewise, if you have reason to single a class out for praise, also consider posting at the noticeboard.

Advice for ambassadors[edit]

     For a list of current regional ambassadors, see here.

You represent the editing community. Please help your students understand Wikipedia in a welcoming manner, so that student experiences are enjoyable and their contributions improve the encyclopedia. Please establish a good working relationship with the instructor (perhaps by collaborating on the course page) so that you can help improve the assignment (even if only for future semesters), and make sure that it does not contradict Wikipedia's norms.[12] Early in the process, discuss with the instructor how you will notify them if plagiarism occurs or has likely occurred. You might also decide to give advice to students on article talk pages (or in peer reviews) to incorporate your suggestions into the assignment.

Although we all hope things will go smoothly, there is the chance that problems with copyright violations or student unresponsiveness to concerns will develop. Talk with the instructor about what possibilities exist if a student's contribution receives a poor reception, including grading the assignment from a sandbox. If non-student editors contact you with concerns about the class's editing, please be prepared to respond promptly, and please take those concerns seriously. Help editors, in turn, understand the class. Please facilitate the advice given in, and the general spirit of, this information page. Award the barnstar mentioned above if it is deserved. Thank you for volunteering to serve as a liaison between Wikipedia and a classroom!

As a volunteer, it is worth putting careful consideration into whether or not you would like to work with a particular class. It may be a good idea to come up with a mutual agreement between the instructor and yourself that deals with such issues as what actions the instructor will take if plagiarism or other problems are uncovered.

Editing considerations[edit]

Choosing a topic[edit]

As you are getting to know your way around Wikipedia, and deciding which topic you want to write on, you will notice that wikilinking allows readers to easily access text in other articles by clicking on the link. Consider when adding text whether you are adding the content to the right article; if the content you want to add fits better in another article, readers can get there via a link. As an example, in the article Jumping Frenchmen of Maine some information about George Miller Beard and the startle response is needed so the reader can understand the topic, but detail about Beard and the startle response is expanded in the articles George Miller Beard and Startle response. Take care not to add content to the wrong article, as you may be duplicating work that has already been done, or you may be spending time generating content that will be moved or deleted if it's in the wrong article. Be more cautious about removing existing content than adding it, and if you are removing more than a few lines it is a good idea to explain why on the talk page. Some students entirely replace the existing text and metadata such as categories; this is almost never a good idea, and likely to lead to reversion of all their edits.

If you are starting a new article, the subject needs to pass the test of notability. Judging whether your subject does so may be difficult, and you may need to make your case with other editors. In a new article more attention to following Wikipedia policies and conventions over matters such as layout and style is needed. If you are considering creating a new article, it is generally a good idea to run it past your campus ambassador (if you have one), or your online ambassador – or both.

Plagiarism and copyright infringement[edit]

Students and other new editors sometimes mistakenly believe that as long as added text is cited to its source, copying that text (or closely paraphrasing it) is acceptable. It is not. Plagiarizing could earn you an "F" in the course or being thrown out of the university; copying too closely can also be copyright infringement. If you are editing under your real name, the plagiarism can follow you for life. Students should realize that a potentially large number of persons may be silently observing all edits on a Wikipedia page, and consequently there is actually a very high probability that someone will notice plagiarism.

Some established editors are reluctant to "blow the whistle" on student plagiarism because of the consequences that can result for the student, and believe that it is the professor's or the ambassador's job to review articles for plagiarism and copyright infringement. However, it is just as probable that another editor will come along subsequently, and pursue the misconduct at any time, and so it is in the instructor's interest not to leave any problems unresolved.

The following pages are helpful reading:

Editing medicine and health topics[edit]

Video for new medical editors

Wikipedia has unique sourcing and style guidelines covering health information. Health and mental health-related content in any article (not just medicine, biology and psychology articles) must be supported by independent "secondary" sources, such as expert reviews in high-impact peer-reviewed journals, university-level textbooks, professional guidelines, etc. "Primary" sources, such as reports of randomised controlled trials, case reports and comparative studies (even if they are published in a peer-reviewed journal) are rarely adequate support for assertions in this field. If health-related information is not covered in current textbooks, professional guidelines or high-quality independent reviews, it is unlikely to be suitable for Wikipedia. The distinction between primary, secondary and tertiary sources is discussed at Primary, secondary and tertiary sources. For many journal articles, you can determine if a source is a secondary review or a primary study by looking up the article in PubMed's search engine. Please provide a PubMed identifier (PMID) with your journal citations, so other editors can help check your sourcing.

Students editing health-related content should read these pages that explain how to write and organize medical articles, how primary, secondary and tertiary sources are used in health-related content, and where to find ideal sources:

One way students can have a more rewarding Wikipedia experience in adding health information to an article is to begin by posting a list of sources they plan to use to the article's "talk page" (via the tab at the top of the article) before they start writing content from those sources; that will allow experienced editors to guide them towards optimal sources and comment on the appropriateness of the planned article expansion.

Examples of best practices[edit]

Examples of instructors leading assignments that are good models to learn from include Brianwc, who has successfully run a multi-semester program at a law school, jbmurray, who had students take articles up to good and featured status, and Biolprof, who had graduate students peer review each other's contributions multiple times, to help ensure that quality contributions were left behind.

An example of a thorough course page design can be seen at Saint Louis University: Signal Transduction. You can adapt it from this page. Another good example is North American Environmental History.

Any questions?[edit]

Please ask at the education noticeboard. Thanks!

See also[edit]


  1. ^ See Wikipedia:Education Working Group/RfC. Volunteer editors are sometimes left with a mess and the burden of fixing poor-quality edits, merging content forks, and deleting articles.
  2. ^ One can browse User:jbmurray and Attention needed on several articles and users, for a couple examples.
  3. ^ There are Wikipedia editors who will help you learn how to run a successful assignment. Consider delaying your Wikipedia assignment to next semester if you are not familiar with how things work. Someone will be happy to consult with you through video chat about how to run an assignment; please ask at the education noticeboard. You and your students will benefit from good planning.
  4. ^ See the essay WP:Assignments
  5. ^ The assignment portion of that course page can be used from User:Biolprof/Signal_Transduction_Spring_2013. Another generic course page that can be copied and adapted is here.
  6. ^ If a contribution here adopts the essay style it can be reverted, tagged with {{essay-like}}, or possibly deleted.
  7. ^ Familiarize yourself with the core content policies and the guidelines and style preferences of Wikipedia articles in the subject area you want to edit to help insure your edits are accepted. Original research, the publishing of novel ideas, is not allowed. Everything on Wikipedia must be verifiable. See WP:FA for a collection of high-quality articles.
  8. ^ Wikipedia discourages content forks.
  9. ^ Please also take a look at the various cleanup templates that can be applied to an article when specific things could be improved upon.
  10. ^ Students may not sufficiently understand the quality expectations of those processes; student nominations may overwhelm those process pages; reviewers are sometimes reluctant to engage a nomination, or fail a nomination, when they know a student's grade may depend on the outcome; past cases of students pressuring reviewers to pass nominations have come to light; and the quality of the reviews and speed at which they are conducted can vary greatly.
  11. ^ If you are concerned about page stability for quiz purposes, link them to this article with a permanent link to the current version by selecting it after clicking the "View history" tab at the top of the article.
  12. ^ Attempt to incorporate the requirement that students thoughtfully review each other's work on article talk pages, with enough time left in the course for students to address the comments.

External links[edit]