First Monday

Student perceptions of writing with Wikipedia in Australian higher education by Robert Cummings and Frances DiLauro

The benefits of teaching with Wikipedia in higher education have been investigated for more than a decade and practitioners have claimed a fairly uniform set of outcomes. Although Wikipedia is a global knowledge platform, many studies of the benefits of teaching with Wikipedia have been conducted in U.S. higher education institutions. The authors taught with Wikipedia in writing classes at the University of Sydney, Australia, surveying and interviewing students to both verify the traditional benefits of teaching with Wikipedia and investigate a new set of perceived benefits. This study finds evidence that students who worked with Wikipedia in the writing classroom remained neutral in their opinions as to the legitimacy of information on Wikipedia and skeptical as to its utility in mastering writing course outcomes.


1. Introduction
2. Method
3. Results
4. Conclusion



1. Introduction

Recent discussions of the prevalence of fake news and the continuing impact of climate change are both examples of global phenomena that will require successful collaborations across wide networks to find solutions. Wikipedia, despite its celebrated inaccuracies and high-profile internal conflicts, stands as one of the few well known models of successful internet collaborations that can shepherd users from multiple perspectives to shared conclusions about verified, factual information. Further, those models of successful collaborations around establishing facts for an encyclopedia might prove useful seeding collaborations to tackle pernicious, global, “crisis of the commons” challenges such as climate change.

Higher education plays an increasingly important role in transitioning students into the next generation of successful Wikipedia editors. Wiki Education Foundation estimates that higher education programs now account for a substantial number of edits on Wikipedia (Watkins, 2017)

However, some of the greatest challenges to teaching with Wikipedia were created by educators themselves. Professors who invite their students to use Wikipedia in the higher education classroom often find that students’ perceptions of Wikipedia are entrenched by years of previous classroom strictures forbidding them to read or cite the online encyclopedia. Students’ perceptions about the legitimacy of information found in Wikipedia, or their likelihood to use it after leaving higher education, or the overall value of contributing to Wikipedia, are opinions that are largely formed in the education system prior to entering substantial projects on Wikipedia.

As ever larger numbers of faculty begin teaching with Wikipedia in higher education, students’ perceptions about the legitimacy of information found on Wikipedia and its utility in mastering student course outcomes become increasingly important. If students’ initial perceptions of Wikipedia are potentially tainted with negative or illegitimate associations prior to encountering the tool in higher education, then the work they produce with Wikipedia in the higher education classroom must overcome those initial opinions in order to earn legitimacy in the eyes of students.

This paper investigates and seeks to characterize student perceptions of Wikipedia in writing courses at the University of Sydney, and whether working with Wikipedia within those courses altered student perceptions.

1.1. Higher education and teaching with Wikipedia

Traditional reasons for teaching writing with Wikipedia in higher education writing classes have included creating real public audiences for student writers (Purdy, 2009), shifting writing teachers from imagined public audience and sole evaluator of student writing to the role of guide (Wadewitz, et al., 2013), practicing team writing (Mak and Coniam, 2008), developing critical digital literacy skills (Patch, 2010), and promoting process writing (Vetter, 2014). For the sake of organization within this discussion, we call these “Phase I benefits.” Phase I benefits are foundational to the practice of teaching writing and other subjects with Wikipedia, and have been the most researched.

Phase I benefits have been discussed for almost ten years (Konieczny, 2012). In fact, they are so widely known, an independent non-profit foundation, the Wiki Education Foundation, was created in 2013 to promote the practice of teaching with Wikipedia around these benefits (Wiki Education Foundation, n.d.). Multiple academic disciplines in the U.S., such as psychology and sociology, now actively encourage their scholars to teach with Wikipedia and have created formal partnerships with Wiki Education to promote the best practices of teaching with Wikipedia.

But beyond these initial Phase I benefits, writing teachers who have taught with Wikipedia see additional benefits that have been less well-documented. These include students entering communities of practice (Gilbert, et al., 2008; Konieczny, 2012), student participation in an innovative practice, promoting student awareness of their role as partners in a global community (Konieczny, 2012), allowing true writing across the disciplines as students apply their writing skills to literally every topic imaginable, helping students to play a role in creating knowledge for the benefit of the global public, and teaching the much needed skills of negotiating differences for a successful collaborative writing outcome. These perceived benefits are referred to herein as Phase II benefits, and have not been as thoroughly identified or as researched as Phase I benefits.

But the authors of this see evidence of even more benefits, that would include and extend the list of Phase II benefits. In February of 2014, with support from the U.S. Fulbright Commission and the University of Sydney, the co-authors of this paper began to examine the benefits of teaching writing with Wikipedia in an explicitly international context. Dr. Frances Di Lauro, of the Writing Hub in the University of Sydney in Australia, designed with Dr. Robert Cummings of the University of Mississippi in the United States, a research framework for the identification of additional benefits of teaching writing with Wikipedia. We suspected that the following issues were also at play with the teaching of writing with Wikipedia:


Table 1: Teaching writing with Wikipedia potential benefits, Phase III.
• Building partnerships with students over electronic networks and within communities of practice persisting beyond the university;
• Engaging in innovative high-risk teaching practices for the benefit of under-represented students;
• Redefining and recharging the purposes of writing within a new a global citizenry based on a common language, rather than a common nationality;
• Broadening partnerships with our writing students to include a breadth of disciplines and a range of epistemologies to engage them in knowledge production on a global scale;
• Redefining he roles of teachers and students as public intellectuals to share openly-licensed intellectual property and forge new Open Educational Practices, helping the academy to recognize its service roles in attending to public access to knowledge and research;
• Recasting our students in team writing environments across electronic networks and a range of access to electronic tools.


Some in the community of teachers now using Wikipedia in their classrooms have speculated about a few of these benefits (Salvaggio, 2016); they have not yet been clearly defined, nor systematically measured, and some have not yet been theorized before now. Further, those who might hypothesize some of these benefits had not discussed them within the framework of teaching writing specifically.

Equally important, however, in realizing these potential benefits for teaching and learning with Wikipedia are student perceptions about the legitimacy of Wikipedia outside of the classroom and its utility for helping students reach course outcomes within the classroom. Thus, we constructed a survey to measure students’ perceptions of Wikipedia and how teaching with Wikipedia affected these student perceptions in the writing classroom.

1.2. Literature of student surveys

The use of student surveys has its own body of literature, which acknowledges potential trends and biases that come with the use of the survey as a tool (Groves, et al., 2004). This includes a possibility for students to put the research topic in a favorable light, since all of their responses to questions from a teacher/researcher must be seen within the context of receiving a grade for the course (Babbie, 1990). Students will often assume that the teacher favors the topic of the survey and will often endorse that particular topic, or at least demonstrate engagement with that topic, since they will also assume that aligning themselves with the teacher’s perceived interests will demonstrate that they have learned what the teacher intended. Since it is difficult to separate students’ opinions expressed prior to the assignment of grades from their ambitions of academic performance, obtaining student opinions after the assignment of grades can prove especially valuable.

In a related topic, the literature of surveys of student satisfaction with courses indicates that teachers who innovate with their courses in the class can generally expect lower student evaluations (Franklin, 2001). This could be part of a student resistance to “being experimented upon” or an undermining of the model of the teacher as ultimate authority. When faculty make changes to a course, in order to improve that course or to experiment with novel teaching mechanisms, they must be willing to gamble with somewhat lower student evaluations — though potentially negative effects have not been clearly documented nor has the willingness to innovate been demonstrated as a pivotal effect.

1.3. Literature of teaching with Wikipedia

The practice of teaching with Wikipedia has also been creating a literature of its own. Higher education faculty have been experimenting with teaching with Wikipedia for more than a decade. Early efforts, starting in 2003, saw individual faculty introducing Wikipedia to students who most likely were unfamiliar with both wikis generally and Wikipedia specifically. Perhaps the earliest recorded course teaching with Wikipedia belongs to Bart Massey at Portland State University, who in the spring of 2003 taught a computer science course on search terms (“Wikipedia: School and University Projects,” 2016). His motivation to teach with Wikipedia was born of the frustration of not being able to locate a textbook for the course: “His difficulty in finding an acceptable course textbook after a number of years of trying led to the idea of having students create content on Wikipedia that reflected the course materials, for future use” (“Wikipedia: School and University Projects,” 2016). Even more famous is the July 2003 University of Hong Kong course in journalism and new media studies entitled “You’ve got mail: Interactive media, news, and communication” taught by Andrew Lih, better known to some by his username Fuzheado, but also known as the author of The Wikipedia revolution: How a bunch of nobodies created the world’s greatest encyclopedia (Lih, 2009). Lih taught the course in several iterations and was one of the first college faculty members to fully grasp the tensions between his students serving as novice editors and the experienced Wikipedia editing community.

Frequently, these early adopting faculty members were also Wikipedia enthusiasts, and were simply exploring methods for furthering classroom outcomes through engagement with Wikipedia. Early experiments were often not connected to each other in any meaningful way: individual practitioners across the globe created and tried approaches to teaching with Wikipedia without much input from other teachers. Teachers might list their projects on a page within Wikipedia entitled “Wikipedia: School and University Projects,” but there was no requirement to do so and, early on, little common information was shared across entries (“Wikipedia: School and University Projects,” 2016). Indeed, many teachers would have no way to know that the school and university projects page even existed. When teachers encountered problems with their students and their interactions with the Wikipedia editing community, support was sporadic and depended on the good will of the editing community. Avoidable conflict was often sustained by the overlapping of the related but severable missions of educating students in a classroom and providing an accurate, free encyclopedia for the world. Further, if faculty developed successful strategies for overcoming problems, that knowledge was carried off with the individual teacher rather than preserved for the next generation of teachers experimenting with Wikipedia.

And there were many problems to overcome. The core issue, still prevalent today, is the accusation that teaching with Wikipedia fundamentally alters the motivations for editing pages: those who edited Wikipedia outside of the classroom context do so on the basis of their own interests, while students are compelled to edit in order to earn a grade for a course. Further, independent Wikipedia editors are often more knowledgeable about their subjects and demonstrate greater and continuing concern for the accuracy, relevance, and coherence of pages than students who might briefly participate in an assignment which rewards them for individual contributions to Wikipedia pages without assurance for the accuracy of their content or its effect on the coherence of the article. Ironically, many of Wikipedia’s loudest detractors, who decried its collaborative review as irresponsible, came from the education community, while some of Wikipedia’s worst contributors — engaging in rampant plagiarism and copyright violations — also came from the education community. For an example of both passionate attacks and defenses of Wikipedia use in higher education, one need only look to the comments in the 13 October 2014 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education wherein Dariusz Jemielniak, author of an ethnography of Wikipedia in higher education, had the audacity to suggest — as others have done for almost a decade — that educators consider the benefits of teaching with this platform (Jemielniak, 2014).

College writing teachers have played a significant role throughout higher education’s engagement with Wikipedia. Early writing assignments on Wikipedia sought to simply transport classroom research or argument papers on to the wiki, which inevitably led to frustration for students and the editing community alike when the classroom rhetorical framework for assignments failed to meet the demands for editors and readers of Wikipedia. Typically, this was due to a lack of understanding on the ban of original research. Also, Wikipedia editors complained bitterly of assignments which led to students plagiarizing large amounts of text. This practice was not only unethical from the students’ perspectives, but it also rendered Wikipedia vulnerable to copyright violations. Further, early writing assignments might have also equated a student’s grade with the ability for his or her text to remain on Wikipedia. This inevitably set students up for a tug-of-war with Wikipedia editors who took down plagiarized, inaccurate, or irrelevant contributions only to see them pop back up when students, who monitored the page until they received their grades, pleaded for weak content to remain.

Gradually, however, writing teachers and writing classes have helped to create some of the most successful interactions between Wikipedia and higher education. Writing teachers understand that Wikipedia is a discourse community with established protocols, and help students to learn and practice those discourse rules before making contributions. Writing teachers also understand that Wikipedia provides a global audience for student writing, and a unique opportunity to enter a community of practice founded on a common appreciation for almost any topic. This shift from classroom to globe helps to fulfill the goal of students envisioning audiences beyond the teacher, and beyond the grade. Further, appropriate use of sandboxes allows for the complete cycle of process writing: from invention, to drafting, to feedback, to revision, and to reflection, writing for Wikipedia offers an unparalleled composition experience.

But how do students feel about writing for Wikipedia? There have been several studies which have attempted to measure many aspects of the student interaction with Wikipedia. One of the largest studies surveyed 2,318 students and their general opinions about using Wikipedia as a source. It concluded that students were very likely to use Wikipedia, but also unlikely to cite it as a source (Head and Eisenberg, 2010). Therefore Wikipedia shapes student understanding of a subject, but remains beyond critical examination, because often academia wraps it in illegitimacy. It serves as a “black market” of ideas according to the scope of university teaching and learning discourse, while more than 450 million unique visits per month enshrine it across the globe as the public face of knowledge.

A recent study of librarians reinforces the connection between negative faculty opinions and students’ avoidance of Wikipedia citations. In “Still not ready for prime time: Academic librarian attitudes toward Wikipedia in a networked age” Christy Zlatos of Washington State University surveyed 281 librarians who, while agreeing that they should be teaching students how to evaluate information responsibly, largely failed to provide instruction on Wikipedia and overwhelmingly rejected the idea of linking to it (Zlatos, 2014).

There has, however, been little systematic measurement of student perceptions around the use of Wikipedia inside the higher education classroom: when Wikipedia engagement is an explicit part of a college writing classroom, do students think it helps to make them better writers? To be sure, we are not the first to teach with Wikipedia and publish the results. Matthew Vetter studied the use of the Wikipedia in his Writing and Rhetoric course at Ohio University in 2011, but was limited to 17 students (Vetter, 2011). Piotr Konieczny surveyed his and others’ experiences after more than five years of teaching with Wikipedia (Konieczny, 2012). Co-author Robert Cummings previously published a book-length study in 2006 on teaching writing with Wikipedia (Cummings, 2009).

Research to date has not addressed how Wikipedia in the writing classroom changes student perceptions about collaborative writing, conducting research, the challenges of writing across networks, addressing an experienced and sometimes unprofessional discourse community, addressing an overly-male discourse community, or the very legitimacy of Wikipedia as an information source.

This paper will extend the research in to teaching with Wikipedia in the writing classroom as we present the first round of results from comprehensive surveys administered to university students writing for Wikipedia at the University of Sydney, Australia. Though these data are less comprehensive when compared to larger studies, such as the Washington State project, it represents an emerging comprehensive look at student perceptions about the utility of Wikipedia.



2. Method

2.1. Research questions

In examining the range of potential research questions contained within the Phase I, II, and III periods discussed above, we were most motivated by the following questions:


Table 2: Research questions.
• Students’ perceptions of the role of Wikipedia in assisting them in achieving their composition outcomes;
• Student perceptions about the legitimacy of Wikipedia as a public knowledge source;
• Students’ use of Wikipedia within and beyond the academy;
• Students’ attitudes about research, team writing, and entering communities of practice beyond the academy;
• The value of writing for Wikipedia and electronic networks as preparation for responding to professional contexts beyond the academy;
• The value of Wikipedia in helping students identify cultural difference and establish successful working partnerships with people different than them;
• The role of Wikipedia in helping students identify and transform a male-dominated workspace;
• Students’ perception of the value of working with Wikipedia and helping students identify a new meaning for their place in the world.


2.2. Survey administration

To find answers for these questions, we developed surveys of student perceptions about teaching and learning with Wikipedia. The surveys were administered exclusively at the University of Sydney in 2014 to the following classes:


Table 3: Surveys at the University of Sydney, 2014.
University of Sydney courseQ1: Pre-Wikipedia assignment survey administrationQ2: Post-Wikipedia assignment survey administration
Writing 2002
Advanced writing and research
Wiki writing in a global environment
90 students surveyed
64 responded
Semester 1 2014
86 students surveyed
23 responded
Semester 1 2014
Writing 1001
Writing and rhetoric:
Academic essays
Wiki writing in a global environment
450 students surveyed
203 responded
Semester 2 2014
450 students surveyed
325 responded
Semester 2 2014


Participants in this study were undergraduate students of varying ages, genders, and backgrounds. This undergraduate population was predominately under 30 years of age but students of mature standing were also enrolled in these writing courses and represented approximately five percent of the cohort.

The surveys were administered by a link to Survey Monkey ( from the courses’ LMS (Blackboard) sites.

2.3. The assignments

The authors sought approval from the official ethics body at the University of Sydney to offer questionnaires, case study, and focus group interviews to students in the above courses. Once approval was granted, the purpose and rationale for using Wikipedia for classwork was discussed with students, who, upon enrolling in the course, had already been informed that they would be required to obtain a Wikipedia user ID, and to work on the Wikipedia platform in class. The first questionnaire was administered to students in each of these courses after ethics clearance had been received, and before they began to work on in-class assignments. The second questionnaire was offered to students after they had completed work using Wikipedia and after students had received their final results, faculty issued a call for volunteers from the courses to participate in focus group and/or case study interviews.

Different assignments were used for each of these courses. In the case of WRIT2002, students worked collaboratively to either augment a pre-existing Wikipedia article, or to create one from scratch. In the case of our first year course, WRIT1001, students were enlisted to help repair Wikipedia articles that lacked sources or citations, that needed verification of information, that lacked objectivity, that needed structuring, or to resolve ambiguity.

Students were administered two surveys: once before participating in the Wikipedia assignment, and once after participating in the Wikipedia assignment and some of the questions were amended accordingly from one iteration to the other. A third questionnaire was issued after students received their final results, however, as our institution does not release final results until a month or so after classes have ended, students no longer had access to LMS by that time and, we suspect, did not receive the scheduled invitation to complete the survey.

Table 4 below shows the questions for the two surveys administered. Except for the last question number 15, Respondents were given the following options as responses for each question: Strongly disagree, Disagree, Neutral, Agree, and Agree Strongly. Where the questions were reworded for the second survey to reflect a change of tense, the two variations are shown side by side.


Table 4: Survey questions — Q1 Pre-assignment/Q2 Post-assignment.
1. I believe that Wikipedia is a frequently accessed source of information.
2. I regularly read Wikipedia for my own information outside of class.
3. I believe that the information on Wikipedia is legitimate.
4. Wikipedia will help me achieve the student learning outcomes of this course/Wikipedia is helping me achieve the student learning outcomes of this course.
5. I am enjoying working on assignments with other students.
6. I will enjoy working with classmates on Wikipedia/I am enjoying working with classmates on Wikipedia.
7. It is likely that I will spend more time on a Wikipedia assignment than a similar assignment that does not involve Wikipedia/I am spending more time on this Wikipedia assignment than similar assignments that do not involve Wikipedia.
8. Writing for Wikipedia will help me improve my research skills/Writing for Wikipedia is helping me to improve my research skills.
9. Writing for Wikipedia is likely to involve more revision than assignments that do not involve Wikipedia/Writing for Wikipedia is involving more revision than assignments that did not involve Wikipedia.
10. I think that working on Wikipedia might surprise me/I am finding working on Wikipedia surprising.
11. I believe that writing for Wikipedia will help prepare me for work after I complete my education at university/I believe that writing for Wikipedia will help prepare me for work after I complete my education at university.
12. I believe that writing for Wikipedia will help me continue to learn after I leave university/I believe that writing for Wikipedia will help me learn after I leave university.
13. I would like to contribute to Wikipedia even after this course has concluded.
14. I might encounter barriers to working with Wikipedia / I am encountering barriers to editing Wikipedia. (If and only if respondents answered “agree” or “strongly agree” to this question, the following questions were also presented for Q1):
  • Contributing to Wikipedia is intellectually daunting;
  • Contributing to Wikipedia is socially daunting;
  • Contributing to Wikipedia is technically daunting;
  • Contributing to Wikipedia causes me concerns about my reputation;
  • I am finding it difficult to communicate with others in the Wikipedia community;
  • Contributing to Wikipedia causes me concerns about conflict of interest;
  • I am finding that people on Wikipedia do not seem friendly to my gender;
  • I do not know where to begin editing.
  • Other: (respondents could supply answer)

15. If you were to contribute to Wikipedia on your own, after the course had concluded, why do you think that you might be interested in doing so? Tick all that apply:
  • personal interest
  • professional interest
  • academic interest
  • sense of duty to inform the public
  • communication with others in the Wikipedia community
  • opportunity to meet new people who share my interests
  • I get information from the Wikipedia community, and I like to “give back”
  • Involvement in “WikiProjects”
  • Grammar, syntax, and/or spelling concerns
  • Opportunity to meet people who share my personal interests
  • Opportunity to meet people who share my professional and/or academic interests
  • It’s fun!
  • Other: (respondents could supply answer)

16. I believe that editing Wikipedia will be a skill which will help me find a job.
17. Working on Wikipedia will put me in contact with people who are different from me.
18. I believe that working on Wikipedia will help me to better understand my place in the world.*
Please indicate your level of agreement with the statements below. Please choose the most appropriate responses to each question.
19. I use Wikipedia for university assignments.
20. I have been told by teachers to never use Wikipedia.
21. I enjoy academic writing.
22. I enjoy researching.
*This question was only administered in Q1 with WRIT1001.




3. Results

3.1. Overview of most frequent survey responses

The surveys were conducted through four administrations: a pre- and a post-assignment questionnaire in both the Writing 1001 and Writing 2002 classes.

Across all of the surveys we administered, the following responses were the five highest when all questions were combined:


Highest combined response
Highest combined response:
In response to the statement “I believe that Wikipedia is a frequently accessed source of information,” 54 percent of students strongly agreed.



Second highest combined response
Second highest combined response:
In response to the statement “Writing for Wikipedia is [likely to involve/involving] more revision than assignments that do not involve Wikipedia,” 53 percent of students were neutral. (This question was not administered in Q1: Writing 2002 Advanced writing and research Wiki writing in a global environment students, in the pre-assignment survey administration. It was administered in the Q2 of that course and both Q1 and Q2 of Writing 1001 Writing and Rhetoric: Academic essays Wiki writing in a global environment.)



Third highest response
Third highest response:
In response to the statement “I might encounter barriers to working on Wikipedia,” 52.48 percent of students agreed. (This question was administered only in Q1 of Writing 1001 Writing and Rhetoric: Academic essays Wiki writing in a global environment.)



Fourth highest response
Fourth highest response:
In response to the statement “I believe that the information on Wikipedia is legitimate,” 52.29 percent of students were neutral.



Fifth highest response
Fifth highest response:
In response to the statement “I believe that working on Wikipedia will help me to better understand my place in the world,” 50 percent of students were neutral. (This question was administered only in Q1 of Writing 1001 Writing and Rhetoric: Academic essays Wiki writing in a global environment.)


3.2. Analysis

The complete responses for all for surveys are given in the appendix to this paper, while below we present the most significant findings from these responses below.

Finding 1: Students remain neutral as to the legitimacy of information on Wikipedia.
Finding 2: Students remained skeptical as to the value of writing with Wikipedia in helping them reach the learning outcomes of the course.
Finding 3: Students were not interested in participating in surveys, once class had concluded.


Answer optionsStrongly disagreeDisagreeNeutralAgreeStrongly agree
I believe that Wikipedia is a frequently accessed source of information.5737106170
I regularly read Wikipedia for my own information outside of class.12267313975
I believe that information on Wikipedia is legitimate.53016811210
Wikipedia is helping me achieve the student learning outcomes of this course.18481618810
I am enjoying working on assignments with other students.27391439818
I am enjoying working with classmates on Wikipedia.25591398715
I am spending more time on this Wikipedia assignment than similar assignments that do not involve Wikipedia.321061205710
Writing for Wikipedia is helping me to improve my research skills.166711311811
Writing for Wikipedia is involving more revision than assignments that did not involve Wikipedia.2065161736
I am finding working on Wikipedia surprising.165513610711
I believe that writing for Wikipedia will help prepare me for work after I complete my education at university.27611388712
I believe that writing for Wikipedia will help me learn after I leave university.23551329916
I would like to contribute to Wikipedia even after this course has concluded.5783123539


Focus group and case study interviews

Although they captured the perceptions of a small percentage of the cohorts surveyed, the case study and focus group interviews yielded rich and elaborate responses to questions dealing with the mechanics of editing Wikipedia, comprehension and retention of course content, and their general perceptions of the online platform’s contribution to their learning, acquisition of skills, and improved writing. This affirmed that students envisioned broader benefits than those delineated by our earlier survey questions.

Administration of focus group and case study interviews

Students in both WRIT1001 and WRIT2002 were invited to participate in focus group interviews but only the second year students from WRIT2002 were recruited for case study interviews. Initial contact with potential participants in the focus groups and/or case study interviews was made in classes by the course coordinator, who was not involved in grading the students’ work. The coordinator explained the aims of the study and emphasized the voluntary and anonymous nature of participation in these interviews. After students received their final results for these courses, an e-mail message was sent to all students in each of the courses surveyed asking for volunteer participants in either a focus group or case study interviews. Audio recordings captured the interviews and, after transcription, all identifying information was removed.

Focus group questions

1. Did the training module adequately prepare you for writing on Wikipedia?
2. How easy was it to edit existing pages?
3. What were the advantages and disadvantages of researching in a group:
   • Advantages
   • Disadvantages
4. What were the advantages and disadvantages of collaborative writing on Wikipedia:
   • Advantages
   • Disadvantages
5. Did the activities help you advance your research practices?
6. Did the activities help you to improve your writing?
7. Did you learn about course content or concepts by performing this activity?
8. Was the relevance of these activities to your learning clear to you?
9. How did these activities help you to learn?
10. What particular skills or attributes did the activities with Wikipedia develop?
11. Is there anything that would have made the activity more effective to your learning?

Case study interview questions

1. Discuss your perceptions of the benefits of having written in Wikipedia articles in the course WRIT2002 in Semester 1, 2014.
2. Do you think this writing helped to consolidate the content you were learning about at the time?
3. Have you received notification that the article/s you worked on in class in WRIT2002 in Semester 1, 2014 has/have been modified or altered by another/other Wikipedia editor/s since?
4. Have you returned to edit or add to the article yourself?
5. Have you edited any other articles on Wikipedia?
6. Have you created any new articles on Wikipedia?
7. Discuss any benefits that contributing to Wikipedia articles have to your own learning.
8. Discuss any benefits that contributing to Wikipedia articles have to the global distribution of information.

Most of the extended discussions in both the focus groups and case study interviews centered on the relevance of the in-class activities to the real world, and what they believed they would be engaging with in the workforce. Indeed topics that were raised most often by students in both focus groups and case studies interviews were the authenticity of these Wikipedia activities, and their relevance to learning. One first year student from WRIT1001 commented “when we first started using doing Wikipedia, I was thinking ‘Why?’ I didn’t understand and only now am I realizing how utterly relevant it is to what we were learning. Now it makes so much sense that we would be doing Wikipedia in this [course] ... .” Relevance is one of the crucial features of successful online formative assessment tasks according to the “essential principles” advocated by Gikandi, et al. [1]. The perception of relevance is an even more essential condition, required for self-regulated learning, and responsible for “task value activation” [2].

The Wikipedia activities provided a platform on which students could develop and master desired course outcomes, while exploring topics that were of interest to them. The same first year student spoke of having remembered information on a topic simply because he researched and wrote about it on Wikipedia, “It’s funny ... I remember her name and I remember stuff about her just because I wrote the page. I have a deep personal connection to a woman who died a hundred years ago.” This led to a discussion about Wikipedia reinforcing knowledge to aid retention, and another student to label the online platform “a pedagogical tool.” A senior student from the WRIT2002 told participants in her focus group that the Wikipedia activity “actually put what you have learnt at university into practice in the real world ... . It is now ‘take that knowledge and those research skills and put it in the real world and go on to library databases and actually look at this for yourself with no lecturer telling you that there is a guaranteed good source for this topic’. There is no guarantee. You are doing it on your own and you are like ‘ok lets see what I can find on my own’.” Assessment activities that are grounded in “live real-world context[s]” engage students and are, according to Tay more likely to result in deep learning [3].

Students commented that, had they not completed the Wikipedia training module before learning to edit, they would not have worked out how to do it themselves. They did not like using html for editing. They expressed surprise that it was not as easy to do as for example “making a Facebook account.” Took too long. They did like the citation tool. They indicated that it did not feel as thought they got to do as much as they would have liked in the available time (one hour tutorials). However, when they participated in a Wikipedia editathon in the mid-year break, they had a greater sense of accomplishment because they got through so much more. One student commented that he much preferred working on a page from the creation stage, “I started doing her page and remember it being easier to start a page from the beginning, from scratch, rather than editing a big page that was already there.”

Focus group students who had studied in both the first year, and the second year course believed that the motivation for both the group work and the Wikipedia page creation and editing in the latter (WRIT2002) was much greater. They had the sense of working in small groups of four to six, to contribute to something as part of a larger group of 86 to create a Wikipedia article. Students emphasized that in Semester 2, WRIT1001 consisted of a large contingent of students for whom the course was a core subject and therefore compulsory. Many of those students (our focus group participants believed) were less motivated. The second year course, WRIT2002, on the other hand consisted of students who had taken two previous first year courses and wanted to “know more about rhetoric and explore that further.”

Three of the focus group participants commented that they were more convinced of the credibility of Wikipedia articles after reading some of the “Talk” pages on which editors dispute and debate over points of disagreement. It was viewed by one student as a “good epistemological tool” that “makes me think when I read that Wikipedia article ... it’s more likely to be true. These guys who ... they’re arguing with each other and finding the right number.” A senior student who participated as a case study subject in fact labeled the talk pages as the most “‘educationey’ [sic] part of Wikipedia ... . Because with the main article you are just seeing essentially a finished product at one point in time, yet with the talk pages you are seeing discussion and I love that because you see debates and all this — what should be there, what should not be there — so that part is really good.”

The focus groups stimulated considerable discussion about writing. As university students, the first year participants felt equipped to display their expository writing to a global audience as they were dealing with foundational concepts, information and so forth rather than presenting a persuasive argument. They felt, nonetheless, pressed to be more careful about reporting and presenting data accurately, citing their sources, and ensuring that they paraphrased appropriately and used quotation marks whenever they reproduced the words of others. A senior student from WRIT2002 also commented to participants in her focus group “I think, like I said before, I just want to emphasise like I guess it made me more vigilant in terms of knowing what I am writing and just meticulously making sure that every single source is, you know, proper — things like that, yes.”

First year students also believed that editing Wikipedia improved their writing because they needed to write in an objective way, eliminating any palpable persuasive bids. A senior student who participated in a case study interview noted that “Even something controversial like Adolf Hitler for example — one of the largest Wikipedia pages I have seen — huge, huge potential for massive debates about ‘oh well how evil was he?’ and things like that ... extreme right wing people could have ruined the Wikipedia page ... but no they have not so that is really good of Wikipedia to keep even something like Adolf Hitler really neutral if you know what I mean, which is great. It is what it should be though.”

This case study participant spoke of the impact Wikipedia editing had on his writing, saying “... up until probably towards end of last year, I would always only ever do one draft of anything (really), I hated the editing; I hate editing so I would write it all out then done — I would not look back over it. And then I would always look back and say ‘oh yeah I could have done that better obviously’. To me it was always to do with time — I mean if I spent one year writing one essay, of course it would be closer to perfection than if I spent one week writing it ... after Wikipedia you have to edit ... you have to always edit though because you could miss something. Get other people to read it though ... you write a point on Wikipedia and if it is not well supported (yes) or well sourced then it is gone.”

Students in both focus groups particularly liked writing in a way that whilst still formal, was inclusive and accessible to all audiences, with one student commenting, “You’re going to think who am I writing this for? And that’s one of the biggest things really. Well I’m writing this for everyone in the world. So how do I put it in a way that accessible to everyone?” A senior student in the WRIT2002 focus group also noted that “It helps people [to] become more sensitive to like different ideas and I think that, yes, especially in like online, you can get like, a great network of people coming on, you know, and from all over the world I am assuming.”

Senior undergraduate students from the WRIT2002 focus group stated that the Wikipedia activities they completed opened up their minds to the opinions, writing and thinking styles of others, as one commented, “I have my own style of writing so it was interesting to see ... other people’s perspective and how they, you know, incorporated their ideas because it is completely, drastically different from mine because I am a science student. I guess especially in the scientific community you need inspiration and you need to collaborate and the best ideas come from collaboration so I think it is, yes (ok) I think it is very beneficial.” This coheres with the phenomenographic learning theory perspective, which advocates the use of information technology in education to expose students to precisely such diversity of perspectives and increase learner engagement [4].

Another student attributed this to the collaborative nature of those activities, which were the only group activities in the course “because a lot of the work we did was like just individualised” the coordinator “wanted us to ... get together and ... collaborate and share ideas and ... I think it did achieve our aims and our objectives.”

Indeed the objectives of both courses required that students engage in more than just the mere regurgitation or “transmission” of information. By investing students with the charge of harvesting information and developing expository texts to publish on Wikipedia we enable them to become creators and contributors in the dissemination of knowledge in ways that pertain to their everyday lives [5]. Wikipedia has proved a vital collaborative technology for the development of inquiry-based, student-centred learning activities.



4. Conclusion

Higher education’s engagement with Wikipedia continues to expand. While there will always be a tension between the purposes of peer-reviewed knowledge and publicly-reviewed knowledge, it is no longer possible to deny the overlap between these sources of knowledge. The initial rejection of Wikipedia by faculty in all formal education settings was understandable when Wikipedia was a relatively new concept in 2003-2010, but Wikipedia has become a part of the digital fabric of first-stop reference for almost everyone.

Higher education now sees Wikipedia as a teaching opportunity, however, its teaching of students to reject Wikipedia in earlier years now serves as a substantial barrier to its use in the classroom. As this study has demonstrated, students in our classrooms remained neutral as to the legitimacy of information on Wikipedia and skeptical as to the value of writing with Wikipedia in helping them reach the learning outcomes of the course. Further research will be needed to determine if this trend changes with time, as use of Wikipedia becomes increasingly accepted by higher education and the next generation of students form different first impressions. End of article


About the authors

Robert Cummings is Chair and Associate Professor of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi.
E-mail: cummings [at] olemiss [dot] edu

Frances DiLauro is Senior Lecturer and Director of the Writing Hub at University of Sydney.
E-mail: dilauro [at] sydney [dot] edu [dot] au



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2. Matzat and Vrieling, 2016, p. 8.

3. Tay, 2015, p. 181.

4. Thota, 2015, p. 83.

5. Reese, 2015, p. 580.



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Complete responses from WRIT 1001 pre-assignment (n=203)


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 pre-assignment


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 pre-assignment (n=203)


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 pre-assignment


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 pre-assignment (n=203)


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 pre-assignment


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 post-assignment (n=325)


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 post-assignment


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 post-assignment (n=325)


Complete responses from WRIT 1001 post-assignment



Editorial history

Received 16 February 2017; accepted 19 May 2017.

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This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Student perceptions of writing with Wikipedia in Australian higher education
by Robert Cummings and Frances DiLauro.
First Monday, Volume 22, Number 6 - 5 June 2017