Writing for the Digital World - how Australian tertiary students are writing Wikipedia

, James Gaunt.

Since 2018, more than 3000 University of Sydney students have edited Wikipedia as part of their studies in Australia.

Writing for the Digital World enables students to spend a semester gaining real world writing and referencing skills by editing Wikipedia as part of their studies with the Department of Writing Studies at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Senior Lecturer Dr Frances Di Lauro, first began incorporating Wikipedia in her classes in 2012, working through auto-generated lists of articles that had been flagged as requiring factual verification with her students.

“It was a way to teach students to research and specifically, to verify facts and to support them with information from credible sources,” di Lauro said.

“I also liked that their work wouldn’t just sit somewhere on a computer, it would actually have a real world application,” she said.

As their writing was live on Wikipedia, it could be seen by people around the world, and other editors would interact and thank students for their contribution. Six years later, it grew to become an entire course.

In 2021 alone, students have already added over 17,000 references and one million words to more than 1000 articles.

Di Lauro’s students begin building their Wikipedia editing skills by tidying up grammar and adding more reliable sources to articles, before they work on an article of their own from a list of stubs she compiles.

The course then culminates in a final assignment where students are expected to write 2000 words to contribute to Wikipedia. They first create an annotated bibliography for the article they want to work on with at least five academic sources, and any other non-academic articles, books or newspapers, before developing their articles. They also learn to interact with other editors on Wikipedia talk pages and add new media through Wikimedia Commons.

The students' diverse backgrounds lead to a wide range of subjects covered, and articles have included Afro-Caribbean music, the suburb of Beeliar, Western Australia, and Australian comedy act Puppetry of the Penis. “That page goes back to 2004, but our student made it become the article that it is. It was a stub, but it’s B class now,” Frances said.

Articles on Wikipedia are graded on their quality, and many of the students’ articles result in the upgrading from stubs to C or B class, which shows a significant improvement in the article contents.

Di Lauro says that by the end of the course, not only do readers benefit from the improved articles on Wikipedia, but the students also come away with better writing and research skills.

“So many students say it's the best thing they've ever done, and they're so proud of their work going online. In most instances, they feel humbled that people all over the world are looking at it,” Di Lauro said.

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