TLC2020: 8 reasons to use Wikipedia in teaching and learning

07 October 2020 | Story Carla Bernardo. Photos Je’nine May. Read time 3 min.
There are many advantages to using Wikipedia in teaching and learning.
There are many advantages to using Wikipedia in teaching and learning.

Despite Wikipedia being the “largest and most popular general reference work” on the internet and “the fifth most popular site in overall global web traffic”, the focus in academia is often only on the cons of using the online resource. But at the University of Cape Town’s Teaching and Learning Conference 2020, which took place virtually for the first time from 18 to 23 September, UCT Libraries made their case for why Wikipedia should be incorporated into teaching and learning.

Students are often warned against using Wikipedia in their work: it’s commonly referred to as an unreliable source, particularly because anyone can edit an article. Offering an alternative view is one of UCT Libraries’ Wikibrarians, Ingrid Thomson, who shared the many benefits of using Wikipedia in teaching and learning.

“The advantages of using Wikipedia projects for teaching is that [they contribute] to students developing digital information and literacy skills, critical analysis, language, content, and real-world experience of communication and feedback with editors as well as writing for a new audience, not just the academic or the tutor; it’s having their work out there for all to see,” said Thomson, before listing the benefits.

The benefits of using Wikipedia include developing digital information and literacy skills.

What follows is a summarised list of the advantages of using the online encyclopaedia in teaching and learning, as well as a few ideas on how to begin incorporating it.

Reasons and opportunities

  1. Editing on Wikipedia promotes active learning, motivation and engagement with the research and course content.
  2. Students learn a variety of skills, such as how to evaluate Wikipedia within its editorial standards, how to use it as a starting point for research, and how to use external links to guide searches in locating literature.
  3. Students can learn how to use article histories and evaluate an article’s current status within the Wikipedia community. “It certainly gives students first-hand experience with the peer-review process,” said Thomson.
  4. Contributions are often viewed quickly, and feedback comes in the form of rewording, restructuring or even flagging content for removal if it has been copied from the original source. “How [much] more effective than a plagiarism tool?” asked Thomson.
  5. By writing, editing or contributing to articles, students learn how to write from a neutral point of view.
  6. Gaps in Wikipedia content can be filled, giving more exposure to the typically under-represented groups and content areas.
  7. Students can become part of a strong, global community and practise effective public engagement.
  8. Before adding content, there must be pre-writing research work, which mirrors expected work on assignments and essays.

Thomson also suggested ways in which Wikipedia can be incorporated into teaching and learning.

Suggestions (and some of these are existing examples at other institutions, such as the University of Southern California and the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology) include critiquing, editing or expanding on articles that are relevant to course content; proofreading, rewording or adding citations to articles; translating existing articles into South African languages; or creating new articles related to course content.

If you are interested in finding out more about incorporating Wikipedia into your teaching and learning, support is available from, or you can contact UCT Libraries’ Wikibrarian Ingrid Thomson.

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