Wikipedia celebrated its 10th birthday on January 15, and founder Jimmy Wales is still running fast to keep his free encyclopedia growing.
The latest outreach is to academia, a segment that until recently eschewed this disintermediating model, but is now slowly joining the world’s largest crowdsourced experiment.
It used to be that citing Wikipedia as a source in college papers was not a smart move. "You would get an F, I think, right away on the paper," says Stefano Daniele, a student at Georgetown University.
Fellow student Ianthe Metzger agrees, "It has to be a scholarly source; it has to be something, like, legitimate.”
In an effort to address this problem, Wikipedia set up the Wikipedia:WikiProject United States Public Policy, asking students from the nation's top public policy programs to help by turning course research into articles for the site.
"I would say it's not so much the goal of making it accurate, it's the goal of how we can increase and improve the articles in the public policy area," said Rodney Dunican, education programs manager with the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia.
Participating universities include Harvard, George Washington University, the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Kentucky Martin School of Public Policy and Administration.
Martin School professor Eugenia Toma's course is one of 21 public policy classes in the U.S. working with Wikipedia on its public policy content.
Toma was hesitant at first, "I thought that everything we could have added to on Wikipedia had already been written. But I was surprised. There were definitely topics that we could make better," she said in an official Media Release from the University of Kentucky.
Her class started by editing some of Wikipedia's basic economic definitions such as a project about externality in daily life – a concept that supports governmental intervention in private markets.
"Students are learning a lot about media literacy, assessing sources and practicing neutral points of view through our Public Policy Initiative," said Public Policy Wikimedia Foundation representative LiAnna Davis. "And we are getting an increase in accurate content through student work."
Toma eventually replaced in-class policy discussion with online economics entries. "In semesters past, the debates were helpful, but we were debating amongst ourselves. With Wikipedia, we're taking the debate out to the public."
Wikipedia’s goal with the project “is to make this a system whereby any professor at any university could incorporate Wikipedia into their curriculum,” adds Davis.
Now that academia is adding its most resonant resource – students, to the wiki-mix, the model will surely be better schooled.