From deplorable to delightful: how to establish a Wikipedia initiative on campus

Samantha Dodd


“I think what you are doing is absolutely deplorable.”

This was the reaction I received during a departmental meeting in which I was trying to pitch the libraries’ new initiative to incorporate Wikipedia editing into the classroom. For the most part, I was met with resistance and the same arguments that academics have been using since the inception of Wikipedia: it’s inaccurate, it lacks proper sources, and it encourages plagiarism, vandalism.

So, I changed my approach. Instead of me trying to convince them of why their students should be taught how to edit Wikipedia, I decided to let their colleagues do it for me.

Start with peer pressure

During Open Access Week in the fall of 2017, I put together two Wikipedia outreach programs. The first featured Michael Barera, an Archivist at Texas A&M University and a former Wikipedian-in-Residence at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, who spoke on his 11 years as a Wikipedian. This program helped to demonstrate the overall growth and development of Wikipedia, its new features, and security.

Next, I planned a panel discussion on using Wikipedia in the classroom. To find my participants, I searched through syllabi at every University in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I was able to find faculty from three different institutions, teaching different disciplines, who used Wikipedia in the classroom. Each participant gave an overview of their experience with Wikipedia, why they decided to include it in their classroom, how they designed their projects, how it was graded, and how students responded.


Photo courtesy of UTA Libraries

Following the presentations, we opened the room to Q&A. Faculty in the audience engaged with their peers over the validity of Wikipedia as a resource and as a teaching tool, about the scholarly impact of editing Wikipedia, and the changing direction of scholarly publications and output.

Find a partner

Both programs were well attended by faculty (a little coffee bribery goes a long way). After the conclusion of the panel I was approached by the head of our Women’s and Gender Studies program. She was impressed by what she had seen and wanted to support the libraries’ initiative, so she agreed to sponsor a spring edit-a-thon.

Over the winter break I put a team of librarians through the same Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together training I had completed over the summer/fall. We used women from intro to women’s studies, intro to Latina studies, intro to gay/lesbian studies, and women in speculative fiction as the focus of our edit-a-thon. The faculty who taught these four classes added the edit-a-thon either as an assignment, or an extra credit project.

Plan for your first success


Image courtesy of UTA Libraries

After months of prep, and a few mild anxiety attacks, we held the first Wikipedia edit-a-thon in the library: HerStory. We had over 60 students, guests, and faculty attend the event. In total, participants edited 59 articles, created 2 new articles, and added 10.6K words. As of April 20, 2018 (1 month after the event), those articles had been viewed 579K times.

What astonished me was how excited the students were to participate. Prior to the event we did not do much marketing because once the word was out, people were coming to us to learn more. It was obvious from the feedback we received that editing Wikipedia was: 1. Easier than previously thought, 2. Informative, and 3. Students were genuinely interested in learning how to contribute and analyze information on the site.

Be ready for more!

The success of establishing this Wikipedia program was due in large part to the outreach we did with faculty. After that, it was the hard work and dedication of a team of librarians, many of whom were voluntold to participate. 😉

The hard work and the events helped launch a Wikipedia project with the library at the center of it all. It also helped move Wikipedia up a few notches on the scholarly value scale.

We_Can_Edit_220If you are interested in starting something Wikid on your campus, you can check out our outreach programs online: Into the Wikiverse and Wikipedia in the Classroom. Once you have the support to proceed it’s time to roll-up your sleeves and dig in. In the words of Wikipedia, BE BOLD!

Also, please plan to watch (live or online), Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight’s November 14 Distinguished Seminar Series presentation on, Wikipedia’s gender gap. It’s an important, related topic and one where libraries can make a real difference.