Research:Student Learning Outcomes using Wikipedia-based assignments

From Meta, a Wikimedia project coordination wiki
Duration:  2016-July – 2017-July
education, learning, new users, higher education
This page documents a completed research project.

A goal of higher education is to ensure that students learn information that enriches both their lives and their careers. Instructors constantly seek out new tools to help students engage and thrive in a shifting marketplace of ideas, technologies, and career paths. Students must master new skills to prepare for the world beyond the classroom and improve their careers, lives, and future scholarship. Among the most cited skills deemed valuable are digital/information literacy, critical research, teamwork, and technology skills.

In Fall 2016, over 6000 students used a Wikipedia-based assignment in lieu of a traditional paper assignment. We conducted a mixed methods research study using surveys and focus groups to study attitudes, context, and skills transfer. Surveys employed a variety of quantitative and qualitative questions administered online. Thirteen focus groups were also conducted. A total of 1627 students and 97 instructors completed the surveys.


Student survey respondents were recruited via email and the Wiki Ed dashboard. Focus groups were recruited via email through the instructors participating in Fall 2016. We utilized a drawing for gift cards for incentivization. The focus groups were recruited by emailing instructors participating during the semester.

Surveys were administered online, on the Wiki Ed dashboard using a custom-built survey tool. There were three surveys that employed a variety of questions, mostly quantitative but a few qualitative and follow-up questions, as well as thirteen focus groups held across the Northeastern United States. A total of 1627 students and 97 instructors completed the surveys, with over 200 total participants in the focus groups.


Results were publicized on the WMF Blog on June 19th, 2017, as well as on Wiki Education's blog. A research report, full data set, codebooks, and other documentation were made available under an open license.

Policy, Ethics and Human Subjects Research[edit]

This project was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in August of 2016.


Preliminary statistical analysis suggests that both students and instructors valued Wikipedia assignments more for learning digital literacy, critical thinking, learning to write for the general public, and learning about reliability of online sources. Students reported that they were proud of their work, spent more time, and were more satisfied with their class assignment than with traditional coursework. Qualitative findings suggest overwhelmingly that respondents’ perceptions of Wikipedia positively change after having edited Wikipedia. While many students expressed having perceived the space as unreliable prior to editing Wikipedia, their perception shifted through completing the Wikipedia assignment to show more trust in the reliability of Wikipedia as an information source.

Triangulating focus group responses and quantitative survey responses showed that overall students perceived the assignment as useful for developing researching, writing, and information literacy skills, in addition to demonstrating mastery in these skills. Students found their assignments valuable because their work was useful for a public audience as it contributed to conversations outside of the classroom. Responses suggest that students directly engaged concepts outlined in the ACRL framework for information literacy, particularly when engaging understandings of systemic biases, construction of information, and value of information.

This research suggests that in addition to their value in learning digital/information literacy, critical research, teamwork, and technology skills, Wikipedia-based assignments also help increase students’ motivation to complete work over traditional writing assignments.

Results were publicized on the WMF Blog in June 2017, as well as on Wiki Education's blog.