U. students write for Wikipedia instead of term papers

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SALT LAKE CITY — When we need some information, we'll check out Wikipedia. It's many people's first stop for people, places and so much more — Wikipedia has all sorts of information. But where does it come from? And who writes it? In some cases, students at the University of Utah like Sociology and Economics major Guadalupe Aguilera.

"It's pretty intimidating because I'm used to having my work stay in the classroom and that's it," Aguilera said.

Wikipedia's Education program was developed about a year ago. It encourages professors to have their students add to the free encyclopedia website. The class at the U. is one of about 50 classes in the U.S. participating this year.

Now Aguilera's work can been seen by a worldwide audience. Aguilera was a student in Dr. Gunseli Berik's class last spring, who for the first time had her students forgo the traditional term paper, and get something published on the website.

On certain topics there was nothing, and now there is. So now we have child marriage in India, maternal health in Uganda.

–Dr. Gunseli Berik

"They had to identify gaps on Wikipedia," Berik said. "So either an article is inadequate, there's limited information or there's no article on the subject that they're interested in. So they had to identify a topic and they ended up writing 15 articles."

The articles had to also relate to Dr. Berik's course on Gender and Economic Development in the Third World.

"On certain topics there was nothing, and now there is. So now we have child marriage in India, maternal health in Uganda, " Berik said.

Dr. Berik has given her fall graduate-level class the same assignment. In the months ahead, they will be getting constant feedback from each other and the Wikipedia community on their work. For Aguilera, the feedback was much appreciated.

"Knowing that it would be public, and that my work was going to be out there and I have to make it as accurate as can be, because that's the way I wanted it," she said.

The Wikipedia element produces another dynamic in the classroom, but extends far beyond, unlike the traditional term paper.

"It's no longer for my eyes only," Berik said. "It's not going to end up in the dust bin at the end of the semester, or in a drawer. And it's going to have a useful life at the end of the term."

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Keith McCord


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