Toronto professor learns not all editors are welcome on Wikipedia when class assignment backfires
A recent dust-up between Wikipedia and Canada’s largest university raises questions about how collaborative the popular website that bills itself as “the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” truly is.
The online information portal recently took a professor from the University of Toronto to task for one of his classroom assignments.
Steve Joordens urged the 1,900 students in his introductory psychology class to start adding content to relevant Wikipedia pages. The assignment was voluntary, and Joordens hoped the process would both enhance Wikipedia’s body of work on psychology while teaching students about the scientist’s responsibility to share knowledge.
But Joordens’s plan backfired when the relatively small contingent of volunteer editors that curate the website’s content began sounding alarm bells. They raised concerns about the sheer number of contributions pouring in from people who were not necessarily well-versed in the topic or adept at citing their research.
Discussions in the Wikipedia community became very heated with allegations that articles were being updated with erroneous or plagiarized information. Some community members called for widespread bans on university IP addresses and decried the professor’s assignment as a needless burden on the community. (Ken Jones/University of Toronto; Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)