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Why Medical Schools Should Embrace Wikipedia: Final-Year Medical Student Contributions to Wikipedia Articles for Academic Credit at One School

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Abstract

Problem

Most medical students use Wikipedia as an information source, yet medical schools do not train students to improve Wikipedia or use it critically.

Approach

Between November 2013 and November 2015, the authors offered fourth-year medical students a credit-bearing course to edit Wikipedia. The course was designed, delivered, and evaluated by faculty, medical librarians, and personnel from WikiProject Medicine, Wikipedia Education Foundation, and Translators Without Borders. The authors assessed the effect of the students’ edits on Wikipedia’s content, the effect of the course on student participants, and readership of students’ chosen articles.

Outcomes

Forty-three enrolled students made 1,528 edits (average 36/student), contributing 493,994 content bytes (average 11,488/student). They added higher-quality and removed lower-quality sources for a net addition of 274 references (average 6/student). As of July 2016, none of the contributions of the first 28 students (2013, 2014) have been reversed or vandalized. Students discovered a tension between comprehensiveness and readability/translatability, yet readability of most articles increased. Students felt they improved their articles, enjoyed giving back “specifically to Wikipedia,” and broadened their sense of physician responsibilities in the socially networked information era. During only the “active editing months,” Wikipedia traffic statistics indicate that the 43 articles were collectively viewed 1,116,065 times. Subsequent to students’ efforts, these articles have been viewed nearly 22 million times.

Next Steps

If other schools replicate and improve on this initiative, future multi-institution studies could more accurately measure the effect of medical students on Wikipedia, and vice versa.

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