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Student papers destined for Wikipedia, not desk drawers

If every student in Czech Republic were to write one article, Czech Wikipedia would almost triple.

Czech students of Religious Studies, led by teacher David Zbíral, have contributed over fifty articles to Czech Wikipedia as part of the Students Write Wikipedia programme.

If every university student in the Czech Republic were to write one article, the number of Czech Wikipedia entries would almost triple. If every student were to read and amend one article in a field they understood, the quality of this Internet encyclopaedia would be greatly and rapidly enhanced.

This is the mission of the Students Write Wikipedia programme, which brings together students and teachers who wish to get schools involved in the creation of Czech Wikipedia. Masaryk University's involvement is thanks to the Christianity I course at the Department for the Study of Religions.

What can contributing to Wikipedia give students? “Instead of essays of ephemeral interest destined for the desk drawer we have dozens of articles of value and interest to thousands of users," explains Vojtěch Dostál of the citizens' association Wikimedia Czech Republic. “And it also teaches students to work with sources and try out what it's like to work with an online encyclopaedia." Students learn to assess the credibility of sources and become critical users of Wikipedia for their own work.

Czech Wikipedia
3 May 2002: launch of Czech Wikipedia, about one year after world launch
250,000: number of articles on Czech Wikipedia (English version has over 4 million)
209,000: number of registered users (Wikipedeans) of Czech version

Can the creation of Wikipedia entries and the writing of term papers be compared? Magdalena Hanáčková, a first-year student of Religious Studies, says not. Most term papers are overseen by a tutor, who corrects mistakes and clarifies thinking, while Wikipedia entries are scrutinized by Wiki-experts and the public, who expect information to be relevant. “Wikipedia also places higher demands on responsibility and promotes awareness that only high-quality entries can counter the site's lack of popularity with people who consider it an unreliable source of information," says Hanáčková, who wishes to continue to contribute to the Internet encyclopaedia.

The Department for the Study of Religions is not the first institute at Masaryk University to make a coordinated contribution to Wikipedia. Under the guidance of teacher Karolína Stehlíková, students taking the course Ibsen and Strindberg: Crossroads wrote entries on the work of both literary giants, while students on the Scandinavian Film II course wrote the entry for Norwegian cinema.

David Zbíral will follow up last year's Wikipedia project with an elective course in the autumn semester. “For me the main point of involvement in the Students Write Wikipedia programme is to put teaching in the public domain," he says. “The articles themselves but also the comments of students and tutors immediately become educational materials for public use. The refining of this widely-used source of information contributes by extension to the cultivation of a sense of the world's richness and complexity."

The involvement of Czech students in the Wikipedia project was inspired by similar projects abroad. In the USA, for instance, participation extends to dozens of institutes of higher education including the University of California in Berkeley and New York University; there are ambitious projects, too, at schools in Canada, Italy, India and Egypt.