Tag: High-grade serous carcinoma

Use of Wikipedia in higher education

Jemima John, 4th year undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law.

This post was co-authored with Jemima John (pictured above), 4th year undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Law and a Digital Skills intern in Information Services. It was written with a focus on Wikipedia and legal education but speaks to Wikipedia’s role in tertiary education more generally. You can watch an interview with Jemima John on Media Hopper.


Uses of Wikipedia in higher education

Since the early 2000’s, Wikipedia has acquired somewhat of a negative reputation for being unreliable. Educators are normally wary of allowing Wikipedia as a source that anyone can edit. This is due to believing it to be a source of misinformation, going directly against their role to reduce misinformation in the world.

However, what if the contrary is true?

What if Wikipedia can be used to reduce misinformation in the world, an often-highlighted problem of our current times. This is the very mission of Wikimedia organization. The Wikimedia projects exist to combat misinformation[1]. Indeed, Wikipedians have been combating fake news for years as source evaluation is a core skill of a Wikipedian[2]. Researchers found that only 7 percent of all Wikipedia edits are considered vandalism[3] and nearly all vandalism edits are reverted instantly by automated programs (bots) which help to patrol Wikipedia for copyright violation, plagiarism and vandalism. If a page is targeted for vandalism it can also be ‘semi-protected’ (essentially locking the page so new edits are reviewed before being added) for one day, two days or longer as required while accounts or IP addresses repeating vandalism can be blocked indefinitely. While Wikipedia is still the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, a recent implementation is new users cannot create new pages until their account has been active for four days and accrued at least ten edits. Within the first four days, however, new users can submit their new pages for review by another editor who quality checks it is sufficiently neutral, notable and well-referenced for inclusion in Wikipedia’s live space.

Due to open licensing of Wikipedia content, it is more visible across the Internet. For example, Google scrapes from Wikipedia biographies to feature as sidebar profiles as part of its ‘Knowledge Graph’ answer engine results for notable people; among many other topics. Wikipedia articles also happen to be within the top five search results due to its preferential status in Google’s ranking algorithm. This is important when one considers ‘search is the way we live now’. According to 2011 figures, Google processed 91% of searches internationally and 97.4% of searches from mobile devices[4]. Google has also been found to have a funneling effect whereby the sources clicked upon the first page of results are clicked on 90% of the time with 42% click through on the first choice alone[5]. Indeed, more recently, research published in 2017 found that Wikipedia and Google have a symbiotic relationship whereby Google depends on Wikipedia – click through rates decrease by 80% if Wikipedia links are removed – and Wikipedia depends on Google – 84.5% of the visits to Wikipedia are attributable to Google[6]. While, just this year, researchers at MIT and the University of Pittsburgh published a paper that evidenced that science is actually shaped by Wikipedia; demonstrating the free encyclopedia’s influence. The randomised control trial the researchers undertook evidenced a strong causal impact that, as one of the most accessed websites in the world, incorporating ideas into Wikipedia leads to those ideas being used more in the scientific literature. [7]

Today Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website[8] on the Internet and sometimes more trusted than traditional news publications, according to a recent YouGov poll[9]. This poll indicated that Wikipedia was trusted by the British people more than such reputable news sites as the Guardian, BBC, the Telegraph, the Times and others. Wikipedia relies on these sources, and other similar sources with a reputation for fact-checking and accuracy, so would not necessarily advocate trusting a Wikipedia article over these other sites.

However, Wikipedia’s policies on Neutral Point of View (NPOV) and identifying reliable sources do help police its content and plainly increases trust in its content. Research from the Harvard Business School has also discovered that, unlike other more partisan areas of the internet, Wikipedia’s focus on NPOV (neutral point of view) means editors actually become more moderate over time; the researchers seeing this as evidence that editing “Wikipedia helps break people out of their ideological echo chambers”.[10] More than this, it is worth considering what value one would place on having somewhere online like Wikipedia – and unlike many other of the world’s top ten websites – where it is completely, ruthlessly transparent in how pages are put together so that you can see: when edits were made; and by whom; and so that edits can always be checked, challenged and corrected if need be. After all, all edits to a Wikipedia page are recorded in its View History which includes which account or IP address made the edit along with a date, time and edit summary. Importantly, these entries in the View History are all permanent links so that different versions of the page can be compared and, ultimately, so a page can always be reverted back to its last good state if any unhelpful edits are ever made.

Indeed, the process of researching and writing a Wikipedia article demonstrates ‘how the sausage is made’ – how knowledge is created, curated and contested online – and asks students as part of their research to consider what constitutes a reliable source. In this way, students can be introduced to the pros and cons of searching a variety of databases as part of discussions on information and media literacy[11]. Ultimately, whether it is a news article, journal article or Wikipedia article one should always evaluate what one is reading. That much has always been true. Wikipedia, for its part, has as its policy that no Wikipedia page should be cited in an academic paper. Rather Wikipedia considers itself a tertiary source; an encyclopedia of articles made up from citations from high quality published secondary sources. If one cites anything it is these sources that one should cite, not Wikipedia itself. In this way, Wikipedia reframes itself as useful place for pre-researching a topic in order to orientate oneself before delving into the scholarly literature. Hence, it is not the endpoint of research but the beginning; the digital gateway to academic research. In this way, it can then be seen as a valuable resource in itself. 2016 research confirmed that 87.5% of students were using it in this way; in “an introductory and/or clarificatory role” as part of their information gathering and research and finding it ‘academically useful’ in this context[12]. Now in its seventeenth year, Wikipedia has approaching 5.7 million articles in English[13] with about ten edits per second across all Wikimedia projects and nearly 500 articles created each day[14]. As the largest reference work on the internet, it is simply too big to fail now and too important a source of information for the world. Consequently, Wikipedia has realized this and has taken out an endowment to ensure it exists it perpetuity.

Within the boundaries of Wikipedia editing guidelines of notability, reliability, and verifiability, it can prove to be a valuable resource in education. Editing Wikipedia articles builds a number of key skills. It encourages digital creation and digital collaboration skills. It builds legal research skills through finding relevant sources. Most of all, the ability to synthesize the research in an accessible manner for a non-legal audience is an unique but incredibly valuable skill for any law student. What is amazing about editing and creating Wikipedia articles is that the articles it allows for dialogue and improvement over the article through collaboration with other editors.

Indeed, it was the ‘realness’ and collaborative element of the assignment that appealed to students on the Reproductive Biology Hons. programme along with seizing a rare opportunity to communicate medical knowledge to a lay audience[15][16]. Being able to communicate to a non-specialist audience is a key skill for new medics just as communicating legal knowledge is a key skill for new entrants to the legal profession.

For History undergraduates, it was the opportunity to improve the public’s understanding of history in a way that was active and not just passively receiving knowledge. More than this, it was recognizing that people’s understanding of the diversity of history would not be improved until staff and students actively engaged with addressing these gaps in representation; particularly in underrepresented areas such as social history, gender history and queer history.[17]

A Wikipedia assignment isn’t just another essay or presentation that students may never return to, but something that has actually been created; a way of demonstrating the relevance of a student’s degree and communicating their scholarship in a real-world application of teaching and learning. Beyond this, the experience of a Wikipedia assignment at Bucknell University was that:

at the close of the semester, students said that simply knowing that an audience of editors existed was enough to change how they wrote. They chose words more carefully. They double-checked their work for accuracy and reliability. And they began to think about how best they could communicate their scholarship to readers who were as curious, conscientious, and committed and as they were[18].

Once the article becomes live on Wikipedia and indexed in Google’s top five results, students realise that there is agency to sharing their scholarship with the world. By way of example, Reproductive Biology Honours student Áine Kavanagh’s scrupulously researched a brand new article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most deadly and most common forms of ovarian cancer[19]. This article, including over sixty references and open-licensed diagrams Áine herself created, has now been viewed over 33,000 times since it was published in September 2016[20]; adding a well-referenced source of health information to the global Open Knowledge community. Hence, rather than students’ work being disposed of at the end of an assignment, it can become a community project that can then be added to and improved over time; either by the students themselves or by other editors anywhere around the world. This has been a key motivator for students taking part in Wikipedia projects at the University of Edinburgh.

Of these other editors, there are some 2000+ WikiProjects on Wikipedia where editors come together to focus on a particular area of Wikipedia because they are passionate about the subject and/or have expertise in that area. If you check the Talk page of an article on Wikipedia you will see the WikiProject that has been assigned to ‘look after’ the article. In this way, content on Wikipedia is monitored and curated by a team of subject specialists; amateur enthusiasts and professionals alike. WikiProject Law aims to organise the law-related articles that consist of defining concepts spanning jurisdictions. There is a need for more articles focused on Scots law and there is scope to start a WikiProject to organise articles regarding Scots law.

There can be a number of applications within the law school. A Wikipedia assignment can be run in a single afternoon or over the course of an entire semester. It can be done as individual work, paired work or group work. Starting small and building up over time has proven a sensible methodology although best practice has been developed over a number of years at the university and elsewhere if bolder approaches are warranted.

It can be a formative assessed from a student perspective, it should be noted that if software seems too difficult to learn, students may feel like it is not worth the formative assessment and that it should be summative in nature. Indeed, recent experience is that students have been enthused to take part in Wikipedia assignments and put great efforts in to complete the assignment so receiving some feedback on their efforts always goes some way to ensuring they are fully satisfied by the experience: be it a group discussion; using a Wikipedia marking rubric; individual assessment; peer assessment; blogging their reflections on the project; or providing an oral presentation. The timing of the assignment may also help ensure its success. If it is assigned during a time of the term where other summative assessments may be due then the students may be more strategic in where they place their priorities.

Hence, past experience at the University of Edinburgh has suggested that a Wikipedia assignment incorporating such elements as students having discussions around information literacy and learning how to edit/ how to use a new form of educational technology may work best in the first semester as part of inducting the students into good digital research habits for the rest of the year before the course programme becomes busier in the second and third semesters. World Christianity MSc students and Psychology undergraduate students have also reported in recent interviews how the experience of adding references to Wikipedia was both a motivating and “very exciting”[21] moment for them; partly because of the “slick” way Wikipedia allows you to add citations easily and partly because of the fact they were able to draw from relevant news articles and bring them together with books and journal articles (and more) to holistically convey the subject they were writing about.[22]

In terms of how hard or difficult Wikipedia editing now is, Wikipedia has a new WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Visual Editor interface which is easy to learn in an hour and just takes a little practice. It makes use of dropdown menus much like one experiences in word processing applications such as Microsoft Word and WordPress blogging and has been described variously as “super easy”, “fun”, “really intuitive” and “addictive as hell.”

There is also scope for a Wikipedia assignment to form a proportion of the summative element of the course as they have done on the World Christianity MSc.[23] It should be noted that contributions made to Wikipedia are not static, but rather they are picked up by other Wikipedia editors to improve the reliability of the site. In educational contexts, this could be seen negatively but students have intimated that they like their work surviving beyond the life of the assignment and becoming a community project that can be added to over time. Beyond this, students can download their finished pages as a pdf, create books of their finished articles and, because all edits are recorded as permanent links in the View History of a page, they will always have a permanent link to their version of the page, no matter what changes are made to improve or expand it by other editors.

Wikipedia is an useful source but it can never replace formal legal education which teaches specialist knowledge, analytical skills, ethical standards, and importantly impart a love of democracy and justice. Wikipedia in legal education will only supplement these activities.

For further information – refer to:  


[1] Kamenetz, Anya (2017). “What Students Can Learn By Writing For Wikipedia”. NPR.org.

[2] Davis, LiAnna (2016). “Why Wiki Education’s work combats fake news — and how you can help”. Wiki Education.

[3] Adler B.T., de Alfaro L., Mola-Velasco S.M., Rosso P., West A.G. (2011) Wikipedia Vandalism Detection: Combining Natural Language, Metadata, and Reputation Features.

[4] Hillis, Ken; Petit, Michael; Jarrett, Kylie (2012). Google and the Culture of Search. Routledge. ISBN9781136933066.

[5] Beel, J.; Gipp, B. (2009). “Google Scholar’s ranking algorithm: The impact of citation counts (An empirical study)”. 2009 Third International Conference on Research Challenges in Information Science: 439–446. doi:1109/RCIS.2009.5089308.

[6] McMahon, Connor; Johnson, Isaac; and Hecht, Brent (2017). The Substantial Interdependence of Wikipedia and Google: A Case Study on the Relationship Between Peer Production Communities and Information Technologies.

[7] Thompson, Neil; Hanley, Douglas (2018). “Science Is Shaped by Wikipedia: Evidence From a Randomized Control Trial”. Rochester, NY.

[8] https://www.alexa.com/topsites


[10] Guo, Jeff (2016). “Wikipedia is fixing one of the Internet’s biggest flaws”. Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286.

[11] “Wikipedia and Information Literacy – Academic Support Librarian Ruth Jenkins”. Media Hopper Create – The University of Edinburgh Media Platform.

[12] Selwyn, Neil; Gorard, Stephen (2016). “Students’ use of Wikipedia as an academic resource — Patterns of use and perceptions of usefulness”. The Internet and Higher Education. 28: 28–34. doi:10.1016/j.iheduc.2015.08.004. ISSN 1096-7516.

[13] “Wikipedia:Statistics”. Wikipedia.


[15] “Wikipedia in the Classroom – Interview with Aine Kavanagh (Reproductive Biology Hons. student)”. Media Hopper Create – The University of Edinburgh Media Platform.

[16] “Wikipedia in the Classroom – Eve Sealy, Senior Honours student on the Reproductive Honours programme”. Media Hopper Create – The University of Edinburgh Media Platform.

[17] “Wikipedia and History – Tomas Sanders, History undergraduate at the School of History, Classics and Archaeology”. Media Hopper Create – The University of Edinburgh Media Platform.

[18] Stuhl, Andrew (2014-10-14). “Wikipedia and Student Writing”. Wiki Education.

[19] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-grade_serous_carcinoma

[20] https://tools.wmflabs.org/pageviews/?project=en.wikipedia.org&platform=all-access&agent=user&range=all-time&pages=High-grade_serous_carcinoma

[21] “Wikipedia in the Classroom – Psychology student Karoline Nanfeldt”. Media Hopper Create – The University of Edinburgh Media Platform.

[22] “World Christianity MSc students on the Wikipedia literature review assignment”. Media Hopper Create – The University of Edinburgh Media Platform.

[23] “Wikipedia in the Classroom – Interview with Dr. Alex Chow (World Christianity MTh/MSc programme)”. Media Hopper Create – The University of Edinburgh Media Platform.



Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment – Reproductive Medicine

Wikipedia as an important source of health information and not medical advice.

“The Internet, especially Wikipedia, had proven its importance in everyday life. Even the medical sector is influenced by Wikipedia’s omnipresence. It has gained considerable attention among both healthcare professionals and the lay public in providing medical information. Patients rely on the information they obtain from Wikipedia before deciding to seek professional help. As a result, physicians are confronted by a professional dilemma as patients weigh information provided by medical professionals against that on Wikipedia, the new provider of health information….

We state that Wikipedia should not be viewed as being inappropriate for its use in medical education. Given Wikipedia’s central role in medical education as reported in our survey, its integration could yield new opportunities in undergraduate education. High-quality medical education and sustainability necessitates the need to know how to search and retrieve unbiased, comprehensive, and reliable information. Students should therefore be advised in reflected information search and encouraged to contribute to the “perpetual beta” improving Wikipedia’s reliability. Therefore, we ask for inclusion in medical curricula, since guiding students’ use and evaluation of information resources is an important role of higher education. It is of utmost importance to establish information literacy, evidence-based practices, and life-long learning habits among future physicians early on, hereby contributing to medical education of the highest quality.
Accordingly, this is an appeal to see Wikipedia as what it is: an educational opportunity. This is an appeal to academic educators for supplementing Wikipedia entries with credible information from the scientific literature. They also should teach their protégés to obtain and critically evaluate information as well as to supplement or correct entries. Finally, this is an appeal to medical students to develop professional responsibility while working with this dynamic resource. Criticism should be maintained and caution exercised since every user relies on the accuracy, conscientiousness, and objectivity of the contributor.” (Herbert et al, BMC Medical Education, 2015)

Reproductive Medicine Wikipedia assignment at Edinburgh University – September 2016

Reproductive Medicine undergraduates - collaborating to create Wikipedia articles.
Reproductive Medicine undergraduates – collaborating to create Wikipedia articles.

In September 2016, Reproductive Biology Honours students undertook a group research project to research, in groups of 4-5 students with a tutor, a term from reproductive biomedicine that was not yet represented on Wikipedia. All 38 were trained to edit Wikipedia and they worked collaboratively both to undertake the research and produce the finished written article. The assignment developed the students’ information literacy, digital literacy, collaborative working, academic writing & referencing and ability to communicate to an audience. The end result was 8 new articles on reproductive medicine which enriches the global open knowledge community and will be added to & improved upon long after they have left university creating a rich legacy to look back upon.

One of the new articles, high-grade serous carcinoma, was researched and written by 4th year student, Áine Kavanagh.

High-grade serous carcinoma - new Wikipedia article researched and written by Áine Kavanagh, in September 2016.

Rather than a writing an assignment for an audience of one, the course tutor, and never read again, Aine’s article can be viewed, built on & expanded by an audience of millions. Since creating the article in September 2016, the article has now been viewed 2196 times.

Pageviews for the High Grade Serous Carcinoma
Pageviews for the High Grade Serous Carcinoma

Guest post:

Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment

by Áine Kavanagh.
Reproductuve Medicine students - September 2016
Reproductive Medicine students – September 2016

The process of writing a Wikipedia article involved me trying to answer the questions I was asking myself about the topic. What was it? Why should I care about it? What does it mean to society? I also needed to make the answers to those questions clear to other people who can’t see inside my head.

It then moved onto questions I thought other people might ask about the topic. Writing for Wikipedia is really an exercise in empathy and perspective. Who else is going to want to know about this and what might they be interested in about it?

Is what I’m writing accessible and understandable? Am I presenting it in a useful way? It’s an incredibly public piece of writing which is only useful if it serves the public, so trying to put yourself in the frame of someone who’s not you reading what you’ve written is important (and possibly the most difficult part).

It’s also about co-operation from the get-go. You can’t post a Wikipedia article and allow no one else to edit it. You are offering something up to the world. You can always come back to it, but you can never make it completely your own again. The beauty of Wikipedia is in groupthink, in the crowd intelligence it facilitates, but this means shared ownership, which can be hard to get your head around at first.

It’s a unique way of writing, and some tips for other students starting out on a Wikipedia project is to not be intimidated. Wikipedia articles in theory can be indefinitely long and dense and will be around for an indefinitely long time, so writing a few hundred words can seem like adding a grain of sand to a desert. But if the information is not already there then you are contributing – and what is Wikipedia if not just a big bunch of contributions?

There’s also the fear that editors already on Wikipedia will swoop down and denounce your article as completely useless – but the beauty of storing information is that you can never really have too much of it. There’s no-one who can truly judge what is and isn’t worthy of knowing*.

*There’s no-one who can judge what’s worth knowing, but the sum of human knowledge needs to be organised, and so there are actually guidelines as to what a Wikipedia article is (objective account of a thing) and is not (platform for self-promotion).

Áine Kavanagh