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Jana Wilson
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Steve Hinnefeld
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, September 14, 2010

IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs seminar to produce policy articles for Wikipedia

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Sept. 14, 2010

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- College students usually write their papers for an audience of one -- their instructor. But students this fall in an Indiana University Bloomington class will be writing for a much larger group of readers.

In a graduate seminar taught by Barry Rubin, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, students will produce articles for Wikipedia, the vast online encyclopedia that is written and edited by an online community and visited by hundreds of millions of people a day.

"I'm delighted to be involved in this project," said Rubin, one of eight policy experts from the academic and nonprofit communities to be named to the advisory board for the Public Policy Initiative. "It's exciting that our students will have a part to play in something that is changing the world. This is what SPEA is about -- making a difference in the world."

Barry Rubin's class

SPEA Professor Barry Rubin talks with students in a seminar that will produce public-policy articles for Wikipedia.

Indiana University SPEA is one of five leading public-policy programs where the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization behind Wikipedia, is debuting its Public Policy Initiative, a pilot project to bring Wikipedia editing to the classroom. Georgetown, George Washington, Harvard and Syracuse universities also are participating.

"The Wikimedia Foundation is excited to partner with Indiana University and Professor Rubin for this Initiative," said Frank Schulenburg, head of public outreach for the Wikimedia Foundation. "We look forward to seeing how Professor Rubin's students improve the economic-development articles on Wikipedia, while also learning fact-based writing styles, critical thinking skills, what is a good source and collaborative writing processes."

As part of the initiative, the foundation provided three days of training in Washington, D.C., for Campus Ambassadors at each institution, instructing them on how to teach Wikipedia editing in the classroom. IU Campus Ambassadors are Ellie Dahlgren with the IU Teaching and Learning Technologies Centers, Chanitra Bishop of IU Libraries and graduate student Adrianne Wadewitz.

The Wikimedia Foundation also is connecting the classes with Online Ambassadors, 20 "experienced Wikipedians" who will provide editing assistance through e-mail and online chats. It also is providing syllabus assistance, including handouts and a modular approach for integrating Wikipedia into an existing syllabus.

The Public Policy Initiative, funded by a $1.2 million grant from the Stanton Foundation, is designed to improve the quality of policy-related articles on Wikipedia and explore the potential for using Wikipedia as a teaching tool. It marks the first time the Wikimedia Foundation has undertaken a project to systematically improve the quality of articles in a particular topic area.

Barry Rubin's class

Students take part in class discussion in an IU seminar that will produce Wikipedia articles.

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In Rubin's graduate-level class, "Seminar in Urban Economic Development," students divide into teams and produce case studies of real-world projects that have produced successful economic development. This semester, the case reports will take the form of new or updated Wikipedia articles. Class participants are typically second-year Master of Public Affairs students or doctoral students.

Launched in 2001, Wikipedia is a Web-based, free online encyclopedia written and edited collaboratively by volunteers from around the world. It claims more than 16 million articles, including 3.3 million in English. Most articles can be edited by almost anyone with access to the site.

While the open-editing model occasionally allows for the posting of biased or inaccurate information, Rubin said Wikipedia's community of volunteer editors is vigilant about promptly correcting errors and enforcing a "neutral point of view" policy.

"One of the things that Wikipedia is known for is that the articles get reviewed very quickly," he said. "The quality of the major articles is really first class."

The Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs is a world leader in public affairs and the environmental sciences and is the largest school of public affairs in the United States. In the most recent "Best Graduate Schools" rankings by U.S. News & World Report, SPEA ranked second and was the nation's highest-ranked graduate program in public affairs at a public institution.

To speak with Barry Rubin, please contact Jana Wilson at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, 812-856-5490 or; or Steve Hinnefeld at University Communications, 812-856-3488 or