Wikipedia expands through classroom assignments

The Arabic version of Wikipedia has become part of an initiative to increase the pool of volunteer editors.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Wikipedia is launching a pilot program this month in Cairo, where student editors will write and publish for the Arabic version of the user-generated content encyclopedia for credit.


Where English-speaking versions of Wikipedia contain millions of articles, even though Arabic is the fifth most commonly-spoken language in the world, its version contains only 150,000 pages. The Guardian reports that in an attempt to increase the Arabic resource and its small pool of 600 editors, a pilot program is being launched this month for students to contribute to the site as part of their school programs.

The pilot scheme will take place in seven classes at Ain Shams University and Cairo University, in which a number of students will either research and contribute new content, or translate submitted articles for use on the Arabic version under the watchful eyes of their tutors.

Annie Lin, who is part of the team launching the Cairo project, said:

"Wikipedia's mission is to provide free knowledge to the world. We really see it as a problem that a language that is so common in the world has a Wikipedia version that is so small."

As Wikipedia is edited and managed by a pool of volunteers -- 'Wikipedians' -- the scheme's attempt to expand its network by using students is more important than a user may realize. Wikipedia's use and content has expanded, but its volunteer base has not. There are currently only 600 volunteer editors for the Arabic Wikipedia, and approximately 100,000 worldwide who populate, edit and manage the encyclopedia.

According to Alexa, Wikipedia currently ranks as the sixth most popular website in the world. In this manner, students can take some of the workload off the Arabic Wikipedia's volunteer shoulders, and may decide to carry on to join the editing pool after the classroom projects are completed.

Frank Schulenberg, head of Wikipedia's global education program said:

"From Wikipedia's beginnings in 2001, students have fuelled its growth, as both contributors and readers. Students are immersed in a culture of learning and sharing, and we started the Wikipedia education program to capture that academic work and turn it into freely shared knowledge."

The scheme may help increase the usability of this language version site, however, it is an idea that has been piloted before with poor results. Last Summer, the foundation launched a similar project in India, resulting in its quick suspension after mass plagiarism.

The project's failure was placed at the feet of large class sizes and compulsory attendance, which caused students who were not interested to resort to copy and pasting information for submission.

This time, due to a limited number of students participating, it is hoped that only students keen to contribute will submit articles, as it will not be mandatory.

Image credit: Screenshot C.Osborne/ZDNet


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