Bridging the gap between wikipedia and academia


In this opinion piece, we would like to present a short literature review of perceptions and reservations towards Wikipedia in academia, address the common questions about overall reliability of Wikipedia entries, review the actual practices of Wikipedia usage in academia, and conclude with possible scenarios for a peaceful coexistence. Because Wikipedia is a regular topic of JASIST publications (Lim, 2009; Meseguer-Artola, Aibar, Lladós, Minguillón, & Lerga, ; Mesgari, Okoli, Mehdi, Nielsen, & Lanamäki, ; Okoli, Mehdi, Mesgari, Nielsen, & Lanamäki, ), we hope to start a useful discussion with the right audience.
Bridging the Gap Between Wikipedia and Academia
Dariusz Jemielniak
New Research on Digital Societies (NeRDS) group, Kozminski University, Jagiellonska 59, 03-301 Warszawa,
Poland. E-mail:
Eduard Aibar
Research Group on Open Science & Innovation, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Av. Tibidabo, 39-43, 08035
Barcelona, Spain. E-mail:
In this opinion piece, we would like to present a short liter-
ature review of perceptions and reservations towards
Wikipedia in academia, address the common questions
about overall reliability of Wikipedia entries, review the
actual practices of Wikipedia usage in academia, and con-
clude with possible scenarios for a peaceful coexistence.
Because Wikipedia is a regular topic of JASIST publica-
tions (Lim, 2009; Meseguer-Artola, Aibar, Llad
on, & Lerga, 2015; Mesgari, Okoli, Mehdi, Nielsen,
& Lanam
aki, 2015; Okoli, Mehdi, Mesgari, Nielsen, &
aki, 2014), we hope to start a useful discussion with
the right audience.
Common View of Academics on Wikipedia
Michael Gorman, former president of the American
Library Association, once stated that “a professor who
encourages the use of Wikipedia is the intellectual equiva-
lent of a dietician who recommends a steady diet of Big
Macs with everything” (as cited in, Reagle, 2010, p. 138).
This quote quite accurately exemplifies the general mistrust
many academics share towards Wikipedia. Those who con-
tribute to Wikipedia are perceived as having “hive mind
mentality” and subscribing to “digital Maoism,” which dep-
recates intelligence and destroys individualism (Lanier,
2006). Editing Wikipedia is perceived as something unwor-
thy; that “only schmucks would do that. Or losers” (Andrew
Keen as cited in, Parvaz, 2011). In general, Wikipedians are
considered at best to be a group of amateurs unable to
deliver at high academic standards (Keen, 2007). Some
scholars even insist that Wikipedia cannot possibly survive,
because of its radically open model, encouraging vandal-
isms, and a community whose enthusiasm will inevitably
wane: Since 2005 Eric Goldman, a professor of law at Santa
Clara University, keeps predicting that “Wikipedia Will Fail
Within 5 Years” (Goldman, 2005), changing only the
expected demise date (Anderson, 2009).
Even people sympathetic to open collaboration models,
consider Wikipedia to rely mainly on the wisdom of crowds,
not necessarily on actual expertise (Surowiecki, 2004). It is
called a “flawed knowledge community” (Roberts & Peters,
2011, p. 36), a broken surrogate. And the common view
seems to be that even if experts participate, they may experi-
ence a hard time on Wikipedia. This is so:
Since experts enjoy no special privileges in dispute resolution,
and since there are many aggressive non-experts who care
deeply about a wide variety of topics, Wikipedia’s anti-expert
tendencies unsurprisingly work against continual improvement
(Sanger, 2009, p. 64).
Moreover, for some academics Wikipedia is synonymous
with plagiarism. Even though Wikipedia itself could serve
as a paragon of proper copyright policies, the fact that so
many students use Wikipedia (Lim, 2009), and also some-
times copy from Wikipedia verbatim, may result in Wikipe-
dia being guilty by association.
A lot of the general distrust towards Wikipedia stems from
the view that a collaboratively generated encyclopedia cannot
meet the high standards of quality (Denning, Horning, Parnas,
& Weinstein, 2005; Wallace & Van Fleet, 2005). Neverthe-
less, it is worth noting that the specific details of Wikipedia’s
collaborative editing system are often not very well known,
and sometimes misunderstood, even by academics (Aibar,
os-Masllorens, Meseguer-Artola, Minguill
on, & Lerga,
2015) Regarding the editors’ profiles, a recent survey con-
cluded that most of them are well educated and 61% have, at
least, a college degree (Wikimedia Foundation, 2011).
Received September 14, 2015; revised November 10, 2015; accepted
November 11, 2015
C2016 ASIS&T Published online 4 April 2016 in Wiley Online Library
( DOI: 10.1002/asi.23691
Although many of the reservations are understandable,
there is also an obvious elephant in the room: Wikipedia
challenges the established model of distribution of knowl-
edge and the traditional authority of academia (Eijkman,
2010; O’Neil, 2010). The Internet as a medium generally
redefines the role of authority and expertise (Battles, 2007),
as well as collaborative work practices (Ciesielska &
Petersen, 2013), but Wikipedia, in particular, directly ques-
tions the dominant knowledge elites and their monopoly on
knowledge dissemination (Hartelius, 2010). As Clay Shirky
In fact what Wikipedia presages is a change in the nature of
authority. Prior to Britannica, most encyclopaedias derived
their authority from the author. Britannica came along and
made the relatively radical assertion that you could vest
authority in an institution. You trust Britannica, and then we
in turn go out and get the people to write the articles. What
Wikipedia suggests is that you can vest authority in a visible
process. As long as you can see how Wikipedia’s working,
and can see that the results are acceptable, you can come
over time to trust that. And that is a really profound chal-
lenge to our notions of what it means to be an institution,
what it means to trust something, what it means to have
authority in this society (quoted in: Gauntlett, 2009, p. 42).
Fundamentally, the most important reservation with regard
to Wikipedia is that it is basically not reliable enough. How-
ever, this perception of Wikipedia’s quality may be biased
(Flanagin & Metzger, 2011), and therefore it is worth having
a look at more systematic studies of Wikipedia’s reliability.
Reliability of Wikipedia Entries
Since the very early days of Wikipedia, its content has
been actually found quite credible (Chesney, 2006). As early
as in 2005 it was described as going “head to head” with
Encyclopedia Britannica in terms of the number of errors in
a study published by Nature (Giles, 2005). Quite obviously,
it is also much better referenced (Rivington, 2007).
It is worth noting that with over 4 million entries, any
reliability studies have to be based on evaluating a tiny frac-
tion of Wikipedia, typically in a chosen specialized topic.
For instance, information about mental health on Wikipedia
seems to be of high quality (as compared to Encyclopedia
Britannica, psychiatry textbooks, and other websites),
although not very readable (Reavley et al., 2012). In general,
some scholars show that Wikipedia has high overall linguis-
tic readability (Yasseri & Kert
esz, 2012), whereas according
others it is not so good (Lucassen, Dijkstra, & Schraagen,
The study of references provides another important axis
for the evaluation of reliability, because, following one of its
central content policies, many Wikipedia entries list cita-
tions and references to previous publications. Recent studies
show that there has been an increasing trend in Wikipedia to
include references to standard scientific journals, and that
the citation frequency of those journals is very similar to the
patterns in the scientific literature (Nielsen, 2007). It has
also been found that a journal’s academic status (understood
as its impact factor) is the most important predictor of its
appearance in Wikipedia references (Teplitskiy, Lu, &
Duede, 2015).
There is also some evidence that Wikipedia coverage of
scientific topics with potential social effects like global
warming or climate change tend to reflect the hegemonic
scientific consensus (its anthropogenic origin) rather than
denialist positions (Esteves & Cukierman, 2012). Our own
ongoing research on socially controversial scientific topics
in the Spanish
and Polish Wikipedia supports that view.
Actual Usage of Wikipedia by Scholars
It is worth observing that the perception of Wikipedia’s
quality has improved over time, particularly among academ-
ics (Shachaf, 2009; Soules, 2015). There already are scholars
who openly and clearly support it (Bateman & Logan, 2010;
Heilman et al., 2011), and there already are institutional initia-
tives encouraging professors to contribute to Wikipedia. The
Public Policy Initiative, for instance, was a pilot project
launched by the Wikimedia Foundation in 2010-11 in order
to involve professors at public policy programs in US univer-
sities, in the design of assignments to make students improve
related articles in the English Wikimedia. This project
inspired the creation of the Wikipedia Education Program
that has in recent years established different partnerships with
universities, scientific societies, and cultural institutions
across the world, with similar aims. Notably, in 2011 Presi-
dent Erik Olin Wright of the American Sociological Associa-
tion called for improvement of sociological articles on
and a similar call was issued by the American
Psychological Association
; the Association for Psychological
Science mobilized more than 3,300 scholars and students to
edit Wikipedia’s psychological topics,
etc. More and more
academics also introduce Wikipedia editing as a regular
teaching tool (Konieczny, 2012). They also reach out and suc-
cessfully conduct research projects, including experimental
ones (see e.g, Algan, Benkler, Morell, & Hergueux, 2013).
In a recent study based on a large survey given to all
teaching staff at two Spanish universities (with 913 valid
responses on a questionnaire with 50 questions), Aibar et al.
(2015) show that the overall quality of Wikipedia articles is
rather positively valued by most faculty members of two
large Spanish universities. Most of them declare to be fre-
quent users of Wikipedia, particularly for personal and pro-
fessional matters not in their field of expertise. Though few
of them use Wikipedia for teaching purposes, those in
STEM fields do it more than their colleagues in social scien-
ces and humanities. Nevertheless, private instances of use
are not matched by public uses (i.e., those that require some
DOI: 10.1002/asi
sort of publicly stated commitment, like recommending it to
other people). Most faculty think Wikipedia is not well
regarded by their colleagues as a respectable source of infor-
mation. But because colleagues act as a strong role model in
academic life, a negative feedback loop is created: because
peers do not talk much about it, most faculty members tend
to think their colleagues do not use it because they find it
inappropriate or unreliable. This process prevents them from
publicly exposing their own positive view, in spite of being
regular users. A basic tension between scientific culture and
peer production could be hypothesized as an explanation of
this phenomenon, though it is eventually modulated by the
particular subcultures of more specific scientific disciplines.
Possible Directions for Peaceful Coexistence
Wikipedia can stimulate egalitarian knowledge sharing
(Cammaerts, 2008; Hansen, Berente, & Lyytinen, 2009;
Jemielniak, 2015). But there are many other good reasons to
introduce Wikipedia into academia. First of all, Wikipedia
has the readership most of us can only dream of. Contribut-
ing to Wikipedia helps in popularizing our fields and
research, all to the benefit of the wider society.
In fact, it can be said that Wikipedia has become the
main platform for the public communication of science.
Recent studies on communication and public perception of
science agree that the Internet has become, for most people,
the main source of scientific information (Brossard &
Scheufele, 2013). In recent years the Internet has surpassed
traditional media in this regard: newspapers, radio, and tele-
vision. According to a study by the National Science Foun-
dation (USA) more than 60% of citizens seeking scientific
information on specific topics, turn first to the Internet
whereas only 12% are still using the online versions of tradi-
tional media–newspapers or magazines (National Science
Board, 2012). Data from the Spanish Survey on the Social
Perception of Science (FECYT, 2012) show that the Inter-
net is also the main source of scientific information for
the Spanish public. When asked about the type of Internet
resources used for scientific information, 21.7% say they
use Wikipedia as their main source. Only blogs and social
media rated higher in terms of use, but since both include
a large variety of instances, Wikipedia can actually be
considered the most consulted singular source and, there-
fore, the most important channel for the public communi-
cation of science nowadays.
Moreover, there are also good practical reasons to use
Wikipedia in the classroom. Assigning encyclopedia article
development as a graded task not only makes the professor’s
life easier (a lot of evaluation will be done by the commu-
nity, plagiarism will be spotted, etc.), but also is a truly aca-
demic exercise. After all, writing a Wikipedia article
requires reviewing academic sources, synthesizing knowl-
edge, using proper references, and writing clearly. When
one also takes into account that students are more motivated
to write an article for a wide public, rather than an essay that
will go to the shredder after grading, it is difficult to under-
stand why still so few of us choose this path. Finally, there
is also an ethical argument to be made: because the profes-
sors and students are in the top 1% of the privileged in terms
of access to knowledge and education, it seems to be a good
deed to help those who are less fortunate by developing free
knowledge reservoirs, especially if it is done at zero cost.
For the good or for the bad, Wikipedia will stay and will
most likely serve as the main source of knowledge—includ-
ing scientific knowledge—for the generations to come. If we
do not start contributing to Wikipedia, as well as using it in
classrooms, this train is going to leave without us. It is good
for students, it is good for the society, and it is good for us—
both because it helps our ideas reach a wider audience, and
because it saves us time in class assignments. Thus, we would
like to end this piece with a strong appeal to fellow professors
to start openly and actively collaborating with Wikipedia.
Writing this article on Dariusz Jemielniak’s part was pos-
sible thanks to a part of a research grant from the Polish
National Science Center (no. UMO-2012/05/E/HS4/01498)
and on Eduard Aibar’s part thanks to the FECYT research
grant FCT-14-8269.
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... Some while ago, Brabazon (2007) described Google-sourced information as "white bread for the mind," but I would urge anyone not to be shy to look at media with which you are more familiar-to start you on your anyway, at least. That might include accessing audio-visual clips on YouTube or even looking at Wikipedia (see Jemielniak & Aibar, 2016, for a more balanced critical assessment of this source). "Open scholarship," which includes academic conversations between subject experts through social media, is also becoming widely acknowledged as a more up-to-date way to identify conversations amongst a community of practice (Weller, 2014). ...
Whether you position your research within the field of psychology, health, marketing, or business, primary and secondary online data collection can feel like an endurance test for students and established researchers alike. Having stamina and a genuine interest in the answer to your research question are both positive ingredients that will assist you over the finish line to reaching your data collection target. This reflective case report presents a reflection on the experiences of two academics who have been using online technology to collect (1) cross-sectional primary data through an anonymous global survey on mental health during COVID-19 and (2) secondary data via systematic searches of the business and marketing literature. We will now walk you through our contrasting demonstrations to showcase some of the peaks and troughs associated with collecting different types of data using online methods as well as to draw some parallels that we cogitate as shared across disciplines and methodologies beyond that of our own.
... Simple analysis of Big Data from Twitter allowed us to identify the topics and mechanisms important for an understanding of the online construction of Wikipedia's reliability which are worth in-depth qualitative investigation. Such a quick pilot study exposed what, actually, is an important topic for Wikipedia and Wikimedia communities: trust in the reliability of knowledge contained there is one of their defining notions, often contested and discussed within the communities, as well as outside of them, especially at the interface with the academic and educational worlds (Jemielniak and Aibar 2016;Konieczny 2016). Especially for those interested in the perception of the reliability of Wikipedia, the check we presented earlier could also be a really good start for a wider analysis of the issue. ...
As we witness a radical increase in the volume and variety of digital data, it should not come as a surprise that social sciences have become increasingly ‘datafied’. The traditional social sciences, such as sociology or anthropology, are thus under the threat of becoming marginalized or even irrelevant because of the prevalence of the new methods of research, which require more computational skills. This chapter describes a way for researchers to enter this new domain and keep their advantage of mastering qualitative research relevant: a new, mixed-method of Thick Big Data, relying on a combination of quantitative approaches (data scraping, Social Network Analysis, culturomics, sentiment analysis) with qualitative ones (digital ethnography, narrative analysis, cultural studies). The chapter outlines how these approaches may blend, and offers some practical advice for a researcher without coding skills on how to take the first steps in online research, through examples focused on Wikipedia.
... Common Wikipedia users include researchers, librarians and students. In (Jemielniak and Aibar 2016) the perception and distrust of the academic community towards Wikipedia are analized while the possible scenarios of peaceful coexistence are stated. The (Faletar Tanacković, Ðurđević, and Badurina 2015) paper presents research conducted at the Faculty of Philosophy in Osijek on the experiences and attitudes of students and teachers on the use of Wikipedia in academic environment. ...
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Wiki-librarian is a multiyear project to train librarians and students of librarianship and information science to use wiki tools, including writing articles on Wikipedia. The project has existed since the beginning of 2015, and the University Library “Svetozar Markovic” and is logistically and financially supported by Wikimedia Serbia. The part of the project that deals with the training of librarians is officially accredited. Moreover, the project has expanded its scope to work with students, as well as with librarians outside the training process, through editathons, digitization of content, participation in other wiki activities such as 1Lib1Ref, Wikipedian in Residence. Project activities were presented at several conferences and partially in several publications. On the one hand, better awareness of librarians of wiki software IT capabilities as well as methods for improved presentation of their knowledge in the digital wiki environment are achieved by this project, while on the other hand these activities significantly increase the textual resources of Serbian Wikipedia and their quality.
Wikipedia is not only a source of knowledge and a medium for communicating research but also opens new avenues for teaching in academia. In this article, the authors provide theoretical considerations and practical guidance for setting up a postgraduate economics course where students disseminate research on income inequality in Europe to a greater audience on Wikipedia. Publishing in the well-known and widely-used online encyclopedia has been shown to have a lasting impact on student motivation. Moreover, the authors assess the benefits of reciprocal feedback options and collaborative editing, and also the costs that accompany Wikipedia.
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The paper tackles the issue of uneven geographical representations on Wikipedia, the most visible and power-ful user-generated encyclopaedia. In particular, it addresses language imbalances on Wikipedia with regard to geographical information and uneven spatial patterns of territory coverage on the different language versions in an attempt to verify expectations about the cultural factors that influence these imbalances and uneven spatial patterns. Ukraine is a promising case for testing the formulated expectations, as it has a large number of neighbouring countries, and most of them had political and cultural influence on its territory in the past. The volumes (word counts) of articles about the Ukrainian cities were analysed for seven language versions of Wikipedia, including the Ukrainian version and the versions of all bordering countries. The results show that historical geography is the strongest and central factor, and most of the key relic borders (former boundaries) can be traced. Ethnic composition appears to be another important factor, although weaker than the previous one. The role of the border factor is often unclear, but in some cases it definitely makes an impact and therefore cannot be completely ignored. Thus, the geographies of Wikipedia are not indifferent to the issues of ethnicity and geopolitics. The research calls into question the ability of modern Wikipedia to be a reliable and balanced source of geographical knowledge, as the described imbalances may create lopsided and biased geographical representations in people from different countries and nations.
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The impressive success of peer production – a large-scale collaborative model of production primarily based on voluntary contributions – is difficult to explain through the assumptions of standard economic theory. The aim of this paper is to study the prosocial foundations of cooperation in this new peer production economy. We provide the first field test of existing economic theories of prosocial motives for contributing to real-world public goods. We use an online experiment coupled with observational data to elicit social preferences within a diverse sample of 850 Wikipedia contributors, and seek to use to those measures to predict subjects’ field contributions to the Wikipedia project. We find that subjects’ field contributions to Wikipedia are strongly related to their level of reciprocity in a conditional Public Goods game and in a Trust game and to their revealed preference for social image within the Wikipedia community, but not to their level of altruism either in a standard or in a directed Dictator game. Our results have important theoretical and practical implications, as we show that reciprocity and social image are both strong motives for sustaining cooperation in peer production environments, while altruism is not.
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Just a few years ago Wikipedia was seen as a barbarian invading the ivory tower. Now, an increasing number of academics recognize that it can be used as an effective teaching tool. The following paper is divided into two parts. It beings with a discussion of the advantages of using Wikipedia as a teaching tool, an activity that goes beyond a simple addition to the teaching repertoire, and allows contributing to our society through service learning and participation in an online community of practice. Contributing to Wikipedia benefits students, instructors and the wider community. The second part focuses on practice of teaching with Wikipedia. Building on my five years of experience in teaching with wikis and Wikipedia and holding workshops on the subject, I discuss the most efficient ways to incorporate Wikipedia into the curriculum, highlight common problems and their solutions, and describe a number of new tools enhancing the "teaching with Wikipedia" experience.
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With the rise of Wikipedia as a first-stop source for scientific knowledge, it is important to compare its representation of that knowledge to that of the academic literature. This article approaches such a comparison through academic references made within the worlds 50 largest Wikipedias. Previous studies have raised concerns that Wikipedia editors may simply use the most easily accessible academic sources rather than sources of the highest academic status. We test this claim by identifying the 250 most heavily used journals in each of 26 research fields (4,721 journals, 19.4M articles in total) indexed by the Scopus database, and modeling whether topic, academic status, and accessibility make articles from these journals more or less likely to be referenced on Wikipedia. We find that, controlling for field and impact factor, the odds that an open access journal is referenced on the English Wikipedia are 47% higher compared to closed access journals. Moreover, in most of the worlds Wikipedias a journals high status (impact factor) and accessibility (open access policy) both greatly increase the probability of referencing. Among the implications of this study is that the chief effect of open access policies may be to significantly amplify the diffusion of science, through an intermediary like Wikipedia, to a broad public audience.
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This article explores different forms of openness and closure in two knowledge communities: the fictional world of Castalia in Hermann Hesse's great work The Glass Bead Game, and the twenty-first-century cyberspatial universe of Wikipedia. These two worlds differ in some important respects, but they also share a number of educationally significant features in common. The authors compare the respective approaches to knowledge, decision-making and social organization in Castalia and Wikipedia. They argue that both can be seen as flawed knowledge communities, from which, nonetheless, much can be learned that is helpful in advancing current discussions of openness as an ideal.
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A key impact the Internet is having on university teaching involves the new choices being provided because of open educational content. Wikipedia is a clear example of these new options. It is a gigantic open repository of knowledge, and it can also be considered a platform that facilitates collaboration in knowledge creation and dissemination. Our research objective is to understand what the main factors are that influence the teaching uses of Wikipedia among university faculty. Based on a technology acceptance model, and using data from a survey sent to all faculty members of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, we analyze the relationships within the internal and external constructs of the model. We found that both the perception of colleagues' opinions about Wikipedia and the perceived quality of the information in Wikipedia play a central role. These two constructs have a significant direct impact on the perceived usefulness of Wikipedia. This perceived usefulness affects, mediated by the behavioral intention of using Wikipedia, the effective use behavior of the encyclopedia. The degree to which an individual considers it is important to participate in open collaborative environments and the Web 2.0 profile of the faculty members also play an important role in our model.
The impressive success of peer production – a large-scale collaborative model of production primarily based on voluntary contributions – is difficult to explain through the assumptions of standard economic theory. The aim of this paper is to study the prosocial foundations of cooperation in this new peer production economy. We provide the first field test of existing economic theories of prosocial motives for contributing to real world public goods. We use an online experiment coupled with observational data to elicit social preferences within a diverse sample of 850 Wikipedia contributors, and seek to use to those measures to predict subjects’ field contributions to the Wikipedia project. We find that subjects’ field contributions to Wikipedia are strongly related to their level of reciprocity in a conditional Public Goods game and in a Trust game and to their revealed preference for social image within the Wikipedia community, but not to their level of altruism either in a standard or in a directed Dictator game. Our results have important theoretical and practical implications, as we show that reciprocity and social image are both strong motives for sustaining cooperation in peer production environments, while altruism is not.
Wikipedia is becoming widely acknowledged as a reliable source of encyclopedic information. However, concerns have been expressed about its readability. Wikipedia articles might be written in a language too difficult to be understood by most of its visitors. In this study, we apply the Flesch reading ease test to all available articles from the English Wikipedia to investigate these concerns. The results show that overall readability is poor, with 75 percent of all articles scoring below the desired readability score. The 'Simple English' Wikipedia scores better, but its readability is still insufficient for its target audience. A demo of our methodology is available at
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore whether faculty perceptions of Wikipedia have changed over a five-year period. Design/methodology/approach – A survey was conducted of four universities in the California State University System – California State University, East Bay; Humboldt State University; Cal Poly San Luis Obispo; and California State University, Fresno. Following the survey, respondents who volunteered their contact information were interviewed about their perceptions and/or their assignments/projects involving Wikipedia. Findings – The study showed that, overall, faculty perceptions of Wikipedia have shifted in Wikipedia’s favor and that some faculty members create interesting and unique assignments that involve Wikipedia or Wikipedia-like work. Research limitations/implications – This study sampled 4 of 23 campuses in the California State University System. Practical implications – The growing acceptance of Wikipedia has implications for course work with students both in terms of assignments in the discipline and also for the need to ensure students understand how to evaluate sources. Social implications – The shift to Wikipedia is symptomatic of the larger shift to non-traditional research tools. Originality/value – The literature discussing faculty perceptions of Wikipedia has not discussed whether faculty perceptions are shifting.