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Professor tells 1700 students to edit Wikipedia, 85% plagiarism rate
66 points by elect_engineer on Apr 2, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

Wow, that's an absurdly misleading headline.

Here's the editor's analysis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Colin/Introduction_to_Psyc...

I see 16 cited cases of supposed plagiarism. How did we go from 16 cases to claiming 85% of people in a 1700 student class are plagiarizing? No offense to the submitter, but I feel these kinds of things are best submitted after someone reasonably objective distills and summarizes the issue. Devoted wikipedia editors can be somewhat dramatic about things, so in cases like this I prefer to see other points of view.

Right, this thread should just be deleted until someone writes a story about it. The page is unreadable--like most of Wikipedia's talk pages...and then they wonder why normal people don't participate.

You make it sound like 'normal' people discuss things in a calm manner and are never affected by things like tunnel vision, irrationality, or ignoring the other person while waiting for your turn to speak.

Keep in mind that the discussion page was not designed to be consumed by outsiders and is only for internal discussions.

In fact, they mention near the end of the post that they should lock the discussion before media outlets pick this up and blow it out of proportion.

Too late now! lol

Scanning the cited examples of plagiarism suggests that some of the alleged "unreasonably close paraphrasing" wasn't actually that close, the text insertions were generally short and referenced, and the 85% stat wasn't reflected in the assessments other editors (who picked up other issues) made of other students' work. Are they any worse than the average edits introduced by other novice editors which don't get such forensic scrutiny? Probably not.

If you'd prefer the world's most popular anonymously-editable website to be a carefully-curated collection of articles written largely by experienced editors (which a lot of the experienced editors evidently do) then you'd wouldn't want this class anywhere near it. But I think Wikipedia has bigger problems to fix.

It stretches credulity to suggest it's akin to vandalism.

That came from Mike Christie. Information was included in the user_talk page where he says 16 out of 19 students plagiarized. That works out to about 84% of known editors from that class.


Hundreds of students made edits. 16 are accused of plagarism. Which is laughable because this accusation is based on the citation provided by the student's own edit.

The only thing these students are guilty of is bad citation form.

First of all, misleading title. The professor simply offered student extra credit to add a sentence to a psychology article of their choice. The sentence is supposed to include references and is not supposed to be plagiarized.

I know this is beating a dead horse, but I get really sick of hearing about abuse from Wikipedia editors who have gone power-mad. Edit-wars, blacklisting, and more is an ongoing state of affairs on the site. The fact that they are considering blocking the campus and a large chunk of the surrounding area from editing wikipedia in order to punish the professor is just stupid.

I understand that editors put a lot of time in cleaning up wikipedia, and that is great. But wikipedia is a system designed for public use, and that use includes editing and updating articles.

The problem that they have found themselves in now is that articles slowly evolve their own individual bias based on the managing editors point of view. New users and counter arguments are lost, as it's rare to find someone to edit an article that has the patience to start an edit war with a moderator who has babysat an article for years.

I'm not sure if you read the same Wikipedia page I did. This isn't a turf war issue. A professor has been asked by editors to tell his students to stop editing Neuroscience/psychology articles because they are terrible edits that are unreferenced and plagiarized. This is bad because it opens up Wikipedia to liability. I haven't dug too much in but it seems like the Professor is brushing it off and refusing to really help that much which is why they are contemplating banning the entire schools IP range. It has to be really bad if they are even contemplating that point.

It's really not surprising that the professor reacted the way that he did. His intentions where basically to improve wikipedia articles in his field through a group effort by his students. Instead of praise and thanks from the wikipedia editors, he was ostracized and rejected. I'd wager this entire situation could have been averted if the editors initially reached out to the professor in a more positive way.

They did, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_talk:WoodSnake#Copyright_v...

That was from last year.

This year there was no notice because apparently he decided to not publicly announce he was doing it again this year and it took them some time before they realized what happened. It seemed that he didn't like the fact that people were pointing.

I can't read through everything so I may have not been following everything correctly. This is what I've extracted about the situation by gleaning information off the various pages talking about this.

>This professor started under the education programme in 2011. Following a study of edits made by the 2011 class here with commentary here[1], the professor was asked to stop and work with Wikipedia to fix the assignment. Instead he went underground and choose, in his words, to "fly under the radar".


Have you read much (any) of the material linked?

My impression after perusing a fair bit of it is almost completely opposite of what you're claiming here.

> This is bad because it opens up Wikipedia to liability.

What? How?

Student copies from copyrighted textbook onto wikipedia,

textbook copyright owner notices + sues wikipedia

I hate WP, and have said so here more than once.

This instance is a bit different. WP recognises the importance of student editors, even as part of student course work. There's an established program to welcome students and their teachers; to introduce WP to them; and to help them through the baffling bureaucracy.

This professor was invited to that program. They declined.

The submission is great, but "Professor tells 1700 students to fill Wikipedia with plagiarism" is a bad title. The professor didn't tell those students to plagiarize. A better title would be something like "Professor tells 1700 students to edit Wikipedia, 85% plagiarism rate".

Yeah, the official title on Wikipedia (or at present is) "Class of 1700 students fill Wikipedia with plagiarism. Response from prof is accusation of illegal behaviour by editors" link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators%27_not...

If you read through the information, the story appears to be : prof assigned wiki edits to class, wiki find the class do more harm than good and ask prof to stop, prof does it again the next year anyway.

Basically this is a 'friends don't let friends assign their students wikipedia editing'!

Thanks, this summary was extremely helpful since I didn't want to read the gigantic wall of text in OP and the title, no matter how I tried to parse it, didn't give me enough information!

Except that still implies that 1445 students plagiarized. "Professor tells class to edit wikipedia, results in 16 cases of plagiarism" would be way less misleading.

One wonders why 'elect_engineer' created an account only to submit it with that title.

Because I am one of the Elect of course!

Seriously tho created an account because I never had anything to post to Hacker News before and for the title I just copied the title on the Wikipedia page and cut it down to eighty characters as required by hacker news

Here is a previous assignment



Here is the 2013 assignment




I can't find anything like the original title in any of those links.

It's worth reading through the discussion by the Wikipedia admins.(1) I'm disgusted.

The idea that it's a fantastic thing that a large class of students are invited to participate in Wikipedia occurs to only one admin, while the general reaction is to call the professor, his boss or to create a bot to stop this happening. It's knee jerk, petty and power crazed. Read elsewhere and see their instinct to block, their lack of knowledge about basics like Twitter and HN (perhaps they could look it up), and general juvenile behaviour.

And the accusation of 85% plagiarism stands essentially uncontested.

The Wikipedia editors have utterly destroyed the pleasure of creation that Wikipedia used to give us all. Their own biased perspectives and petty games risk destroying the usefulness of Wikipedia itself. Outsiders are treated like enemies, and extrapolating all of this leads to a desperate ending.

Leadership is required.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Administrators%27_not...

"Since Joordens won't release the class list..."

A professor giving a list of students' names to the public would be illegal in the US. I'd expect that to be true in Canada as well.

He isn't being asked to give out the student's names. He is being asked to give out the student's Wikipedia usernames so that Wikipedia editors can see what edits they are making and correct any problems. The students or the course staff can choose usernames that have no relation to their real names.

That's still personal information. It'd be illegal in England. I have no idea what, if any, privacy laws the various US states (or Canada) have.

FERPA http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/fpco/ferpa

I can't give information that would identify a student or allow someone to make direct contact without the student's prior consent.

The link you provided appears to be dead. However, the first two resources I found (one from KSU and one from UT) suggest that your reading of FERPA is overly strict. Directory information such as a student name can be released without the student's consent. Also, according to UT: "Ferpa applies to personally identifiable information in educational records." If a student chose a random string of characters as a username I don't see how that's personally identifiable.

https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Clearinghouse/View-Arti... http://registrar.utexas.edu/students/records/ferpa

Sorry about the link, I just c+p'd without checking because I figured it hadn't changed since Dec. Here's an older blurb: http://www.ed.gov/technology/draft-netp-2010/FERPA

It's very strange, and there is a lot of mis-information perpetrated upon us in our annual FERPA training sessions. College Administration provide no useful guidance either, other than hiring a person to come and hyperventilate on stage for us at our annual faculty convocation. But, one thing that is pretty clear is that I may not reveal my class rolls to the public. Examples cited are abusive ex-spouses / intimates stalking students by learning their schedules and following them home to learn their new address, attack them, or both.

If that's the case, then obtaining the students' consent to release their Wikipedia username (which could be a random string of characters with no identifying information) needs to be a precondition of the students' participating in the assignment.

If a professor has 1700 students start editing Wikipedia and 85% of them are plagiarizing, that's a huge burden to place on the Wikipedia volunteer community to clean up. There are a limited number of volunteers who handle copyright and plagiarism issues and it is unfair for a professor to increase their workload without giving them information about which users are making changes that need to be scrutinized.

The problem here is that the professor has refused to engage the Wikipedia community and has, in his own words, gone underground.

"obtaining the students' consent to release their Wikipedia username (which could be a random string of characters with no identifying information) needs to be a precondition of the students' participating in the assignment."


"If a professor has 1700 students start editing Wikipedia and 85% of them are plagiarizing"

This is still a number pulled from the air.

>...needs to be a precondition of the students' participating in the assignment.

I don't think it wise or fair to extort their consent.

Although, at least back when I was choosing my Internet handle, Wikipedia recommended usernames that resembled your real name.

A potential solution to their problem is to establish a WP editing aberration detection mechanism, which would run quietly all the time and establish statistical baselines for editing frequency, and recognize when an unusually large number of edits from a geographical area or maybe CIDR block are coming in during a short period of time. This would help them automatically identify cases where a professor tells a couple of thousand students to make updates without supervision. Maybe correlate these with accounts or IPs that have few prior edits. This could then raise some sort of quality control flag on the edits and simplify the process of reverting the topics.

I shudder to think of what the Wikipedia-editing analogue of a global DDOS attack would be.

Does any of that detection mechanism exist already?

Most of wiki is patrolled by robots, I'd image if it was useful it would.

I'd see natural disasters possibly false positiving compared with turf wars between groups/countries after a flare up being the main reason you'd do it.

I think professors asking students to edit would be rare enough not to make it worth while.

As far as I'm aware, no. As far as I know, while IP's are logged, users with the "checkuser" privilege need to manually search and interpret the logs during each investigation.

Bloody good assignment if you ask me. Ok, need to improve the teaching and editors need to get off their high horse (again), but the principle is sound. It could substantially improve some articles.

Frustrating that no-one in the WP thread bothered to link to the right way to do it:


> The idea behind the Wikipedia Education Program is simple: Professors around the world assign their students to contribute to Wikipedia for class assignments.

> Wikipedia is being used as a teaching tool in education around the world (see a list of programs). The Wikimedia Foundation currently runs four programs: Brazil, Canada, Egypt, and the United States.

> In each country, volunteer Wikipedia Ambassadors assist professors as they assign their students to contribute to Wikipedia on course-related topics. The Wikimedia Foundation started the program in the United States in 2010, Canada in 2011, and Brazil and Egypt in 2012. More than 3,500 students have participated in the Wikipedia Education Program around the world, adding the equivalent of 20,000 printed pages of quality content to more than 6,000 Wikipedia articles in multiple languages.

Thanks for posting this; as you said, there was no indication whatsoever in the thread that there was a correct way to do this.

That is interesting. Or in particular, when you get to the pages that actually spell out how it works http://outreach.wikimedia.org/wiki/Education_Portal/Tips_and... (that landing page is somewhat nebulous, it takes a little digging to find the actual content!)

As someone who's being involved with wikedit days (e.g. for Women in Science) and also in academia, I think this was a typical 'good idea, terrible execution'. The washup from 2011 noted that not many people did it, and those that did weren't very useful. And probably should be later on in university curricula (sad but true): letting first year undergrads at it is asking for trouble.

But there's nothing stopping them doing it in their own time. I've edited a couple of articles here and there and, had I have found an error in a Maths article in my first year, I would have edited without a second thought.

[1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Contributions/Alex_Cham...

The problem is that they're giving students an incentive to make edits, but not checking the quality of those edits. That's a recipe for a lot of bad edits.

So I have looked at the complaints. If you look at the Edit History of the following articles:

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Axon&action=hi... http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Insomnia&actio... http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Action_potential&#... http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cerebral_hemispher... http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Corpus_callosum... http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Neurogenesis&a...

Basically look for any name in red, which is a high signal for a new editor who hasn't put in much time, and look at the revert edit above it, then click on the "prev" link to see what edit a Wikieditor reverted.

Essentially a lot of stuff the students are putting in are probably facts and may be true. However the Professor has essentially failed to teach the students how to put these "facts" in Wikipedia.

Probably a drop in the bucket compared to Stephen Colbert goading his watchers to edit silly things into wikipedia.

Actually, no. When Stephen Colbert asks his viewers to edit some article, it's fairly simple to lock that single article. Any collateral vandalism is easily reverted.

The problem here is much more insidious: hundreds of articles are being edited. Furthermore, though the edits are of low quality and often plagiarized, they are not so obviously vandalism that bots or editors can instantly revert them.

Yes, but they aren't required to do it for college credit. They're just like any other troll Wikipedia is constantly dealing with.

Those people are probably too lazy and high to edit Wikipedia.

Interesting PR spin...

"...the new course called Wiki Scholar, designed by psychology professor Steve Joordens, who believes that by learning to write and rewrite research until it makes sense to the wider Wiki world, students are forced to grasp ideas more deeply — and produce research that is useful..."


"Cognitive psychologist Steve Joordens, from the University of Toronto Scarborough in Canada, believes the APSWI provides students with effective practice for solving real-world problems. 'You can do it in any class,' he said. 'It’s really a good thing to enhance deep learning skills and another tool we can use to keep our students in the mental gym.'"


"Using Wikipedia in a Mega Classroom: A 1,700 Student Case Study

Steve Joordens, University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada

Students in our Introductory Psychology mega-class could earn bonus marks by signing up to the APS Wikipedia Initiative and making minor edits to two psychology-related Wikipedia entries. We describe our implementation of such a large scale assignment and report data depicting the rate of participation, the quality of the edits, and the larger impact on both students and Wikipedia Psychology content. We also highlight some of the difficulties we initially encountered and our attempts to minimize them in efforts to hone the 'many small edits' approach to answering the APS Wikipedia Initiative."


Aren't a good portion of Wikipedia edits plagiarism regardless?

What's wrong with plagiarism?

It's because WP is an encyclopedia, not a bulletin board.

If people aren't literate enough to understand text well-enough to restate it in their own words, do you really want them adding that text to WP? It may be obviously wrong, it may be misleading, it may be off-topic or not fit logically into the surrounding text, etc. A copy-pasted "encyclopedia" would be an ugly mess. I frequently find a sentence or paragraph just tipped in somewhere that's in the wrong place. That's a collage, not an article.

It's a problem for WP because people are supposed to be able to re-distribute it under the right licence, and slapping copyright restricted stuff prevents that happening.

I'd image if it's not copyright infringement on the one article across the entire Wikipedia it could become copyright infringement.

only crazy people study psychology

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