Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Starting this winter, medical students at the University of California San Francisco will be able to obtain academic credit from an unlikely source: Wikipedia.
In an experimental class beginning in December, fourth-year students under the tutelage of associate clinical professor Amin Azzam will be tasked with writing, editing, and monitoring medically relevant Wikipedia entries. Students will work from afar, with professors auditing their edits and progress. Approximately 80 entries will be reviewed: those that are popular, yet still subpar in terms of quality according to Wikipedia's own grading scheme.
To make this happen, UCSF is working together with Wiki Project Med Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose goals are to maintain a high standard for educational resources in the medical fields and to ensure those resources are available in multiple languages. “We know that nearly all medical students use Wikipedia,” James Heilman, the Foundation’s president, told UCSF. “However, we want nearly all medical students to contribute to Wikipedia.”
At the core of the project is the conception of medical students as an untapped cache of medical information. They provide knowledge to the masses, but also, in doing so, benefit themselves by acquiring a necessary skill of doctor-dom: communicating information to the general public who may not understand what otitus media or diaphoresis are. (A specific kind of ear infection and sweating, respectively.)
Wikipedia has always been perpetually in limbo in the esteem of academics. A footnote containing a citation to the online encyclopedia is often considered taboo, but at the same time, it’s an unspoken fact that we all use it. And that’s fine, as long as the proverbial grain of salt is always present. UCSF’s goal is to make Wikipedia more reliable and, to overextend the metaphor, make that piece of salt smaller. Sounds good.