OpenEd21 The Wikipedia Assignment as Open Education Praxis

4 min read

OpenEd21 is happening this week and instead of tweeting I am blogging from selected sessions I am attending. These notes may be rough as the intent is to try to follow the flow of the talk and publish as soon as possible.

Session overview

In this panel, you’ll hear from three faculty who have used the Wikipedia assignment in their courses. They represent the fields of Engineering Writing, Middle Eastern Studies, and African American Literature. Topics to be explored include: the production and dissemination of knowledge in a global context, collaborative knowledge production and authorship, developing a public voice, Wikipedia’s limitations and bias, issues around access to knowledge and equity, as well as what it means to produce knowledge ethically and responsibly. (full abstract)

Speakers: Helaine Blumenthal (Wiki Education), Delia Steverson (University of Florida), Helen Choi (University of Southern California), Heather Sharkey (University of Pennsylvania)

Session Notes

Helaine begins with an overview of the Wikipedia Education program, specifically the Wikipedia student program. The program has been around since 2010 and has been part of 4800 courses at 800 institutions and over 100,000 students have participated in editing Wikipedia as part of the program.

Helaine noted that “20% of Wikipedia editors come from the Wikipedia education program” (me: wow!)

Delia Stevens (UofF)

Works with the Wikipedia African Diaspora project & teaches Africa American Literature. Her motivation is to increase the visibility of African American authors on Wikipedia as the authors she uses in her course do not have a big Wikipedia presence.

Students expanded an article about Rudolph Fisher. Their work was noticed by a local journalist who referenced the article. An authentic learning experience that made the students feel like they have meaningfully contributed something to society.

Students learn about open access. A student asked, “if people don’t have access to JSTOR, how would they access this information?” Students get that they are contributing to making research and information open for all to have access to.

Students don’t only write – they create other artifacts. A student created this character tree and contributed to the Wikipedia Commons.

Helen Choi (USC)

Advanced writing and communication for Engineers. Students choose the articles they write.

A learning outcome of the course is to translate science research articles into language and articles the general public can understand. Wikipedia is a great avenue for this specific learning outcome.

Being a Wikipedian is like being an honest engineer; both produce work that people rely on everyday, so they need to work carefully and ethically"

Heather Sharkey (UofPenn)

1st year to PhD learners. Middle Eastern and North Africa history.

Heather sees this work as “a civic good”.

Wikipedia is an important public good, but there are critical gaps and Heather wants learners to recognize these inequities and become lifelong learners.

Team-based assignments focused on creating new articles on Wikipedia. Taking original research and building new Wikipedia articles that give students skills that they can take to other scholarly activities. What can and can’t be used on Wikipedia.

Students also learn about metadata and the importance of metadata and the type of writing style used on Wikipedia.

Wikipedia has strict rules about copyright and images and students have learned a lot about copyright based on working on Wikipedia. Helps students learn that not all content is open and there are rules around using resources like photos.

The process of revision is also a good learning outcome – students learn to write, revise, rewrite that can be carried over to other academic disciplines.

Some examples of Heather’s student writing, including original photos they took and contributed back.

Students are often astounded by how strict the rules of Wikipedia are. They get more understanding about how rigorous Wikipedia is. Students come away with a more nuanced understanding of Wikipedia and how to use it with a critical eye.

An interesting observation from Heather – Wikipedia prejudices internet articles over physical archival artifacts, which can contribute to the gaps in the knowledge presented on Wikipedia.

My Notes

It’s become the go-to example of non-disposable assignments, and remains one of my favourite open pedagogy activities as having students contribute to Wikipedia is having them contribute directly to making knowledge open and public. This session provided three examples of how Wiki EDU works and some of the benefits and challenges.

I am continually impressed with how educators who take part in these projects are doing so to balance the inequities we know exist on Wikipedia and to make visible those voices that are often underrepresented on Wikipedia. Additionally, it was great to hear from Helen Choi that one of her specific learning outcomes is to translate scientific research into language that the general public can understand as that is an area I think all researchers need to pay attention to, especially in controversial areas of science.

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