I’m Vahid Masrour. Ask me anything about using Wikipedia to improve learning

So you’re familiar with Wikipedia, but it’s still a black box to you. Maybe you’ve been wondering about how volunteers create Wikipedia articles, or how your students could improve the coverage of Wikipedia regarding key topics of the course you teach?

Have you ever considered that getting your students to improve Wikipedia might help them learn more?

Bring your inquiries and let’s talk!

Ask me about:

  • Wikipedia, the largest repository of OERs in the world!
  • learning objectives,
  • assessment,
  • the (not-so-secret) rules to editing Wikipedia,
  • the progressive steps you can take towards evergreen assignments that your students are proud to tell their parents about
  • (and why you shouldn’t create your own Wikipedia biography).

Disclaimer: All questions are welcome, but i can’t guarantee I’ll have all the answers… hopefully I’ll know the right people to ask, though! Or -even better- we’ll find that someone here does!

I’ve volunteered in the Wikimedia movement since 2013, and have spent most of my time advocating for educators to get their learners to contribute and improve Wikipedia. It’s a conversation I enjoy having.

I’m happy to help!

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Hi Vahid,

I hear so many people talking about and presenting their impressive course projects. What is the best way for me to get started, especially as I do not have support to sign up for a workshop or course?

And are there examples of small sized projects that would inspire me to get started? it seems a huge undertaking to do the big projects.

Hi Open Educator! Thank you for your question. Allow me to present potential projects by levels of difficulty for beginners:

  • Very hard: Creating a new article from scratch [not recommended for beginners, especially without assistance from a Wikipedian]
  • Hard: Improving significantly a “good” existing article
  • Easy: Making small improvements to a small/short article
  • Easy: Contributing multimedia to articles

Small improvements to a small/short article can include a variety of activities, such as:

  • Adding sections and paragraphs to the article
  • Adding references (if you have pertinent bibliography, always contribute that!)
  • Adding multimedia contents that have been uploaded to [Commons] following all the rules there.

In a classroom setting, I would suggest that step 1 for the teacher is to engage the students in an academic critique of an article, using questions such as:

  • Is the article up-to-date?
  • Is the article comprehensive enough (for an encyclopedic article)?
  • Are there important references that are not present in the article?
  • Are there significant aspects of the topic that need to be included?

Step 2 would then be to have the students write down their proposals of improvements: From a Wikipedian perspective, all knowledge can be improved! Those proposals can be written in a Google Doc, for example, to facilitate discussion (and the experience of editing a wiki document).

Step 3 could involve peer-feedback of improvements and should receive teacher-feedback.

  • Improvements should not take the form of massive deletions of existing contents (those can happen later when users have built some experience on Wikipedia).
  • Improvements should take the form of adding statements that are backed by references. Ideally, every sentence should be backed by a reference, but at least every paragraph should have one. This requires using the [Cite] tool. The key is for the editors to understand that Wikipedia is not about expressing personal opinions, it is about assembling knowledge from other sources and expressing said knowledge in an encyclopedic form.
  • Improving syntaxis, grammar, and so on are perfectly acceptable contributions to Wikipedia.
  • Another way to contribute to an article is to write on the [Talk] subpage of the selected article, suggesting improvements, and engaging with Wikipedians there. As long as everybody involved behaves in a civil manner, conversations in the Talk page can result in improvements in the article!

Step 4: be bold and improve the article with new+better contents!

If adding multimedia is chosen as an activity, those can include pictures, videos, and illustrations. The key for those projects is that they must be original works made by the students (with a few complicated exceptions). Examples:
a) Student A takes a picture and uploads it to Commons, and then (optional) adds it to the relevant article.
b) Student B draws an illustration of something pertinent to an article, uploads the picture to Commons, and then adds it to the relevant article. This is typically useful in scientific articles to illustrate concepts.

I hope this helps! Let me know if something needs clarification or improvement!

Likely of relevance, the call for Training of Trainers for Reading Wikipedia in the classroom, are you part of this?

Deadline is Feb 20, 2022!

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I’m not participating, but by all means, that should be a nice+easy way to get started with Wikipedia in the classroom.

The key for teachers is to realize that the point never is to tell the students to “trust Wikipedia” (or any single source): Learners should learn to look systematically at the references at the bottom of the articles and follow the leads they get from there (and come back to the article to improve it once they’ve investigated the topic).

I totally agree with that as a valuable exercise. Plus often the external links have died, so there is researching a better one or finding a Wayback machine link.

Maybe also there are smaller means of contributions like Citation Hunt. Or adding/finding open licensed images to add to Wikimedia Commons. One of my favorite activities is using WikiShootMe to find areas around your location that need photos added to Wikidata (“turn the red dots green”).

I really want to learn more about Wikidata, the query language is extremely powerful. Have you done much there?

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For those that are Data curious (and many think that Wikipedia’s future is in data), there are a few “games” to get your toe wet: Wikidata - The Distributed Game

Warning: some of these might look innocent, but can be addictive. :grinning:

I have done very little with Wikidata personally, but contributing to Wikidata is really valuable whenever you see that the article you’re working on doesn’t link to any Wikidata… and getting a new item to Wikidata is usually a fairly low-risk proposition.

Hi Vahid, I am trying to bridge another discussion here about a call to help Ukrainian students who are / will be displaced as refugees from the war there, what can OER do?

I’m noticing there are 1.1 million articles in Ukrainian Wikipedia – would might be ways to leverage that into some kind of useful OER format? Or how might that be done?

One of the ways to provide access to (a version of) Wikipedia offline is Kiwix. Kiwix is a “reader” that will display the Wikipedia (a “snapshot” of Wikipedia in time, usually no more than a few months old) so that it can be read by users that are offline.

In order to use Kiwix, you need to:

  1. download the Kiwix reader
  2. download the special zim file that has the contents of interest. For example, here you can see all the contents that are available in Ukrainian

The big advantage of using Kiwix is that you can do 1 download and then just copy the files in thumbdrives and distribute those without needing an internet connection.

It should be noted that all Wikipedia resources are CC licensed (by default), and thus are effectively OERs in their own right. As discussed above in the thread, teachers would use articles not necessarily for what they are, but rather encourage critique, suggestions of improvements, and as a starting point for the learners to research the bibliography that is cited in every (good) article.

Wow, thanks for teaching me about Kiwix… will share in the other discussion.

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I probably should have mentioned this, but the assessment part of a Wikipedia edition assignment can benefit from using this rubric:

(Thanks to @Jackie for reminding me of it)

If you’re into ungrading, use the rubric to focus feedback or, even better, as a progression guide for your students! :wink:

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What a nice thread you started here, dear Vahid! :raised_hands:

I just got graduated from the Reading Wikipedia in the Classroom program! With some other members of the Wikimedia México community, we’ll be talking about this experience in Clubhouse:
https://oeweek.oeglobal.org/events/2022/wikipedia-educacion/

Come along, everyone! It’s in Spanish and we don’t really know how small or big this is going to be, but we are experimenting with audio vs. Zoom webinars (see some of my thoughts on it here, section “Audio Connections to Recreate a Discontinuous Campus”.)

Definitely following this wiki-thread!

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Today’s funny tweet about Wikipedia: https://twitter.com/xkcd/status/1501650939140362241

This tweet is both hilarious (and :100: accurate) and very revealing of a “secret” of Wikipedia: For every article, there is a “Talk page”: a space for editors to discuss -in a civil manner- every aspect of said article. This is where Wikipedians (confirmed as well as newbies) can come and ask questions, add comments, make requests, propose new things, and interact with others that want to jump into the conversation.

Where is the secret Talk page hidden, you ask?

image

Whenever you’re in doubt about “things” in an article, you can always feel welcome in bringing it up in the Talk page, and -if you’re in luck- maybe another volunteer will reply -in a civil manner- and fruitful interactions may be had from there!

Giving a “warning” in the Talk page before you make significant changes to an article and requesting others’ opinions on the changes you propose in an article is a welcome practice. In the best of cases, it will lead to a factual debate about said proposed changes, and only then the changes would be made.

Bonus tips:

  • Come prepared with references to support your arguments.
  • Come prepared to learn from other Wikipedians about the norms and culture that are established in the community
  • Maintain a polite, civil discourse at all times. We’re all humans trying to describe reality to the best of our abilities.