Education/Newsletter/April 2015/New to Wikipedia: A personal perspective

By Karen Mazanec (Wiki Learning Tec de Monterrey)

Author demonstrates how to add subtitles to a Commons video

Snippet: English professor and first-time Wikipedian Karen Mazanec shares her experience in teaching with Wikipedia for the first time last term.

My name is Karen Mazanec, and I am an English (as a foreign language) professor at the Tecnológico de Monterrey (ITESM) in Mexico City – one of the top-ranked universities in Mexico. I have taught at this institution since 2004. I am originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.

I have wanted to get my students involved in Wikipedia projects for several years, but the demands of the English program (achieve a certain score on the TOEFL exam) consumed all of our class time (and more). There was simply no class time to spare for other endeavors, such as Wikipedia.

This semester, however, the focus of the English program changed to concentrate more on language skills and abilities and less on passing a standardized exam. As a result, I have been able to bring new, more communicative and real-world related activities into the classroom, including work with Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons.

We started the term by assigning our students to translate short articles from the English Wikipedia to the Spanish Wikipedia. We were motivated by the excitement of holding the first Wikipedia edit-a-thon at our school this term, in which a number of my students would be participating. It was a challenging task as much for me as for my students. I attended the same training session three times (and translated and uploaded two articles myself) until I finally understood all of the technical details. In the end, my 44 students successfully translated articles on the English Wikipedia and edited articles on the Spanish Wikipedia over the course of one school week. The project required them to extensively look up new vocabulary in English and chose the appropriate translation to Spanish, according to the context. Many discovered that a proper “translation” is not simply substituting word for word from one language to another, which is what happens in their brains each time they attempt to speak or write in English.

Shortly after this project finished, I participated in the edit-a-thon at our school and was able to help student participants with a variety of technical and translation questions. It was great to finally become a real part of the Wikipedia project at our school after years of not being able to find time. It was also interesting to learn how few female Wikipedia contributors there are, especially considering that all of the participants in the edit-a-thon from my groups were girls. It was nice to help boost participation in this area as well.

As the semester was coming to a close, I really wanted to do one more Wikipedia activity with my students. I had noticed that some were more interested in and adept at translation than others, and it is important as educators to offer different types of experiences to students in order to tap into the different abilities and learning styles they possess. One of the educational benefits of Wikipedia is that people can contribute in many different ways and formats. Creating new articles and translating existing articles are just two of many different types of activities possible.

I consulted with Leigh Thelmadatter, the Wikipedia guru at our school and a program leader in Mexico. She suggested students try adding subtitles in English to some of the English videos on Wikimedia Commons. While a couple of my students had worked with photos on Wikimedia Commons in previous semesters, I myself had no experience with Commons to this point, and neither Leigh nor anyone else on campus had attempted a subtitle project. Leigh and I sat down, opened some videos and sifted through the existing instructions as to how to add or modify subtitles to videos. We discovered the process was relatively simple, and I went ahead and planned an activity for my students.

The activity took two and a half class hours over the course of two sessions. Leigh came to our first session to observe and take photos to document the experience. Daniel Ulacia, a media arts teacher in our high school division, came to the second session to take video for a video documentary about all the work with Wikipedia done at our campus this semester.

In the first session, I began by giving a brief explanation of the benefits, especially as language learners, of having subtitles to video in the same language as the audio, versus in their native language. I then demonstrated the process for creating subtitles in Commons videos, and the students were given time to select a video. They had the option of working with a partner or working alone. Most were able to find audios with clear and quality English audio. A few did more in-depth searches and came across videos of old cartoons or movie trailers that, while having the appearance of being more “fun” material, were actually quite difficult for them to understand given the low quality and nature of the audio. In the end, most of these students ended up changing their video choice for one with much clearer audio, for example: a presidential speech.

Student transcribing audio on a Commons video

Given the limited time for the project, the students were asked to only add subtitles to the first 30 seconds of the video. Some struggled to understand the audio and had to repeat the segment many, many times. Others had easier videos or better listening skills and were able to easily do subtitles for a minute or more. One of the wonderful aspects of working with Wikipedia is the flexibility it gives teachers to customize tasks according the ability level and interests of individual students. It is possible to make every student feel challenged and at the same time successful.

Almost all students needed me to help listen to a difficult word or phrase at some point, and everyone wanted me to check their work for errors. They were very concerned that what they uploaded would be good because, as with the translations, they knew others would be seeing their work. Another incredible aspect of Wikipedia is that it provides students with a “real world” connection they can make without even having to leave the classroom. There is no greater motivation to do a good job than knowing that your work is going to be displayed publicly. As one student wrote, “It’s so nice to realize that we can help other people to understand some videos just by putting the subtitles. We can also apply all our knowledge and skills in the project because it’s something real. We are really doing real work. So that’s why we have to give everything and work harder than ever.”

After two hours of class time, most students had finished with their 30 seconds of subtitles. I then had them exchange places with another team to view their video and check for errors, including vocabulary, spelling, punctuation and capitalization. I gave each team a form that they could use to write down the errors. Again, this was a difficult but worthwhile task for students. Many had difficulty catching the aural errors (hearing the correct words) but were able to catch the visual problems (punctuation and capitalization). Finally, I had students write a brief reaction to the subtitle project. Most students indicated that they enjoyed and got something useful out of the project. The biggest complaint was simply not having enough time to complete the whole video or that it took them one hour just to create 30 seconds worth of subtitles. However, another great aspect of Wikipedia is that it can be done anytime and anyplace. I have a feeling there will be students motivated enough to continue working on their projects and even start new ones well after the semester is done.

In the end, my main goal with these two projects was create awareness of how Wikipedia is created, the different formats in which people can contribute, and the importance and impact of those contributions. My second goal was to learn how Wikipedia works and to become a collaborator myself. Both of my goals were definitely accomplished, and I am very pleased with the work and enthusiasm of my students. I certainly plan to continue to engage my students in Wikipedia projects in the future – taking steps to improve on the ones we have already tried and looking for new challenges.

Read more about the Wikipedia Education Program at ITESM here.