Education/Newsletter/September 2016/Outcomes report on a Wikipedia Course “Skills for Producing and Consuming Knowledge”, Tel Aviv University
Snippet: An outcomes report about “Wikipedia: Skills for Producing and Consuming Knowledge”, a for-credit, cross-campus, elective course dedicated to contributing to Wikipedia at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
In 2013, the first for-credit elective course that focuses on contributing to Wikipedia was launched at Tel Aviv university (TAU). The course, which is called Wiki-Med, focused on teaching medical students how to create high-quality medical content, and resulted in 170 new articles, which received over 3 million views thus far. Drawing from its success, Shani Evenstein, a Wikipedian and educator who designed and led Wiki-Med, has developed a new elective course that will accommodate all undergraduate students, from all disciplines studied on campus. The course has been approved by the Vice Rector, making Tel Aviv University the first academic institution worldwide to allow all its undergraduates to take a for-credit Wikipedia course, thus recognizing the importance of a Wikipedia training to students on an institutional level.
The course was launched in October 2015 and was led by Evenstein, with partners from the Orange Institute for Internet Studies and the School of Education at TAU. Academic emphasis was put on active learning and improving academic and digital literacies. Students were taught not only how to better consume information, but also how to actively participate in its creation. The course included introductory sessions to Wikipedia and the free knowledge movement, technical editing sessions, and discussion sessions on critical issues. Those included copyrights, neutral point of view, encyclopedic writing vs. academic writing, the power of the community, collaborative learning and creation of knowledge, information biases, Wiki in education and Wikidata. Since diversity and collaborative work are key elements in the wikiverse, it was important to Evenstein that the community takes an active part in the course, both in class and online. Guest lectures included key members from the Hebrew Wikipedia community, as well as from the international Wikimedia community. This way, the students had the opportunity to interact with a greater range of contributors to the Wikimedia movement.
To date, 30 students have completed the course successfully, writing together 70 articles. Each student has expanded one stub and wrote a new one. In addition, students participated in a peer evaluation process, and presented in class a reflection on their learning experience at course end. Students reported a positive and meaningful learning experiences, or as one student put it, “this course was one of the most important and interesting courses I took during my B.A. studies. I think every undergraduate should participate in such a course. What we’ve learnt here is important and will be helpful to us in the future, not only in academia, but in our daily lives.” Some unexpected results were that at least three students became active Wikipedians and continued contributing to Wikipedia after the course. In addition, the Wikidata session, which was run for the first time in Israel, was voted by students one of the most interesting and remembered session. This was of particular importance to Evenstein, who believes it is crucial to expose students to Wikidata, as it has the potential to change research as we know it. As a result, Wikidata will be incorporated deeper into the syllabus in future iterations of the course.
Running the course was a complex task, with challenges that included ongoing administrative tasks and high level of availability to students’ questions and needs. In addition, a high level of heterogeneity in class was evident, not only since students came from varying backgrounds and disciplines, but also since they had varying levels of computer skills, digital media skills, academic skills and writing skills. The team had to cope with this diversity and address students’ varying literacies level. However, the course staff attest that heterogeneity was used as an advantage: in addition to supporting students, accountability and responsibility of students were highlighted. Students expanded their horizons and sharpened skills while working with others, building on the community created in the class, through peer review, self-assessment and feedback from staff. The different iterations of reviews and feedback ensured high-quality and comprehensive articles.
No doubt, additional courses and lecturers collaborating with Wikipedia and implementing it into their curriculum expand the awareness and impact of Wikimedia on the academic world. Awareness leads to better consumers and more contributors, as well as to new partners and collaborations. So what’s next? Going forward, the course will re-open in the coming year, with the hopes of increasing the number of participants and thus its impact.