Education strategy (draft 2012)

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This is a draft strategy document, not yet approved or formally adopted. Suggestions for improvement are very welcome. Some of the topics in this document will be discussed in more detail at the EduWiki Conference 2012 in September.

Summary[edit | edit source]

  1. There are immense and proven benefits to educators and the Wikimedia projects from working together.
  2. To articulate these benefits, we need to explain the Wikimedia projects as distinctive processes and practice rather than just as resources.
  3. In the long term, education outreach should be at least as high a priority in Wikimedia UK’s activity as its cultural partnerships with the GLAM sector.
  4. We need to avoid fragmented efforts that do not achieve anything big and lasting, while also encouraging bold steps and innovation. So we need to structure our activity around a main goal, while also supporting other activity led by our volunteers.
  5. In the short and medium term we should concentrate on Higher Education, which is culturally closest to the Wikimedia community. In the long term, we also need to be active in other sectors such as secondary education and adult education.
  6. Within the HE sector, the main priority should be to learn from the successes and past problems of the Wikipedia Education Program and adapt it to the UK HE context, and to promote and support it in a growing number of courses. We should also explore and promote the educational potential of Wikiversity, Wikibooks and other Wikimedia projects.
  7. The Higher Education sector has enormous diversity between and within institutions. Scottish degrees differ from those in England & Wales, medical degrees differ structurally from other subjects, and so on. There are varying institutional cultures, academic disciplines and pedagogical approaches. This fact should inform all our outreach work.
  8. The Open Education movement is also diverse and rapidly changing, with institutional and national projects around the world as well as online communities such as Wikieducator and P2PU. We should keep aware of this global context and establish “embassies” in relevant communities to promote our work and invite input.
  9. The next priority for Wikimedia UK staff recruitment, once the central office roles of communications, events and fundraising are sorted out, should be dedicated education staff. Communications and events staff should dedicate some of their time to supporting our work in education.
  10. Our use of staff time should reflect the diversity of ways we can work with learners and educators. We should be regularly approaching individual academics, librarians, support staff, managers, and sector bodies, gradually learning which approaches are most effective.

(To be read in conjunction with the Education section of the Draft 2012 Five Year Plan)

The potential benefits[edit | edit source]

"We're at a moment in which, on the one hand, we have a massive expansion of the commons: of the possibilities of access to knowledge, information, criticism, analysis and so on. [...] On the other hand, we have a whole series of countervailing forces. [...] We have copyright trying to restrict evermore the ways in which we can use resources that we ourselves produced. We have two tendencies: one towards access, openness and public good; the other to new enclosures, new privatisations. I know which side of that I want to be." - Jon Beasley-Murray, University of British Columbia

In the Wikipedia community, we are collaborating - often with people from different time zones and cultures - to produce, review and improve an original, high-quality work which digests the state of published knowledge across the widest variety of topics. Doing this, we have to critically engage with deep questions about the nature of knowledge, bias and neutrality, and apply the results in specific cases. Wikipedia also has its own learning curve in terms of collaboration skills, IT skills and style guidelines that contributors learn. What we learn, we share, either through group discussion, mentorship relations, or crystallising our experience into a text, video or interactive tutorial.

Many elements of the above sound like a university education, or what learners ideally hope to get from that experience. The polymath Martin Gardner said the best way to learn about a topic is to write a book about it. On-wiki educational assignments take this literally: learners experience critical review and publication, including the pride of having written for a huge readership.

As well as these opportunities for learners and teachers, educational assignments offer a way to improve Wikipedia and its sister projects, particularly in academic topics that have proved difficult. The UK has a top-class Higher Education system, in some ways the best in the world.[1] Within this system, students are producing high-quality work which is likely to be seen by no-one outside the course. In on-wiki assignments, the public benefit directly from the work of learners and indirectly from the expertise of tutors and institutions’ library and support services.

So the Wikimedia community and UK education institutions have many common goals, especially now that institutions are increasingly recognising the value of open education. Yet they are still largely independent of each other. Each can be argued to be doing seriously on a large scale what the other is merely dabbling in: in Wikimedia, we are delivering free educational and reference materials to an audience of hundreds of millions, while the traditional institutions are delivering formal, accredited education on a massive scale.

As the UK’s national charity promoting, supporting and improving the Wikimedia projects, and with a membership including many current and former educators. Wikimedia UK is ideally placed to help these two groups work together. It is already building relationships with some of the most forward-thinking institutions and individuals.

Wikimedia UK already works successfully with the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector. This activity opens up content (documents, images, video and artefacts) to the Wikimedia community, complementing education outreach and training, which bring additional labour. The Wikimedia UK budget allocates much less to education than partnerships with GLAMs. This does not reflect a lower priority for educational projects, but the belief that impressive things can be achieved in education for relatively little cost. In the coming years it needs to rapidly scale up and professionalise its education activity and address the education sector in a more systematic way.

Resources and Practice[edit | edit source]

As Wikimedia contributors, we think of wikis as both a resource and a process. Wikipedia, for example, can be thought of as a collection of millions of articles or as a community with established practices to improve the content. Wikimedia projects are charitable in two senses: they give the world a free encyclopedia, a free dictionary and so on, but they also give the world the edit button; the chance to participate in meaningful and rewarding collaboration. From the resources, we can learn the key life events of a historical figure, the source of a quotation or the meaning of an unfamiliar word. From engaging with the community and its practices, we learn about collaboration, about bias, about fact-checking, and about taking and giving criticism.

The deep educational value from wikis comes from understanding the process, ideally by taking part in it. Poor quality articles - whether incomplete, inaccurate, or badly written - present the best educational opportunity, because students can get involved in critiquing and improving them.

This distinction is a source of misunderstanding when academics and other experts look at Wikipedia and its sister projects. Asked to evaluate these projects, someone may well treat them as static resources, while not really seeing the process behind them, or evaluating its potential.

The education sector is dealing with the same distinction between resources and processes. The last decade has seen a push from funders and individual advocates to open up educational resources, making them accessible and remixable with appropriate formats, licences and data. The JISC/HE Academy-funded UKOER programme is now in its third phase, and has put millions of pounds into a wide variety of OER projects, across many subjects, institutions and technology platforms. There is an appreciation that merely putting the content out there is not enough, and that to really get the benefits, education has to adopt more senses of openness. The term Open Educational Practices (OEP) has been coined to cover the context and use of OERs; the practices teaching staff, learners, institutions, and policymakers need to get right if they want to reap the benefits of open education.[2] In this respect, the Wikimedia community has a large head-start. This is what we should emphasise when we talk about our role in education.

The Wikipedia Education Progam[edit | edit source]

"Students use Wikipedia. It is very critical that we, meaning academia, get on board with this, because it is going to happen if we like it or not. We need to work with them to learn to use Wikipedia correctly and contribute to it to make it better." - Lecturer in the Public Policy Initiative, December 2010

Overview[edit | edit source]

When running an educational assignment on Wikipedia, it is a very good idea to involve and work with the community. The long term success of Wikipedia assignments requires a model for how to do this. Just such a model has been developed by the Wikimedia Foundation and the community of volunteer ambassadors. It has gone under different names, but is now known as the Wikipedia Educational Program. At the time of writing, it is in its first few years of use, and is still being refined. There is enough flexibility in it that it can be adapted to different institutions, subjects and types of class, and the main pedagogical decisions are still in the hands of the lecturer.

Article quality before and after student contributions: data from the Public Policy Initiative

The Wikimedia Foundation have taken a commendable approach to evaluating the program, both in terms of educational outcomes and in terms of the benefits for Wikipedia. They have obtained case studies from teaching staff and learners and quantitative measures of success as well as measures of the quality and quantity of new Wikipedia content.

There have been some problems and criticisms with the program so far. Some of these are not relevant to the UK context, but some should be taken into account as Wikimedia UK promotes and supports the program. These problems should not blind us to the program's many successes, both in creating great educational experiences and in improving Wikipedia. It is now used across many courses, across diverse institutions in the US and Canada, with smaller projects in several other countries.

How it works[edit | edit source]

In a nutshell:

  • Students adopt Wikipedia articles related to their module, and improve them during their course in return for course credit.
  • Students can work in small groups or individually.
  • The lecturer assesses article quality, on a customised scale which is more fine-grained than Wikipedia’s normal quality scale. This rating can be applied before and after a student improves an article, to measure the improvement. Students can also earn marks for getting an article through a Good Article review process, for constructive comments on each other’s articles, or other aspects of participating in Wikipedia.
  • Students are taught Wikipedia editing during their course: not to a high level, but enough to be able to put in text, inline references and images.
  • Students have to read about, interpret and act on the core principles of Wikipedia: writing neutrally, consulting and citing reliable sources, using accessible language, respecting copyright and so on.
  • Educational assignments do not have to focus on article text, but could develop something for inclusion in an article, such as a table, diagram, or annotated map.
  • The course gets various kinds of volunteer support, mainly in the form of a Campus Ambassador and an Online Ambassador.
    • The Campus Ambassador meets the students in-person. They can run training events and an "office hour", similarly to a teaching assistant, but concentrating on the Wikipedia aspects of the course. They do not teach the subject of the course. The Campus Ambassador also guides the lecturer in setting up the assignment and monitoring its progress.
    • The Online Ambassador does not have to meet the students and can even be based in a different country. These are experienced Wikipedians who sign up on-wiki to dedicate some time to regularly helping students, monitoring their edits, and helping them with things like formatting.
    • Tutorial videos, handouts, case studies and are freely available to help students get to grips with Wikipedia. There is also assistance available through Wikipedia's online help.
    • Ideally, the students also get feedback and help from other Wikipedians who are improving or monitoring the target articles, and so experience collaboration with people from different time zones, perhaps different cultural backgrounds, and different feelings on the article topic.
  • The kind of students who excel on a Wikipedia assignment are often good students in general. However, some who are turned off by traditional assignments flourish when given a Wikipedia assignment, perhaps because writing for the public gives a more concrete motivation.

In theory, the lecturer does not need to be a Wikipedian and only needs to know the basic principles. However, the more involved the lecturer is with Wikipedia and its processes, the better.

The inevitable "stage-fright", when students have to put their work on public show, can be handled in various ways. Students can work in groups, reviewing each other’s work. They can prepare drafts in their user space on Wikipedia, getting feedback before "going live". The Virtual Learning Environment software used within many universities often has a wiki facility which can be used to collaboratively work on ideas before posting them in Wikipedia. A middle way needs to be found between exposing students’ work prematurely to the encyclopedia, and publishing it so late that the student misses out on the collaboration that is a distinctive benefit of a Wikipedia assignment.

In some areas of Wikipedia, it has proved particularly difficult to get a large volume of high-quality, reliable material. Politics and psychology are two prime examples. The Wikipedia Educational Program was piloted in one of these areas: specifically, public policy. There have been major, measurable benefits to both the quality and quantity of articles as a result of the pilot. Similar benefits have resulted when psychology articles have been improved by university assignments.[3] A reasonable conclusion is that in the long term Wikipedia needs educational assignments to achieve the breadth and quality it aims for.

Lessons learned[edit | edit source]

A university assignment shares many aims with the writing of an encyclopedia, including accessibility, originality, neutrality, and the proper use and evaluation of sources. This overlap is the great educational strength of a Wikipedia assignment. The encyclopedia gives students a real motivation to research and write properly, and gives them feedback on those goals. However, not all the aims are shared. If not taken into account from the outset, this can cause problems.

For example, a lecturer might want each student’s work to explain the core concepts of the course, but an encyclopedia wants to avoid explaining the same concept multiple times. Lecturers need to bear this in mind when designing assessment criteria, and choosing target articles. The different students or groups should be specialising on writing about different figures, events or theories. This is one reason why the most suitable students are final- or penultimate-year undergraduates, or beginning postgraduates, who are ready to do a lot of reading about a specific topic.

Another divergence worth noting is that university assignments encourage individual, critical reflections on the material, often making them a requirement for the top grade. These personal, reflections are not part of an encyclopedia, and prohibited by Wikipedia’s “No Original Research” policy. Lecturers have found ways around this, most straightforwardly by getting students to write very short reflective essays or blog posts in addition to their article.

Some of the biggest difficulties with Wikipedia assignments are potentially the most valuable learning opportunities, if the person running the course is mindful of them and uses them as such. A typical example is that students sometimes upload images they find on the web, without considering whether they are freely reusable. As they get warnings and their images get deleted, students may naturally view this as unwelcome interference. The same applies when an article is proposed for deletion and the student author has to defend the notability of the topic. If the lecturer sets learning goals that include understanding and applying Wikipedia core principles, then debates about deletion, notability and so on become central to the course. Students’ expectations need to be managed and they need to feel supported. If they feel they on their own in a confusing environment, it is not surprising if they panic and see the experience as a battle rather than a collaboration.

The use of Wikipedia assignments across many North American universities can be credited to the effort of a dedicated team of Foundation staff, as well as the broader community of volunteer ambassadors. Wikimedia UK needs to learn from this, by dedicating significant staff time to educational projects, by encouraging the sharing of skills and experience across interested volunteers, and by keeping up to date with educational efforts in the Foundation and the other chapters.

The success of an assignment seems to depend in large part on having either a very good online ambassador or a campus ambassador, not necessarily both. There are not always enough ambassadors, or enough with the needed skills, for the number of courses that are being run. Although there is a campus ambassador training programme, conventionally run over two days, producing a good campus ambassador is not a simple or predictable process.

An opinion essay by Mike Christie for Wikipedia Signpost argues that the focus should change from recruiting students to edit Wikipedia to recruiting the academics themselves. Whether or not this would be wise in other countries, it is not an appropriate strategy in the UK.

  • Given the high workloads of teaching staff, and the way these workloads have increased over the past generation, those staff won't like being asked to do more work, but will be receptive to someone offering them help in creating interesting new educational experiences.
  • From Wikipedia's point of view, it is more efficient use of an expert's time to have them mentor a couple of dozen student authors rather than improving articles themselves.
  • Being younger, students are more familiar with Wikipedia as users, so more persuadable that improving it is a worthwhile activity.
  • Given how frequently students consult Wikipedia, it's important to understand its strengths and weaknesses, and the most vivid way to learn this is to personally contribute.
  • "The students of today are the academics of tomorrow" to quote User:Chzz in response to the opinion essay. A way to make sure academics and other professionals are wiki-literate is to reach them while they are still students.
  • At the moment, academic careers are increasingly separating into teaching-specific and research-specific. Reaching out to academics through educational projects will miss out those who do not teach. Wikimedia UK is already involved in expert outreach work. This involves working with learned societies and also promoting Wikipedia to individual researchers as a channel for informing the public about their work. This reaches pure researchers, retired academics and those who don't happen to work in educational institutions.

Educational projects have encountered some problems, and these have been much discussed on Wikipedia itself. These problems are not a reason to avoid implementing the program in the UK, but in some cases they provide lessons that should guide our strategy. In brief, these can be ascribed to:

1) the novelty of the program. Over the past few years, educators and Wikipedians we have been experimenting with how best to run and support educational assignments. It is easy to have problems when the lecturer has not put enough planning into the Wikipedia aspect of the course, or sought enough help from Wikipedians in advance.

There have been projects in which not all students have engaged. First of all, just the same can be said about lectures, and they've been the dominant format for university teaching for a century. More constructively, there are courses where all the students contribute, indicating that it is possible to construct courses and assessments to be more engaging.

2) excessively ambitious goals for the program. The Foundation has aimed to double the number of students involved each year. This has proved to be too ambitious. Exponential growth is still possible and desirable, but at a much smaller growth rate.

3) the difficulties of transplanting the program into a different culture, e.g. an Indian pilot project which involved a large number of students whose understanding of plagiarism differed from Wikipedia’s.

The Wikipedia Education Program relies on volunteer Campus Ambassadors. These include many dedicated individuals with the right combination of social and Wikipedia skills, but there have not been enough of them to serve a rapidly growing roster of courses. As we adapt the program to the UK, there will be people who say the obvious answer is for universities to pay Campus Ambassadors, as they do their teaching assistants, and there will be others who point out that this discourages volunteers (“Why should I sort out this problem on the wiki if you’re being paid to do it and I’m not?”) There are ambiguous attitudes about this question among the Wikimedia UK community and this needs to be discussed within the community and with partner universities.

The national and global context[edit | edit source]

As well as working with staff, students, departments and institutions, Wikimedia UK’s education outreach should also build relationships with the regional, national and global bodies that support education. Most relevant are the various projects, programmes and services funded by the JISC to support the use of information and digital technologies in education. There is also a global context in the form of Open Educational Resources projects all over the world, new online learning communities and, as of 2012, rapid developments in how traditional universities make their courses and expertise openly available. These developments help to advance the Wikimedia goal of free knowledge for everyone. Through its events, activities and contacts, Wikimedia UK should aim to be seen as a partner or key stakeholder in the open education movement. There are initiatives such as Open Education Week that Wikimedia UK should be seen to support.

School education[edit | edit source]

In pre-university education there are also great educational opportunities ready to be taken, not just from using the freely available Wikimedia resources but understanding the processes behind them. As well as using free Wikimedia resources to teach their subjects, teachers could use lessons to:

  • Promote a critical understanding of Wikipedia, including how best to make use of it but also why it cannot be absolutely trusted.
  • Develop critical thinking and information literacy generally, by using Wikipedia as an example of a publication process with review.
  • Give pupils an experience of creating or sharing content, such as by uploading photographs or finding a fact for an infobox.
  • Develop language skills. Young pupils can get a basic awareness of other languages by looking at the variety of Wikipedias. Older pupils can compare different language versions of the same Wikipedia article, or they can critique and improve Wiktionary entries. Learners of English can benefit from the Simple English Wikipedia's wide range of articles.
  • Develop awareness of intellectual property and open content. This can lead to a discussion of plagiarism and why it should be avoided. It could be used to introduce economic concepts, or to discuss moral ideas such as rights or the common good.

Many of the Wikimedia UK community are, or have worked as, school teachers. We also have contacts in many societies and institutions that include teachers. Wikimedia UK’s role is:

  • to provide platforms, including wiki pages and events, for enthusiasts to share case studies, lesson plans, and reflections.
  • to promote these ideas beyond the core of enthusiasts, with publicity (such as a dedicated brochure for teachers), events and meetings with interested educators.
  • to support school education globally by working with projects that distribute child-friendly selections of Wikipedia content.

As well as talking to staff in schools, our outreach should consider the various national or regional bodies that support school education, such as the national network of Science Learning Centres.

Staffing and management[edit | edit source]

Part of the reason the Wikipedia Education Program has so much participation is that the Wikimedia Foundation have a dedicated and talented team of staff backing the project. Wikimedia Deutschland also have two education staff at the time of writing. It is very important for Wikimedia UK to recruit education staff, as a way to make sure that relationships with institutions are long-term, and individual contacts and volunteer activities have a cumulative effect.

With hundreds of universities, each of which has dozens of departments or units, each of which can have many potential contacts, there is a large amount of information that needs careful management so that staff and volunteers build on each other’s work and give a professional impression.

Since the education sector is so diverse and tribal, multiple part-time posts, dispersed across the country and across areas of subject expertise, are preferable to a small number of full-time employees. These staff need to come from inside the education sector in some sense, either because the person has past experience in teaching (or teaching support) or because they are combining the Wikimedia part-time role with a university role.

The growth of the education team assumes an expansion of the overall Wikimedia UK budget in coming years. This requires the whole community to help in the form of ever more effective fundraising and for the Board and Chief Executive to make funding education staff a long-term priority. There should be a trustee, or other trusted volunteer with relevant experience, taking a strategic lead on education, liaising with staff and volunteers and reporting regularly to the Board.

This is an important area for us and many good ideas have come from the community focusing on aspects of education ranging from Primary to University. In the programme proposals for 2013-14 I have proposed an education and training post. I would see this as a the first step towards what is being proposed above by finding someone who could plan a programme and develop it to s state where it can grow organically during 2013-14 and then build up in subsequent years. I am torn between education area specialists (e.g. Further, adult, retired etc) and regional posts. I can see benefits to both. People working locally risk isolation and dislocation so will need more management support. This needs to be accounted for in any plan but a healthy debate to be had. Jon Davies (WMUK) (talk) 16:17, 5 September 2012 (UTC)

References and further reading[edit | edit source]