Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Wikipedia and Open Source Writing

Open source writing refers to blogs, wikis, or other central content that users can freely write, edit, or use for open publishing. Instructors use open source platforms like WordPress, Blogger and Wikipedia for students to practice writing and editing for an audience, to consider aspects of digital writing, and to purvey creative knowledge through blog series, photography sets, and wiki “edit-a-thons.” Some instructors use wiki platforms like Wikispaces for larger purposes, creating topic guides, annotated bibliographies, class notes, or forums for group work and class discussion. Open source writing helps instructors align student writing with experiential learning, as students work collaboratively to produce scholarship open to the public, to write for real audiences, and to balance representational inequalities in places like Wikipedia.

Wikipedia remains the most popular and utilized open source forum for educational purposes. A variety of studies (Konieczny, 2016; Sigalov, 2016; Christensen, 2015; Parker & Chao, 2007) find that the pedagogical advantages of open source assignments utilizing media like Wikipedia include collaboration skills with peers and outside editors; critical thinking about evidence, sources, and biases; practice adapting language to various public audiences; increased appreciation for access to knowledge and the processes of its construction and preservation; and critical awareness of the strengths and weaknesses of digital writing. 

Examples

  • Team-based Learning - Open source writing activities can prove helpful in teaching science, technology, and social science disciplines where peers interact and share their thought process through team- or problem-based research. Student groups can author responses to post on a class blog for other teams to review and critique. Instructors can also consider whole- class problems, where students develop a class response via a blog series. Other problem or team-based efforts can include: improving existing wiki articles by adding missing content or correcting for biased or inaccurate information; creating new wiki articles to fill a gap in the encyclopedic knowledge; and translating wiki articles from or into another language (for foreign language courses).
  • Social Pedagogy - Open source writing can engage humanities concerns like representational inequality. The Wikipedia Education Program points out that there are many “articles that may be missing as a result of Wikipedia’s systemic lack of women editors” including “biographies of underrepresented persons, articles on women’s health and politics, reliable health information and other academic topics.” Instructors can focus on open source writing as a way to educate about structural inequality and explore how writing can combat such imbalances. Table 1 further explores how editing Wikipedia can be considered a form of service learning.
Table 1 (adapted from Konieczy, 2016)
Service Learning Wikipedia Editing
Students contribute to wider society. Wikipedia is read by a major and growing portion of the general populace. 
Student contributions meet a need and have visible results. Students create or improve encyclopedic articles that will be read by dozens (if not thousands) each day.
The need is recognized by the community. Wikipedia invites new contributors, and clearly welcomes students and educators who want to contribute to the site.
Students contributions are connected to course objectives. Students acquire skills in objective, neutral, encyclopedic writing on academic topics, as well as skills related to digital literacy.
Students contributions allow reflections upon themselves. Reflection can be accomplished through related assignments such as class discussions and reflexive writing assignments about students’ editing experiences.
Contributions can be easily assessed and the community can contribute to the assessments. Wikipedia easily hosts this process, as the wikis provide a) detailed “track changes”-style information on what and when each individual student contributed, and b) a public record of revisions for all readers.

Disciplinary Approaches - Wikipedia and related wiki platforms are flexible enough to host assignments and activities for a wide range of disciplines at both the undergraduate and graduate levels (summary excerpts included below each citation):

  • English: Bilansky, A. (2016). Using Wikipedia to Teach Audience, Genre and Collaboration. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, 16(2): 347-355.
    • “This article describes a sequence of assignments to guide students through an informed effort at making contributions to Wikipedia that persist, and suggests ways this set of exercises in social informatics may also serve a number of common goals in a variety of writing, literature, and other courses: analyzing and writing for explicit editorial guidelines (‘standards’ in information science, ‘house style’ in editorial practice); understanding, conforming to, and even negotiating conventions of genres and subgenres; collaborating online; writing for an audience that not only is real but also talks back; and developing deep understanding of revision and the writing, editorial, and publication processes.”
  • Public Policy: Infeld, DL and Adams, WC. (2013). Wikipedia as a Tool for Teaching Policy Analysis and Improving Public Policy Content Online. Journal of Public Affairs Education 19(3), 445–459.
    • “This case study of one Wikipedia project examines the pedagogical utility of using open-source, wiki-based assignments in policy analysis courses.”
  • Chemistry: Walker, MA and Li, Y. (2016). Improving Information Literacy Skills through Learning To Use and Edit Wikipedia: A Chemistry Perspective. Journal of Chemical Education 93 (3), 509-515.
    • “This article overviews the Chemistry content on Wikipedia and how students can learn to use it effectively as an information resource, critically evaluating content, and learning key information literacy skills. We also discuss how students’ information literacy skills can be improved through a class project where students edit Wikipedia articles. Through such projects, students may begin to appreciate where and how chemical information is generated, gathered, developed, and shared in the real world.”  
  • History: Edwards, J. (2015), “Wiki Women: Bringing Women Into Wikipedia through Activism and Pedagogy” The History Teacher Volume 48, Number 3, May 2015.
    • “I demonstrate that adding a Wikipedia writing assignment to a history course can enhance the site, address feminist concerns, promote the activist project, and inspire students to value research and historiography in new ways. Certainly, women are not the only authors who might improve Wikipedia’s coverage of women and ‘female’ topics; projects of feminist activism and courses in the history of women and gender offer the best opportunities for encouraging both men and women to rectify the encyclopedia’s masculine culture and male orientation.”
  • Political Science: Kennedy, R et. al. (2015), Turning Introductory Comparative Politics and Elections Courses into Social Science Research Communities Using Wikipedia. PS: Political Science and Politics, 48(2): 378-384.
    • “This article advocates a lesson plan for introductory comparative politics and elections courses. The authors argue that Wikipedia (yes, Wikipedia) provides a unique platform for improving learning outcomes and a useful social good from traditional student papers on elections. The proposed lesson plan can achieve this in at least three ways: (1) by providing social incentives for learning and a method for students to contribute to social science knowledge from their earliest courses, the incorporation of Wikipedia editing can improve student learning and retention; (2) incorporating an online information component can help both future students and researchers by improving the quality and quantity of easily accessible and well-referenced information about historical and upcoming elections; and (3) the use of the Wiki format is becoming increasingly common in both business and government. Teaching the basics of editing is an increasingly useful skill for students to learn for future employment.”   
  • Economics: Freire, T and  Li, J. (2016). Using Wikipedia to enhance student learning: A case study in economics. Education and Information Technologies 21: 1169.
    • “Our study was based on our experience in teaching an upper-level economics module at the National University of Singapore over two semesters [… .] The results showed a large increase in the number of students checking their assignment feedback. Further, students’ writing quality improved noticeably in the Wikipedia assignment, and they were able to put forth more balanced discussions of relevant issues and include a greater number of primary sources.”
  • Psychology: Shane-Simpson, C et al. (2016). Giving Psychology Away: Implementation of Wikipedia Editing in an Introductory Human Development Course. Psychology Learning & Teaching 15 (3): 268–293.
    • “To test the feasibility of Wikipedia editing in large undergraduate psychology classrooms, we engaged groups of students in a large introductory-level Human Development course (N = 110) in editing Wikipedia articles to improve psychology-related content. Students attended in-class workshops and received online support to develop skills. They demonstrated considerable engagement with the assignment, averaging 14.5 posts to Wikipedia over a span of 50 days. Most connected Wikipedia editing with other course materials and reported benefits of peer-evaluating classmates’ work. Most reported beneficial interactions with Wikipedians in the public domain, who flagged and/or reverted edits of dubious quality, while correcting errors. Students demonstrated improvements in information literacy and Wikipedia knowledge, with gains in locating and evaluating the quality of source materials.”

Recommendations

  • Consider Wiki Ed - Instructors can visit the Wikipedia Education Program website, one of the best available resources for planning and managing Wikipedia class assignments. Wiki Ed is a non-profit funded by the Wikimedia Foundation that seeks to build connections between universities and Wikipedia. Wiki Ed provides extensive support and resources in the form of training materials, sample assignments, step-by-step guides, and live online consultations with Wiki Ed staff members. They have a specially integrated platform which allows instructors to create and manage a Dashboard for their course. This Dashboard allows instructors to track individual students’ progress on assignments and their editing contributions.
  • Alternate Reading and Editing - Instructors can use Wikipedia assignments to alternate with smaller weekly writing assignments. At Yale, weekly reading responses are an especially common requirement for sections and seminars. As an alternative or addition to reading responses, instructors might require students to make a Wikipedia contribution of at least a certain number of words or characters. Students might edit existing articles by adding a new section, image, or table to an article. Instructors can track student contributions via Wiki Ed’s class Dashboard. This alternating system helps students ascend orders of thought on Bloom’s Taxonomy.
  • Apply Research - Instructors can require, or provide an additional option for, students to translate their final research assignments into a new or existing Wikipedia page, or onto a reputable open-source blog that seeks content. Without altering their course structure much, instructors can turn regular final paper assignments into a Wikipedia service project. Some students may be able to turn their entire paper into a new Wikipedia article simply by editing their paper’s tone and structure. Instructors can also use this opportunity to teach students about copyright, ownership of intellectual property, and choices for how and where a writer’s work is represented and made available.
  • Invite Reflection - As with the previous recommendation for reflection on authorial representation, instructors can invite students to reflect on and debate other related issues: the argument that Wikipedia editing primarily engages lower-order thinking such as summarizing existing knowledge, rather than higher-order thinking like making new arguments, evaluating sources, and synthesis of ideas for public access; degrees of scholarliness in open source media; larger perceived biases in Wikipedia’s editing team; or Wikipedia’s political influence. Instructors can assign a reflection paper towards the end of term that considers these questions in light of class assignments. As with service and experiential learning, a reflective element can introduce metacognitive practice that helps students understand the value of an assignment and their own growth and learning through it.

References

Bilansky, A. (2016). Using Wikipedia to Teach Audience, Genre and Collaboration. Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, 16(2): 347-355.

Christensen, TB. (2015). Wikipedia as a Tool for 21st Century Teaching and Learning. International Journal for Digital Society, 6(2): 1055–1060.

Edwards, J. (2015). Wiki Women: Bringing Women Into Wikipedia through Activism and Pedagogy. The History Teacher Volume 48, Number 3, May 2015.

Freire, T and  Li, J. (2016). Using Wikipedia to enhance student learning: A case study in economics. Education and Information Technologies 21: 1169.

Infeld, DL and Adams, WC. (2013). Wikipedia as a Tool for Teaching Policy Analysis and Improving Public Policy Content Online. Journal of Public Affairs Education 19(3), 445–459.

Kennedy, R et. al. (2015), Turning Introductory Comparative Politics and Elections Courses into Social Science Research Communities Using Wikipedia. PS: Political Science and Politics, 48(2): 378-384.

Konieczny, P. (2016). Teaching with Wikipedia in a 21st-century classroom: Perceptions of Wikipedia and its educational benefits. Journal fo the Association for Information Science and Technology, 67: 1523–1534.

Parker, K., & Chao, J. (2007). Wiki as a teaching tool. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects 3: 57-72.  

Shane-Simpson, C et al. (2016). Giving Psychology Away: Implementation of Wikipedia Editing in an Introductory Human Development Course. Psychology Learning & Teaching 15 (3): 268–293.

Sigalov, SE and Nachmias, R. (2016). Wikipedia as a platform for impactful learning: A new course model in higher education. Education and Information Technologies: 1–21.

Walker, MA and Li, Y. (2016). Improving Information Literacy Skills through Learning To Use and Edit Wikipedia: A Chemistry Perspective. Journal of Chemical Education 93 (3), 509-515.