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Wikipedia and university beyond the classroom

This post is available in 2 languages: Português 7% • English 100%

In English:

In August 2011, I offered a course called Wikipedia in Roman History for an undergraduate History course at UNIRIO, Brazil. This was the first experiment in teaching with Wikipedia supported by the Wikipedia Education Program in Brazil. Now the program is well established and new courses are added each term, all of them incorporating graded assignments with Wikipedia though a variety of university courses.

This year I thought of something different. I realized that assignments with grades were not the only thing we could do. The university can act as a starting point to present students – or, for that matter, anyone – with a deeper view of what Wikipedia is, what it can do, its restrictions and possibilities for sharing knowledge (I like to call it “wiki-literacy”). This has been done before, by teams of volunteers all over the world, with or without Wikimedia Foundation support. But universities have as one of their three branches of action something we call “extension,” or activities that connect academia with society as a whole (the other branches are, naturally, teaching and research). So, isn’t working with Wikipedia totally fitting with the definition of extension?

Participants in the workshop at UNIRIO.

On October 16, together with Campus Ambassador OTAVIO1981, I offered a 4-hour workshop for students during the UNIRIO Extension Week. Twelve people participated, including students from other universities as well. We introduced the 5 pillars, with discussion on the meaning and use of encyclopedias, reliability, authorship, copyrights and collaborative writing, all through examples taken from Wikipedia sections, navigation, and good and bad articles.

With the presentation of the last two pillars, the students started editing: they created their userpages; they learned how to insert userboxes (this pre-social network device motivates them a lot); and they learned how to send messages through each other’s talk pages. We had previously selected five small articles from the English Wikipedia that were not available in Portuguese, translated the text and distributed them to the students. It was important that the articles were about topics of the lecturer’s knowledge, so additional information could be readily supplied.

The students then learned some basic formatting, such as how to insert internal and external links, references, images and categories. Choosing the best images was an important activity on itself. At the end of the workshop, they all had their shiny new (and correct) articles to show everyone. Furthermore, the workshop counted as additional working hours for their graduating requirements, which is important and motivational for them as well.

Editing workshops are not new. Nowadays, neither is teaching with Wikipedia. This packed format, however, opened some new possibilities. The ultimate goal here was not training new editors, or even improving Wikipedia content. These are consequences, because we must not forget that editing is essentially a voluntary act. These students may never edit again, but they will have become better users, more conscientious about processing and even creating information. This is a pressing necessity for today, and on Wikipedia, wiki-literacy is one of the best possible tools to achieve that.

Juliana Bastos Marques is User:Domusaurea.

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Wikipedia Education Program pilot kicks off in Brazilian universities

Even before the Wikimedia Foundation launched its pilot Wikipedia Education Program in Brazil, professor Juliana Bastos Marques, together with Campus Ambassador Otavio Louvem, demonstrated successful work using Wikipedia inside a university. Through their work, they engaged more than 20 students and considerably improved the quality of articles about Roman history. This course was a example of a successful group working together with Online Ambassadors and with students in a university to improve Portuguese Wikipedia articles.

The quality contributions made by Juliana’s students, along with the lessons we learned from other Wikipedia in higher education programs around the world, led us to a few questions for the Brazilian community: Should we scale the Wikipedia Education Program throughout Brazil? And if so, how can we do in a sustainable and community-driven way?

Professors and ambassadors training

Professors and Wikipedia Ambassadors at an orientation for pilot program participants.

To begin answering these questions, we decided to run a pilot education program in Brazil, customizing the model of classroom incorporation that has been used globally by professors. At the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012, we talked to professors from universities in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro with the hopes of forming a small pilot. Overall, professors had a positive response about the idea of using Wikipedia as a pedagogical tool in their classes. After much thinking on the best way to create a good pilot, we opted to keep it small for a better understanding of how to expand the program in the second semester. We also agreed to work with five carefully selected professors from traditional universities in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro (see the detailed Brazil pilot program plan). History, sociology, physics, and public policy are the fields of knowledge that will be covered, with about 150 students working to improve existing articles, or create new ones.

Professors have been creative in deciding what sort of a classroom model would work best to meet the purposes of their specific coursework and students’ abilities and interests, and we will be closely following the outcome of the different models.

At the University of São Paulo (USP), the largest university in South America and one of the most traditional in Brazil, professor Pablo Ortellado has asked his students to form groups and collaboratively write encyclopedic articles on Cultural Policy. From the 11 proposed articles, only one already exists. At Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), professor Edivaldo Moura, a particle physics researcher, has adopted another strategy for his students studying electromagnetism. Each of his thirteen students has chosen an article related to electromagnetism, from Gauss Law to Maxwell Equations. Another USP physicist joining the program, Professor Vera Henriques, will have her graduate students of biological systems improving Wikipedia. Professor Heloisa Pait, from UNESP, is giving tasks on Wikipedia for her sociology students explore their cultural memories. Finally, Professor Juliana Bastos Marques will encourage her 60 freshman students to explore concepts around Wikipedia in her history class, and they can attend an extension program she has created together with Federal University of Rio de Janeiro State (UNIRIO), where she teaches.

In addition to professors, we also began to recruit Ambassadors, a complex task considering the geographic logistics of all classes that joined the program. Wikipedians who are already involved with Wikipedia Education Program were incredibly helpful in recruiting new Ambassadors, and the local Wikimedia Brasil meet-ups were essential to spread awareness about the project and explain opportunities for involvement. In addition, Wikipedians from Portugal stepped up to help support the Brazilian classes virtually and they are helping also organize the project page. They have even started outreach about the program in their country!

These Brazilian Wikimedians and Portuguese language Wikipedians from around the world have asked tough questions, strategized about implementation and volunteered to serve as Online and Campus Ambassadors. We are thrilled to be working with a great group of Ambassador volunteers alongside the professors.

We are eagerly anticipating the outcomes of this semester! These different models will provide ample opportunity for reflection at the end of semester, and we will be tracking student contributions and motivations to gauge the effectiveness of the program. If you are interested in supporting the program, please reach out and introduce yourself on the Ambassador page or send an email to wu-suporte AT googlegroups DOT com!

Everton Zanella Alvarenga (also known as Tom)
Consultant for the Wikipedia Education Program in Brazil and Wikimedia Brasil volunteer